PAR & Organizations

iStock_000003565068XSmall A quick scan of the resources on PAR shows that it is applied in a wide variety of settings from large-scale community projects to small teams working in an organization. How the setting interacts with the goals and actions of a PAR project is explored by Jenny Cameron*. She proposes that the relationship of a PAR project to an organization influences its key characteristics and its particular challenges.

Cameron puts forward three types of PAR:

  1. PAR focused on challenging organizations;
  2. PAR conducted for organizations;
  3. PAR conducted with organizations.

The first type of PAR encompasses projects where organizations are seen as the cause of oppression and exploitation and researchers work with participants to devise ways to confront them. Cameron describes this as a “liberatory” approach where the emphasis is on transforming the participant’s day-to-day lives and encouraging collective action. She points to the challenges of this approach for a researcher – in particular how to manage their involvement and the extent to which they “drive” the project and how academic staff may need to navigate college regulations that limit political activities.

The second type of PAR Cameron proposes is one she recognizes seems “diametrically opposed” to the first type but argues that it may “generate transformations in line with PAR’s original liberatory intent”. Here PAR researchers work to produce recommendations for organizations to act on (for example – see post on Chris Street and Darren Meisters’ project helping a small business consider a systems change). Here an organization recognizes PAR as a legitimate form of research and recognizes the value of co-research. Cameron argues that researchers may face particular challenges in this setting including: how to ensure that the organization acts on the findings of the project, especially if they are at odds with how the organization perceives it operates; and working to often very tight time frames may make building relationships difficult. In addition, as the research context is largely controlled by an organization it may be hard to ensure ‘real participation’. Participants may have other priorities and distrust the organization’s commitment – the organization’s engagement with participatory approaches may be more symbolic than substantive.

The third type of PAR is that conducted with organizations. Here members of organizations actively participate as co-researchers with other participant groups outside of the organization. This can bring together people from often diverse backgrounds, experiences and networks to develop relationships and secure significant social change. This interaction has some unique challenges according to Cameron. Researchers have to negotiate organizational cultures which may be challenged by the results of the PAR project. Cameron gives an example of how a commitment by government organizations to valuing and fostering the skills and strengths of marginalized people in Australia – a commitment to what she describes as an “asset based approach” – was challenged in practice as staff had difficulty in adjusting their well-established procedures based on a deficit model or needs view.

Typology Benefits

This typology provides a focus for Cameron to concentrate on PAR outcomes and she proposes a set of strategies focused on encouraging organizations to act on PAR project findings, how to maintain the commitment of those involved, how to meet organizational expectations and how to deal with personnel changes within organizations that can undermine a project’s impact. The real contribution, though, of such a typology may be that it does three things:

  1. it emphasizes the importance of organizations in influencing PAR either directly in setting PAR objectives and shaping its outcomes or indirectly in providing a context for action;
  2. it encourages further exploration of how PAR might operate within organizations – for example, how could PAR work to bring about institutional change – changing established and embedded organizational practices and behaviours;
  3. in extending the application of PAR, so often broadly associated with ‘marginalized communities’, to focus on the role organizations play in both enabling and constraining social change, this typology recognizes the need for a diversity of methods and approaches, in particular the development of tools that recognize how participants are often embedded in the institutions they seek to transform.

Cameron, J. 2007. Linking participatory research to action.In S. Kindon, R. Pain, & Kesby, M. (2007). Participatory action research approaches and methods: connecting people, participation and place. Routledge studies in human geography, 22. London: Routledge.

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One Response

  1. thank you so much for this great website! I really appreciate your work and collection of resources and ideas.

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