Linking PAR with mainstream organizational studies

Here is a link to an academic article I wrote with Tom Lawrence exploring how PAR might inform institutional theory, a dominant perspective in organizational studies.

Here is the abstract:

Institutional theory has energized a large and vibrant academic community, but it is largely unknown to managers and inconsequential with respect to the management of organizations. This is despite what the authors believe is an immense potential practical contribution. In this article, the authors suggest that institutional theory needs a gap year—a period in which core frameworks and insights from an institutional perspective are brought into contact with complex social problems. The authors focus on the study of institutional work and argue that an extended encounter with the world of participatory action research could lead to new answers to key questions and energize the development of institutional theory as both an academic and a practical project.

Contact me if you have any difficulties in accessing the PDF.




The Future of Participatory Research

I thought it would be apt to write my last post (certainly for a few weeks!) drawing on the concluding reflections of Peter Reason and Hilary Bradbury in the latest Sage Handbook on Action Research Participatory Inquiry and Practice.  Their conclusions are wide ranging and so I will continue, as I have in the last few posts, to summarize and comment on how these ideas might influence participatory approaches in general, also seeking, where appropriate, to connect ideas specifically to PAR.

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Mixing it up: Participation and Qualitative Research

Having made a commitment to a participatory approach it is often assumed that the methods will neatly slot into place. The reality, however, is that different methods have different effects to both foster and limit participation as Sonia Ospina and her colleagues found.  Continue reading

Scaling up: Large scale participatory projects

One of the challenges for participatory research is how to involve large numbers of people.  More often than not, however,  participatory projects are focused on a single group because of resource constraints. This makes Geoff Mead’s* experience all the more important – a researcher responsible for setting up and coordinating a project with over 20 participatory groups.

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Quality Choice-points in Participatory Research

The issue of quality in participatory research is often difficult to nail.  Hilary Bradbury and Peter Reason* propose that the answer to the question – are we [researchers] doing good work? – is answered by considering quality in relation to five key issues:

  • relationships;
  • practical outcomes;
  • extended ways of knowing;
  • purpose;
  • and enduring consequence.

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Recognizing PAR as a movement

Of all the articles I have read so far, an article by Orlando Fals Borda* is one that has probably impacted me the most.  Why?  Fals Borda articulates a motivation and vision behind PAR in such a way that a researcher considering PAR may find disconcerting.  A researcher that engages in PAR, in Fals Borda’s terms, is not simply engaging in a participatory method, they are joining a movement.

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The importance of working on the inside

At a recent conference on Qualitative Research methods I asked a speaker about whether PAR ultimately required a researcher to already be an accepted member of the community contemplating research. The response was that this is the ideal situation and in their experience participatory methods are most effective when the researcher has built strong relationships and trust and this can often take many years. Not having many years to work with (!) I decided to investigate further what some refer to as ‘insider action research’ – where researchers are complete members of the organization or community – to understand its particular advantages and its possible drawbacks.

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