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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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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The PAR balancing act

The issue of control – the way a PAR project is run and managed – seems to be a practical dilemma for many PAR researchers.  Andrew Sense* gives an insight into the difficulties he faced in a PAR process involved in help employees in an Australian mine participate with an organizational change programme.  His work with a small project team exposed him to the challenge of wanting to participate in the context but also to control the process to meet his research needs. Continue reading

Tyranical participation: The need for an institutional perspective

In a recent post I explored some criticisms of PAR by those with a positivistic standpoint.  In this post I examine some of the criticisms of participatory approaches as experienced in the field of development.  Bill Cooke and Uma Kothari* argue that, in this field, there has been an inexorable spread of participation as an approach that has produced tyrannical effects resulting in illegitimate and unjust exercises in power. Continue reading