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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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 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

You’ve been framed: Cogenerative dialogues in PAR

Over the last few weeks I have been grappling with some of the tensions associated with PAR – in particular how “outsiders”, such as academic researchers, can engage with “insiders” , local participants, in ways that somehow meet their often diverse needs.  One model that I have found helpful is by Max Elden and Morten Levin* which they outline as “cogenerative learning”.

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Academic Participatory Researchers: More harm than good?

According to the experience of Randy Stoecker, academic participatory researchers can be irrelevant or damaging to PAR projects. Irrelevant, as the whole purpose of participatory research is that community members become “self-sufficient” researchers and activists, and potentially damaging, as academic researchers may over-emphasize the research component of a PAR project and find themselves incapable of assisting in social change.

So what are the options for an academic interested in participatory research?  Continue reading

The challenges of PAR’s increasing legitimacy

Budd Hall, Director of Community-based Research at the University of Victoria, is an expert on PAR. In his paper, “In from the Cold? Reflections on participatory research”, he tracks how participatory research emerged in Tanzania in the 1970s to examine PAR in the present day. He provides an eye-witness account of how a network of individuals from around the world combined to influence and establish the credibility of a new way of doing research. Recalling the influence of Paulo Friere and Orlanda Fals Borda (the first to combine the terms participation, action and research), Hall describes the early meetings of researchers in Holland, New Delhi, Caracas and Tanzania and indicates some of the risks, most notably the imprisonment of Maria Christina Salazar, Colombian scholar and wife of Orlando Fals Borda who was seen as being too close to political movements seeking change. The formation of a Participatory Research group in North America and the promotion of participatory approaches to research within Universities were all part of a process that has meant that PAR methods are now routinely taught in Universities.

“One might say that participatory research has come “in from the cold”, that it has come in from the margins to become an accepted member of the academic community.”

However, it is that acceptance by the Academy that poses some contradictions and challenges.

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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.

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