Participatory Research

Action and publication

Those who have experiential knowledge of inequality and injustice can ally this understanding with academic knowledge to create a new and deeper knowledge of their world. This deeper understanding can challenge established ‘wisdoms’ and ‘ideologies’ around inequality and injustice.

Kathleen Lynch (2000), p.95

Much participatory research is geared towards some form of action or change beneficial to the participating community or user group (hence participant action research). The danger of steaming towards some form of predetermined – but potentially unwanted – action, together with the necessity to build in time for critical reflection before committing to action, has been raised in the discussion of PR’s inherent ethical positions. The importance of not allowing participants of gain unrealistic expectations of research outcomes has also been mentioned.

However, it can be said that in PR, interaction between local people (or service users) and professionals needs to be designed in such a way as to benefit the people concerned, for example, by enabling them to express and arrange, rearrange, or reassess their own perspectives, enhancing their knowledge base so that in collaboration with service providers (in many cases) they can promote and initiate independent action. In some cases it will be within the researcher’s legitimate (agreed) remit to recommend courses of action or change. In other cases the researcher’s role may be more in the domain of facilitation:

  • Providing guidance and recommendations for addressing outcomes and findings for the benefit of local people/service users; and
  • Paving the way and enhancing people’s access to further knowledge and information

For communities to be empowered as a result of participating in the research process requires that publication of the findings is undertaken in an accessible form. Traditional approaches to research usually characterise ‘research outputs’ as written accounts of the research process and its findings. But as the feminist ethnographer Margery Wolf stated:

If our writings are not easily accessible to those who share our goals, we have failed…Our readership must not be confined to intellectual elites.

Wolf, Margery 1992 A Thrice-Told Tale: Feminism, Postmodernism,
and Ethnographic Responsibility. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. p.119

Hence the question of how research is presented within the public domain is an area which also has ethical dimensions. In participatory research ‘outputs’ may be less clearly defined and more wide-reaching than traditional written outputs.


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