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Participatory Action Methods

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Storytelling, in its various forms, has often been described as a practice with great emancipatory potential. In turn, Indigenous knowledge shows great promise in guiding a participatory action research (PAR) methodology

Yet these two approaches are rarely discussed in relation to one another, nor, has much been written in terms of how these two approaches may work synergistically toward a decolonizing research approach.

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PAR differs from conventional research in three ways. Firstly, it focuses on research whose purpose is to enable action. Action is achieved through a reflective cycle, whereby participants collect and analyse data, then determine what action should follow. The resultant action is then further researched and an iterative reflective cycle perpetuates data collection, reflection, and action as in a corkscrew action. Secondly, PAR pays careful attention to power relationships, advocating for power to be deliberately shared between the researcher and the researched: blurring the line between them until the researched become the researchers. The researched cease to be objects and become partners in the whole research process: including selecting the research topic, data collection, and analysis and deciding what action should happen as a result of the research findings. Wadsworth7 sees PAR as an expression of “new paradigm science” that differs significantly from old paradigm or positivist science. The hallmark of positivist science is that it sees the world as having a single reality that can be independently observed and measured by objective scientists preferably under laboratory conditions where all variables can be controlled and manipulated to determine causal connections. By contrast new paradigm science and PAR posits that the observer has an impact on the phenomena being observed and brings to their inquiry a set of values that will exert influence on the study. Thirdly, PAR contrasts with less dynamic approaches that remove data and information from their contexts

Most health research involves people, even if only as passive participants, as “subjects” or “respondents”. PAR advocates that those being researched should be involved in the process actively. The degree to which this is possible in health research will differ as will the willingness of people to be involved in research. Research methodology is a strategy or plan of action that shapes our choice and use of methods and links them to the desired outcomes.

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Participatory Action Research (PAR) refers to a research method, typically concerned with organizational self-assessment, in which the subjects of the study “participate with the professional researcher throughout the research process, from the initial design to the final presentation of the results and discussion of their action implications” (Whyte, 1989). There are several roots to contemporary applications of PAR and each shed light on its unique features. First is the term “action research.” This refers to investigations of strategies or principles that can explain or improve a situation. It is linked with evaluation research in its aim to uncover problems or strengths that can be used to better develop an organization or service. It will typically result in “action steps” that are context bound rather than in developing or testing theory that can be generalized. Another root, “participatory research,” emphasizes that stakeholders in the research outcome must participate in the research process

Stakeholders are needed to ensure that the “outside” research professionals do not misconstrue or render meaningless information sought or collected due to their lack of first hand knowledge of the situation (or due to not being “members” of the socio-cultural group). Stakeholder presence in the research process also ensures that the resulting actions steps are “owned” by the stakeholders, that there is “greater consensus for change” (Walton & Gaffney, 1991). Found frequently in third world development efforts, participatory research is seen as a liberating process for stakeholders (Rogers, 1994).

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To summarize, qualitative methods focus on the whole of human experience and the meanings ascribed by individuals living the experience; broader understanding and deeper insight into complex human behaviours thus occurs as a result argued that qualitative methods are naturalistic, participatory modes of inquiry that disclose the lived experiences of individuals. Consequently, “there are no single, objective reality, there are multiple realities based on subjective experience and circumstance” For instance a participatory needs assessment would include extensive engagement with local communities and may also include a survey of residents who are less centrally engaged in the participatory process.

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Elden, M. & Levin, M. (1991). Cogenerative learning. In: Participatory Action Research, Whyte, W.F. (Ed.). Newbury Park, CA: age Publications.

Fenton, J., Batavia, A., and Roody, D. (1993). Proposed Policy Statement on Constituency-Oriented Research and Dissemination. Washington, DC, DOE/NIDRR.

McTaggert, R. (1991). Principles for participatory action research. Adult Education Quarterly, 41(3), 168-187.

Rogers, E.S. & Palmer-Erbs, V. (1994). Participatory Action Research: Implications for research and evaluation in psychiatric rehabilitation. Psychosocial Rehabilitation Journal, 18(2), 3-12.

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