Participatory Action Research (PAR) Lecture

I had the opportunity to attend a lecture on Participatory Action Research (PAR), which was being held as a kickoff for a three-day workshop on the same topic 1Wished I could have done the whole workshop, but I just couldn’t afford three days away from my work at the moment!, so I’m recording a few notes here, as usual when I learn something new and cool.

PAR Venn diagram

Source: Wikipedia

PAR “seeks to understand the world by trying to change it, collaboratively and following reflection” (Source: Wikipedia). This is quite a different idea than traditional research, which usually isn’t attempting to change the world through the research itself (though maybe used to change the world after the research is over, through the application of the research findings).

The first speaker gave the interesting example of how in the field of HIV, research questions traditionally focus on things like “What are the rates of condom use?” or “What are the rates of anti-retroviral drug compliance?”, but that these type of question define the intervention/strategy in the question and presuppose the answer (e.g., increase education about condom use, increase rollout of ARV drugs). As well, we know that this hasn’t always worked. By contrast, with PAR, the research question is defined collaboratively with the people affected by the problem, so you might get a question like “How do we improve the quality of life of people living with HIV/AIDS?” In her example, she talked about doing a research project this way and finding out that other things (e.g., lack of transportation) were barriers that needed to be addressed first or things like ARV compliance would not be increased.

The second speaker talked about PAR having 3 basic questions:

  1. what is the problem?
  2. who are the actors?
  3. what is the solution?

He also talked about 5 skills needed to conduct PAR:

  1. mediating (e.g., mobilizing knowledge from different perspectives)
  2. grounding (e.g., building inquiry & learning)
  3. navigating (e.g., selecting and combining forms of inquiry, planning and participation; creating new methods & tools)
  4. scaling (e.g., adjusting inquiry methods and actions to fir the dept of evidence; more complicated is not always better)
  5. sense making (e.g., co-creating meaning in complex situations)


1 Wished I could have done the whole workshop, but I just couldn’t afford three days away from my work at the moment!
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