Currently I am juggling a number of projects; including a pilot study, gaining access at a different organisation for my new study, a number of conferences up and down the country, and a separate study altogether with REALab and the Whitworth. However, amongst all these distractions I am also still reading for my PhD and writing two chapters; my literature review and my methodology chapter.
Now my methodology chapter is a bit of a monster, mainly due to the type and number of different methods. However, writing it during the process of a pilot study has actually helped enormously. Particularly, with getting my head around Participatory Action Research (PAR). For me, as a researcher, PAR is an obvious fit. I, rather naively perhaps, was compelled to do a PhD out of the want to change things. Not just any thing, but the reality of being under offender supervision – or probation as its more commonly known in the UK. PAR offers this opportunity.
So between deciding that this was how I would proceed in doing research that prompted action, and actually beginning the research, I am now sat here with a Sharpie drawing loops to demonstrate the process – which has alerted me to the finer points of actually doing PAR.
PAR is a cyclical process, beginning with observation, planning, action/intervention, collection of data, and reflection – all before the process begins again. Using my ‘rustic’ Sharpie drawn loops, I begin to plot this process on to our diagram.
Observation – this is the identification of a participant population that will benefit from PAR.
Planning – this is how the research / action / intervention will be done. Utilising the skills, experience and values of the participant population. This is done WITH the participants.
Action/ intervention – this is the activity that forms part of the data collected. For some this may be interviewing, focus groups etc.. or it may be more innovative and creative research methods. The great thing about PAR is the flexibility to use this step of the process to fit the needs, wants and interests of the participants.
Collect – this is the part where the information that has been produced during the action is collected for analysis. In my research study, the participants are an active part of analysis, coding the data to find important themes or issues.
Reflect – PAR is a process that occurs in multiple layers. Reflection is key to produce more impact within the action, by recognising the impact of the first cycle and reassessing the needs/ wants/ values / wishes of the participants in the next cycle.
Share – this is the dissemination of results/ information stemming from the action.
The Key to a successful cycle of PAR is the participation by the participant population at every stage. This is where, as a researcher, things become tricky. Firstly, social researchers are bound to the institutional code of ethics. This requires a thorough research proposal to be submitted for ethical review and approved prior to any research beginning. It is almost impossible to do this without having a strong idea of what research activities will include. Secondly, methods need to be robust. What if your participants do not want to do as you have suggested? or they have difficulty performing tasks in the manner required for the PAR to produce data? Thirdly, how can we actively include participants in the dissemination of findings?
Completing the pilot study whilst writing about and considering these issues in depth has enabled me to use creative and innovative methods for data collection that have been championed by the participants. It has also helped me to focus upon ensuring that the process is truly participatory, always including the participants as active participant researchers, not overlooking their voices for ease in the research design process.
This blog is largely based upon the following resource:
Kemmis, Stephen, and McTaggart, Robin (2005) Participatory action research: communicative action and the public sphere. In: Denzin, Norman K., and Lincoln, Yvonna S., (eds.) The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, California, USA, pp. 559-603.