Participatory Action Research (PAR): What Is It And How Does It Work?

Participatory Action Research

Research in social sciences is very diverse and rich in proposals and possibilities for action. By understanding that we are beings immersed in a large number of meanings and codes through which we identify and interact, it has been possible to develop different ways of doing research and intervention.

In this article we will make a general definition of one of the most important methods in community social psychology: Participatory Action Research (PAR)

What is Participatory Action Research?

Participatory Action Research (PAR) is a psychosocial research method that is based on a key element: the participation of different agents It is based on a reflection and a series of practices that aim to include all participants in a community in the creation of scientific knowledge about themselves.

PAR is a way of intervening in social problems that seeks to ensure that the knowledge produced by research serves for social transformation. Likewise, it ensures that the development of the research and intervention is focused on the participation of those who make up the community where the research and intervention is carried out, since the community itself is understood as the one in charge of defining and directing its own needs, conflicts and solutions.

In this sense, PAR is a methodological proposal that arises as an alternative to one of the classic ways of intervening in social problems: that of creating programs that do not consider who will be the beneficiaries or recipients of these programs.

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For the same, Action research has historically been linked to the mobilization of minority social sectors promoting ways of doing research whose knowledge generated is used for the benefit of the community where the research is carried out.

Key concepts and process development

Some key concepts when proposing a PAR are planning, empowerment, strengthening and obviously the concept of participation Likewise, it is a process that is carried out through a series of systematic and consensual actions.

Although there is no single way to carry it out, precisely because the steps must be flexible to the needs of both the community and the problems raised in the research, in general terms there are some stages through which a PAR goes, such as detection or the reception of a demand, the familiarization and dissemination of the project, the participatory diagnosis, the detection and prioritization of needs, the design of an action plan, the execution of the actions, and the constant and participatory evaluation.

Theoretical support: participatory paradigms

Participatory paradigms are epistemological and methodological models that have allowed the development of different ways of doing social research, and that arise as a consequence of the criticisms that have been made of the predominant and more traditional ways of doing social research.

Following Montenegro, Balasch and Callen (2009), We are going to list three characteristics or purposes of participatory paradigms which are some of those that constitute the theoretical and methodological foundations of Participatory Action Research:

1. Redefine roles by specifying the shared action field

The members of the communities are not simple recipients, recipients or beneficiaries but rather they recognize themselves as producers of knowledge, with which there is joint work between different knowledge.

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The intervener is no longer an expert but is a facilitator or energizer in the research-intervention process. Thus, he seeks to escape the distinction between subject of knowledge-object of knowledge (person who intervenes-people intervened). Understands knowledge as a product of heterogeneous experiences and the relationships they establish

2. There is a political dimension

Participatory methods They seek that knowledge be used towards the transformation of power relations and domination that have contributed to sustaining social inequalities. This occurs in contrast to some traditional intervention positions, whose purpose is mainly the opposite: to adapt people to social structures.

3. Evaluate the challenges during the process

Assessing the challenges and difficulties, as well as the solution strategies, for example, the inclusion of all people does not occur automatically nor is it always a desire shared by all or free of conflicts. Likewise, it may happen that the problematization carried out by all agents is not always oriented towards social transformation or the production of critical knowledge, whose solutions are proposed according to the context, needs and expectations of the actors.

In sum, by considering that the people traditionally understood as the “intervened” are actually subjects of knowledge (just like the “interveners”) participatory methods base problem detection and decision making on the involvement of different knowledge and seek to establish horizontal relationships aimed at the social transformation of the community.