Introduction to Participatory Action Research

Objectives

  • To co­-construct an informal definition of Participatory Action Research
  • To assemble an initial idea of the process your group might follow during your PAR work

Materials

  • Butcher paper/flip chart paper (3 pieces)
  • Markers
  • PAR Process Cards
  • Notecards (1 per participant)

Prepare Before

Write “Participatory” on the top of one piece of butcher paper/flip chart paper. Write “Action” on the top of another. Write “Research” on the top of the last one. Place all three on different walls in the room. Print and cut out the PAR Process Cards, including 5 blank ones.


Warm Up

Break down the PAR definition, starting with “Research” chart paper. Ask the following questions and have a volunteer record ideas generated.

  • When you hear the word “research,” what do you think of?
  • Who do you picture doing research? What does a researcher look like?
  • Where do you picture research being done? What does it look like?

After generating ideas and listing them on the paper, explain how PAR re-­defines who does research and what counts as research.

Then move to the wall with the “Participatory” chart paper. Ask the following questions and have a volunteer record ideas generated.

  • What do you think of when you hear the word “participatory?”
  • What does it mean to participate?
  • Who are the participants on our team? Who else might be a part of our work?
  • How can our participation add to or change our original thoughts about “research?”

Last, move to the wall with the “Action” chart paper. Ask the following questions and have a volunteer record ideas generated.

  • What do you think of when you hear the word “action?”
  • How can “action” add to or change our original thoughts about “research?”

Experience

Pass out PAR process cards to each participant. Designate a part of the room that will be the beginning of the process, and show how the process will form a circle organized clockwise. Have participants silently arrange themselves in the order that makes most sense to them. Participants can communicate with hand motions but not words. Stop everyone where they are after about 5 minutes.

Discuss the steps and their order. Start with the person standing at the beginning of the process. In order, ask each person to read their step and describe why they put themselves where they did. Ask the group if anyone disagrees or would want to put that step somewhere else. Discuss as a group. When the group suggests additional steps or repeating steps, ask a participant to write the step on a blank card and add it in. Participants may move themselves as the discussion illuminates places where moves make sense to the group.

Have everyone set their papers down in order, and have a volunteer type or write the list, so the group may come back to it at future meetings.

Reflect

Facilitation a discussion using the following reflection questions:

  • What did you notice during the PAR process activity?
  • What steps do you think might be the most new to you?
  • What are you most excited or nervous about?

Summarize

Participatory Action Research sounds like a mouthful, but when we break down the term and look at assumptions and ideas that come up around each word within the term, we can begin to construct a shared definition of what PAR means to us. Similarly, the research process can feel daunting. As we arrange the steps in the process and discuss each one in relation to the rest, we can begin to see that as a group we already have intuition about how to go about the work.

Demonstrate

Everyone write down a definition of PAR on a notecard, or draw a picture or symbol to show how you are thinking about PAR. Read definitions aloud in a go-­around (if group is small) or have several volunteers read their definitions.