Participatory Research for Action

Conversation Details

Dates of conversation: 
Wednesday, November 17, 2010 to Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Conversation type: 
Type of tactical goal: 

Summary available

Thank you for joining the New Tactics online community for a dialogue on Participatory Research for Action. Participatory action research is research which involves all relevant parties in actively examining together current action (which they experience as problematic) in order to change and improve it.  Those to be helped by the research process, determine the purposes and outcomes of their own inquiry. (Wadsworth, Y. 1998)

Participatory research can create credible and critical documentation at the grassroots level.  Not only can the information be utilized in advocacy and lobbying efforts, the research process itself can serve to create a network of activists, informing organizations working on issues that impact study participants, and directly benefiting the people themselves.

Participatory research is about “connecting victims of human rights violations to the information they need to become active defenders of their right and to develop creative solutions to human rights challenges.” (Chubashini Suntharalingam, Research for Action) This dialogue is a space to share resources, challenges, approaches and ideas for using participatory research for social change.

In this dialogue, participants discussed how participatory research can be used in human rights work. In the field of human rights, participatory research presents an opportunity to not only make evidence-based solutions, but to involve those affected in the process, hence raising awareness and empowering the community.

What is participatory research and how does it advance human rights?

“When members of the community are active in designing and implementing the research, when they are invested in the work, when they are involved in all stages of the work from planning to implementation to results, when they are happy with what was done and how it was done, and when they feel that they were treated respectfully and as valued members of the research team.”   

Community participation constitutes the defining feature of participatory research and can be applied throughout the research process starting with defining research objective to the presentation of results and implementation of evidence-based solutions. Participatory research for action emphasizes the researchers’ intent to pose a research question that will yield results that can directly aid in finding a solution for an issue that affects the community. The solution can take on a myriad of forms – research can lead to policy change, the development of a new community practice, or simply to identify effective and ineffective approaches to issues in the community. 

Participatory Research at all levels

Initial stage

  • The research question must be identified in collaboration with the community
  • Matching needs and goals
  • Building a trusting relationship between the researcher(s) and the community

Throughout the process

  • Action steps must be mutually agreed upon – this can be aided by creating benchmarks of the research process in advance
  • More benefit than harm
  • Cultural understanding of the population

Final stage

  • Involve the community in the presentation of results
  • Beware of using overly academic language and concepts when presenting the results – this blog post highlights the limits of quantitative data
  • Community decision-making on implementing evidence-based solutions

Examples of participatory research:

Linking research objectives to solutions – As described in this tactic, Wona Sanana (Mozambique) established a research project that combined data-collection with children’s rights protection. The initiative compiled information on the condition of children following civil war.

Making research findings accessible to the community – Women’s Rights International and Voices in Empowering Women presented their findings regarding the impact of civil war on women in Liberia by using a stage play and displayed the results using simple visual diagrams. The final report of the project can be found here: Documenting the impact of conflict on women in Liberia.

Involving research participants in creating solutions – A group of researchers from the University of Wyoming collaborated with young mothers who had been child soldiers and conducted research about the meaning and challenges of re-integration. This project offered a comparative perspective from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Northern Uganda.


Safety of participants – In some cases, conducting research and direct interviews could put participants in danger. Finding intermediaries that could serve as a link between participants and the researcher can increase the level of safety.

Donor-beneficiary mindset – in areas that rely heavily on development aid, researchers often experience that community members perceive them as donors, and themselves as beneficiaries. This perception hinders the participatory and collaborative nature of the research process.

Examples of challenges - A participatory action research project titled Community-Based Reintegration of War-Affected Young Mothers (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda) offers an in-depth discussion of challenges. 



Interviews: Power to Our People: Participatory Research Kit – Conducting Interviews – Data Center, 2010

Surveys: Power to Our People: Participatory Research Kit – Creating Surveys – Data Center, 2004

Other resources:

Conversation Leaders

Michael_Kis's picture
Michael Kisielewski
StatAid: Nonprofit Statistical Consultation and Research
janaasher's picture
Jana Asher
Jule Krüger's picture
Jule Krüger
HRDAG, Benetech
Anne Nelson's picture
Anne Nelson