The Case for Participatory Action Research
By: Kristen Jezek
If you are familiar with research studies or interventions, you understand that there is no such thing as a “perfect” study. While you can try your best to account for the diversity of individuals, it is nearly impossible to include an entire population. Even if an entire population is included, you will most likely acquire the baseline or average of most of those samples, not the individual characteristics or results from individual groups, which may display patterns of their own. Occasionally, interventions and community programs, especially at the Federal level, are implemented with an entire population in mind. However, lasting change depends more on what makes an individual community tick. In America’s “Melting Pot”, it is more likely that individual groups and cultures will have their own systems of operations. When individual cultures thrive better on specific interventions catered to them personally, participatory/action research is a much better fit.
Participatory research (sometimes referred to as “action research”), is a type of research with which individuals involved in the community are attempting to study, learn, or observe specific aspects of the community (Nelson). Most of the time, in participatory research, the researcher is attempting to gain information for the intended purpose of making a positive social change in that community. Social Change Research is the research (participatory research included) that is aimed at “actively changing something” in the community or culture they are a part of (Nelson).
When it comes to specific groups of individuals, blanket policy from a federal government may not be addressing specific issues in the community (such as gun violence, suicide, etc.) and the community is invested in seeing a change. When possible, the implementation of participatory research between the researchers, community members, and concerned individuals is the best bet for seeing real lasting change in the community. While a government program may address drug use in a community by putting up banners or posters depicting young kids saying no to drugs, this type of strategy may have nothing to do with why children are involved in drugs in other communities. If a specific community struggles with homelessness and hunger, they may be using drugs as a method to get food or shelter for themselves. “Just Say No” is not an effective strategy when a person is facing starvation or cold.
A better strategy to implement when attempting to combat drug use in a neighborhood where drugs are currency, may be to engage the individuals first to understand why they are using and promoting drug use. With understanding of what specifically is leading the charge for drugs by including social change research, participants are more likely to come up with a more effective strategy against the drug use. Because participants in the community understand their market better and are involved when the need to follow up arises, the interventions and programs can be altered quickly and effectively. In a government “blanket” program addressing all cultures, some cultures may respond well and others not so well, which is something a government may not know for years, if ever.
Because individuals are actively involved and invested in participatory research for social change, policies implemented can be more specific and personal to the needs of the community. Furthermore, the policies, once enacted, are much more readily followed-up on and altered for effectiveness when the individuals who are part of the community are also part of the research and implementation processes. Overall, community involvement for desired social change is the most effective strategy for personal, specific, and long-lasting positive change in any community.
Nelson, A. (2017). Lesson 13. Social Change/Participatory Research. Presented on the PSYCH 424 Course Content Site Lecture at The Pennsylvania State University.