Participatory action research

Uses a spiral process, which alternates between action and critical reflection, continuously refining methods, data and interpretation in light of the understanding developed.

Action research has never been a unified approach to inquiry. It has, for example, been developed as a tool for organisational learning; as a critical and emancipatory community learning process pioneered in the global South through the work of Freire, Fals Borda and others; and a variety of other interpretations.

Whilst all of the research in the Participate network work has been conducted using participatory methodologies; some organisations have also undertaken action research processes. The majority of processes, such as those in Bolivia and Bangladesh, can be defined as ‘participatory action inquiries’ that allowed people from extremely poor and marginalised backgrounds to identify and reflect on those issues that affect their lives and identify prospects for positive change. These inquiries used a variety of tools and methods in order to engage with different vulnerable groups of people; in rural and urban settings, in order to identify and test actions that they thought could improve their situations.

The meaningful engagement of groups affected by poverty and marginalisation in participatory assessments of poverty is particularly relevant and should be complementary to the data derived from quantitative studies. The participatory approach allows participants to conduct critical analysis about their access to productive resources, employment, social security and social protection, and the scope of their social and political participation. In other words, this is an in-depth reflection of the main factors that affect the processes of social inequality and production-reproduction of poverty. Since these factors are generally placed in second place in other inquiries about poverty, the contribution of the participatory research is particularly relevant to national debates and the global policymaking context.


PRG research initiatives that used participatory action research

International Movement of ATD (All Together for Dignity) Fourth World, Towards Sustainable Development that Leaves No One Behind: The Challenge of the Post-2015 Agenda

The Center for Development Services, Youth PARTICIPATE: Aspirations of Youth in Egypt

ADD International, HelpAge International and Sightsavers, ‘We Can Also Make a Change:’ Piloting Participatory Research with People with Disabilities and Older People in Bangladesh

Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana Xochimilco, Indigenous People’s Experiences, Feelings, Anger and Hope: Reflections from Mexico