Social science research is very diverse and rich in proposals and possibilities for action. By understanding that we are beings immersed in a great 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 method of psychosocial research 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.

PRA is a form of intervention in social problems that seeks to make the knowledge produced by research serve for social transformation. It also seeks to ensure that the development of research and intervention is centred on the participation of those who make up the community where research and intervention are carried out, since the community itself is understood to be in charge of defining and directing its own needs, conflicts and solutions.

In this sense, the PRA is a methodological proposal that arises as an alternative to one of the classic forms of intervention in social problems: that of making programs that do not consider those who will be the beneficiaries or recipients of those programs.

Therefore, action research has historically been linked to the mobilization of minority social sectors , promoting forms of doing research whose generated knowledge 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 PRA are planning, empowerment, strengthening and obviously the concept of participation . Likewise, it is a process 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 PRA passes, such as the detection or reception of a demand, familiarization and dissemination of the project, participatory diagnosis, detection and prioritization of needs, design of an action plan, implementation of actions, and constant and also participatory evaluation.

Theoretical basis: the participatory paradigms

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

Following Montenegro, Balasch and Callen (2009), we will 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 field of action

The members of the communities are not simple recipients, addressees or beneficiaries, but they are recognized as producers of knowledge, which means that there is a joint work among different types of knowledge.

The interventionist is no longer an expert but a facilitator or dynamizer in the research-intervention process. Thus, he seeks to overcome the distinction between subject of knowledge – object of knowledge (person who intervenes – persons intervened). It understands knowledge as a product of heterogeneous experiences and of the relationships established .

2. There is a political dimension

Participatory methods seek to use knowledge towards the transformation of power relations and of 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. Evaluating challenges during the process

Valuing challenges and difficulties as well as solution strategies, for example, the inclusion of all people does not happen automatically nor is it always a desire shared by all or free of conflict. Likewise, it may be that the problematization made by all the agents is not always oriented to social transformation or to 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 in fact subjects of knowledge (just like the “interveners”) , the participatory methods base the detection of problems and the decision making on the involvement of different knowledge and seek to establish horizontal relations oriented towards the social transformation of the community.

Bibliographic references:

  • Delgado-Algarra, E. (2015). Participatory action research as a driver of democratic citizenship and social change. International Journal of Education, Research and Innovation, 3: 1-11.
  • Montenegro, M., Balasch, M. & Callen, B. (2009). Participatory perspectives of social intervention. Editorial OUC: Barcelona.
  • Pereda, C., Prada, M. & Actis, W. (2003). Participatory Action Research. Proposal for an active exercise of citizenship. Ioé Collective. Recovered April 13, 2018.