Participatory Action Research

spiralTableAs many other communities have shown us, the rewards of community-run assets & spaces are huge (i.e. reigniting community spirit, ensuring sustainable management of resources & ensuring much needed spaces and services continue to exist). However, as many other communities have learned (and shared), the process of collectively governing a community asset is a complex and challenging one with many obstacles – practical, relational and political.

In order to navigate these challenges as effectively as possible we believe that a process of structured knowledge-sharing, learning and research needs to take place in the community by the community to figure out the what, how and why, of building and rebuilding community structure, resources and representative institutions. We can build, through Participatory Action Research, the knowledge, strength and vision needed to really take these kinds of  projects forward.

Click the link to read our full Project Proposal: Action research proposal – version 3

What is Participatory Action Research (PAR)?

PAR is a way of exploring practice which links enquiry with action. Whilst there are a range of ways to interpret it most understand it as a cyclical process of enquiring into practice – in our case – the practice of being a community.

It is Participatory in that all who have a stake in the issue are invited into the process (not just ‘academics’)

The action refers to what we do – the act of being a community.

The research refers to how we find out about what we do.

Why PAR?

We believe that Action Research is necessary because it will provide a structured process by which we can collectively explore:
• different perspectives in the community about community relationships & spaces
• The viability of the project – including the opportunities & barriers we might come across
• The relevance of the common good in our time
• The processes by which we can turn the Farmhouse into something of value in our community
It will also allow us to:
• Draw on existing place-based and community knowledge
• Build skills in the community including enquiry/research, communication & organizational skills
• Build collaborative relationships
• Develop our understanding of how common resources can best be stewarded

The questions

Questions are our starting point – in order to do effective and useful research we need to know what we are researching. Through initial discussions the following questions have been identified:
1) What is community anyway & what is important to our communities?
2) Why do we need to organise for our communities (and what role do relationships and spaces play in this)?
3) How do we organise effectively and sustainably for our communities?

These questions are broad and can be applied in different settings – not just to the farmhouse. This is on purpose. We want the learning that happens through this process to be applicable to the different contexts community members work and live in. We want the learning to be transferable.

The elements

In order to encourage engagement right across the community and to provide a diversity of angles/discussion points and ways of communicating we’ve opted for a multi-stranded approach:

table – par strands

The Study Group

We want to set up an independent study group which represents residents and organisations to explore how an asset like the farmhouse could best be used and what kinds of structures, processes and practices work. The group will meet weekly to explore the questions (above) through a range of activities.

Find out more here.
See below for what the workshops and film nights entail.

The Public Conversations: Workshops & Film Nights

This part of the process will offer an opportunity for study group participants and the wider community to engage with ideas and creative concepts in a more structured way with a range of activities and films designed to get folk thinking and talking.

Workshops will be once a month and will be facilitated by experienced practitioners involving key speakers, activities and artifacts to promote discussion, the sharing of ideas and issues.

Film nights do what they say on the tin. We will show a film one night a month which relates to that month’s theme. Again the showing will be open to all.

For up to date information on films, dates and venues see events.

Citizen Researchers

We’d like to recruit and train a small team of citizen researchers who will be responsible for carrying out interviews, gathering media, engaging with artifacts and sharing their findings. They will also be responsible for documenting the PAR process from planning to reflection.

 What about the action?

We feel strongly that a research process is a system of enquiry and that research involves action and action involves research. In each of the processes we set-up we want to incorporate ways of doing things, ways of relating to each other and spaces that are relevant so that we have opportunities to try-as-we-go.
We also expect those involved in these processes and particularly in our study groups to be ‘applying’ what they are learning in their own contexts (i.e. within the organisation or group they work with or even amongst their friends).
Nonetheless it’s important to give time to doing not just talking. For this reason the Community Laboratory will contribute time and space for experimenting with ideas and actions:

Community laboratory

The community laboratory will be an opportunity to try some of the ideas that we’ve talked about in action. We envisage it as creating a space to experiment with what each of the PAR groups have learned so far and to encourage wider participation. It’s also a time to raise the creativity and fun levels and re-energise the project. The exact format this will take is very much determined by the discussions we have and the new questions which emerge. We hope though that emphasis will be on doing as well as talking and that it will be an engaging space for the whole community.

Place and Space

Alongside relationships we see space as being integral to the process and to the outcomes of the process. We therefore want to ensure that the spaces we use are chosen deliberately and are not just incidental to what we want to do.

Watch this space for which places will be involved in the project!