'Participatory research' is an approach to research that blurs the boundaries between who is the 'researcher' and who is the 'research subject'. It recognises that people who belong to the communities that are being researched can and should be actively involved in developing and shaping the research process, rather than only being expected to respond to the questions or agenda that has already been decided by someone else.
There are a wide range of approaches that can be used in participatory research processes, for example:
- Peer Research. Where people from a particular community (this can refer to geographical communities such as neighbourhoods, but also communities of identity or interest) are trained in a selection of research methods, so that they can talk to other people who belong to that community and listen to and record these insights first-hand. Peer researchers offer valuable insights because they can draw on their own personal experiences, relationships and understanding of that community when undertaking their research, if they wish to.
- Participatory Action Research. Where a group of people aim to understand more about the world by having a go at doing something new or different, collaboratively and with regular opportunities for reflection and learning. In this process, the research insights are produced not just by listening and observing, but by actually doing something and then reflecting on how it worked and what difference it made.
- Community engagement. 'Community engagement' is an incredibly broad term which can be applied in many different situations and for different purposes. In terms of participatory research processes, community engagement methods are used as a way of deliberately widening the number and range of people who have seen/heard, and given feedback on the research. Community engagement is particularly valuable when you are using qualitative and ethnographic research methods, because these methods often involve a small number of people with greater depth, but can miss out the opportunity to get feedback from a much broader range of the community.
Amplify NI is facilitating ongoing participatory research activities with communities across Northern Ireland, in order to identify and promote the new and alternative narratives of positive, community-led transformation across the region: we are amplifying the stories of people who are taking action against inequalities and creating more just places to live.
We would love to hear from people, community groups or organisations who are passionate about promoting these stories too. If you'd like to be kept informed about participatory research activities or events happening near you, please sign up on our 'Get Involved' page! Or if you have a specific idea about a participatory research project that you'd like to run with us, don't hesitate to contact a member of our team.
Download toolkit for community action
Join the Conversation is a collection of simple ideas for planning social action in your community.