Saturday, 14 September 2013

FIT6021 Workshop 8: Participatory Research

Part 1
Unfortunately I missed both of the Participatory Research workshops because of serious/extended illness, but I did manage to watch the video recordings for both lectures. In some places the audio/image dropped out, making some bits a bit hard to keep track of, and I feel like I didn't really get as much out of it as I could have if I'd been there in person, but I'll do my best. Here goes...

Workshop 8 focused on Participatory Research, which  falls into the critical theory paradigm. It is different to other traditional methods of research in that rather than simply being passively researched, the subjects actually take an important role and help to shape the research; in other words, the research is done with them, not just for them. In this respect, it shifts the power from solely resting with the researcher to being shared jointly between the researcher and the participants, and relies on the expertise of the participants as well as that of the researchers; in this situation, there should be mutual respect and acknowledgement. The research - which should also have moral and political aspects - should stem from a problem identified by the community that needs to be rectified, and should ideally give the participants the tools for positive change (whether it be in regards to social status, health or economic status) or to solve that problem. In the context of information technology, systems should empower the participants and make life easier for them in some way.

The two main subsets of Participatory Research the workshop looked at were Participatory Action Research (PAR) and Community Partnership Research (CPR). From what I can tell, the main difference is that PAR usually takes place in an organisational setting while CPR takes place in a community setting (whether it be a geographically-based community or a geographically dispersed community of people with similar interests or issues). As with all research (perhaps especially with PR), it is important that all participants are fully informed about what the research will entail, including outcomes, risks, inconveniences and what they will be required to do, so they can make an informed decision. The research should have some sort of value for both the researchers and the participants. Unlike traditional research, in which the outcomes are more or less owned by the researcher, both parties should own the results of the research and have a say in how they are utilised and distributed (Stoecker, 2005; McKemmish, et al., 2012).

Part 2
I'm not really sure if Participatory Research would be suitable for my research or not. I mentioned it to one of my supervisors (this was before I had done the reading etc for the workshop and didn't really know what PR entailed) and she said it would mean having to actually work alongside my intended audience/subjects (in my case, deaf children; haven't firmly settled on an exact age range yet), which put me off a little bit; I'm not really a kid-person. However, given that my research will focus on a large population (ie. it would lean more towards CPR, I think), it may be necessary to work with some people in the specified target audience in order to test and refine whatever artifact I create. It may provide more flexibility to involve them in at least some of the design process along the way, rather than just testing the artifact occasionally and having to redo components that could otherwise have been designed appropriately the first time. Though the artifact may be functionally sound, it is important that it actually meets the needs of the population it is built for, which may be easier if I actively work with them. Also, Participatory Research fits in well with the design science approach (my main method). Then again, they will be children, (so at that age they are probably not in as strong a position to be able to state definitively what they need from the project), so the 'inclusive research design' approach may not be appropriate. Nor are there any real moral or political implications to my research.

There may be some aspects of PR that I can apply to my own research, but the more I think about it, the more I don't think it will be entirely suitable.

Participatory Research Online Resources
Here are the online resources I found for anyone who wants to know more about Participatory Research:
  • "Social Science Research Ethics: Participatory Research" by various contributors. A useful site giving a brief run-down of participatory research. LINK
  • "Understanding what Participatory Action Research is" by John Kerkula Foeday. LINK
  • "Intervention Research with Communities" by Community Toolbox (University of Kansas). LINK

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