Session: Participatory research ainít easy: Challenges and barriers of doing participatory action research (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

152 Participatory research ainít easy: Challenges and barriers of doing participatory action research

Cluster: Research Design and Measurement

Bart W. Miles, PhD, Wayne State University , Erin Comartin, MSW, Wayne State University and Debra Jozefowicz-Simbeni, PhD, Wayne State University
Sunday, January 17, 2010: 8:45 AM-10:30 AM
Seacliff D (Hyatt Regency)
In the last fifteen years Social Work has seen tremendous interest in participatory research methods. Some of this can be attributed to the emergence of qualitative methodologies within the discipline over that time. The emergence of qualitative as a substantive methodology in the discipline can be attributed to a strong core of senior qualitative researchers and the establishment of the Qualitative Social Work journal. Further, working with marginalized or oppressed populations with a desire for social change is at the heart of our profession. But, despite this growing interest little has been written on the complex issue faced when engaging in participatory research.

Participatory research is basically about voice, the right to speak (Hall, 1993). The goal of participatory research is to enable marginalized groups to acquire creative and transforming power with in a research project, and to develop socio-political thought processes with which the larger society can identify (Hall, 1993). Participatory research is a self-conscious way of empowering groups or individuals to take action in improving their everyday living conditions (Park, 1993). Participatory research is a collaborative process of empowerment, which brings people together, validates their experiences through critical reflection, presents knowledge of researchers as additional source of information, creates a context for shared experiences, and connects experiences to societal structures (Sohng, 1996). Participatory research is a dynamic process of engagement, education, communication, and reflection (Finn, 1994).

But the unique processes of participatory research presents a complex array of challenges, which include: negotiating a dual role of researcher/advocate, grasping the shift from subject to participant, and relinquishing control/power. The shifts in traditional research roles and the change in interpersonal dynamics can vary based on the type of participatory research. Peter Reason (2000) suggests there three approaches to participatory research: Co-operative Inquiry, Participatory Action Research (PAR), and Action Science/Action Inquiry. Further, participatory research can employ wide array data collection methods that can vary from ethnography to focus groups. Each approach and methods of collection offer unique challenges and barriers.

This roundtable session will begin a dialogue about the challenges and barriers of participatory research. The presenters will focus on their own experience from a study using these participatory research approaches. The three presenters will discuss their experiences with the researcher role in a participatory project; how they adjusted to a shift in the role of the researched ďotherĒ; and struggled with the issues of power and control. Further, the presenters will discuss the challenges and barriers that were unique to their individual research project. The first presenter will discuss experiences from a participatory video ethnography with homeless peoples on the street. The second presenter will discuss experiences from a PAR focus group with mothers of youth on the sex offender registry. The third presenter will discuss experiences from a photo-voice research project with female homeless youth. Our goal is to create critical dialogue with other participatory researchers, and potential participatory researchers, on how to address the challenges and barriers presented when engaging in this fulfilling, yet challenging research methodology.

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