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Participatory Action Research (IAP): what is it and how does it work?

Participatory Action Research (IAP): what is it and how does it work?

December 4, 2020

Research in social sciences is very diverse and rich in proposals and possibilities of action. By understanding that we are beings immersed in a large 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 about one of the most important methods in community social psychology: the Participatory Action Research (IAP) .

What is Participatory Action Research?

The Participatory Action Research (IAP) 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 are proposed to include all the participants of a community in the creation of scientific knowledge about themselves.

The IAP is a way of intervening in social problems that seeks that the knowledge produced by an investigation serve for social transformation. It also seeks that the development of research and intervention is focused on the participation of those who make up the community where it is investigated and intervened, since the community itself is understood as the one in charge of defining and directing its own needs, conflicts and solutions

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

For the same, Action research has historically been linked to the mobilization of minority social sectors , promoting ways 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 planning an IAP are planning, empowerment, strengthening and evidently the concept of participation . Likewise, it is a process that is carried out through a series of systematic and consensual actions.

Although there is no unique 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 there are some stages through which an IAP takes place, such as detection or the reception of a demand, the familiarization and diffusion of the project, the participative diagnosis, the detection and prioritization of needs, the design of an action plan, the execution of the actions, and the constant and also participative evaluation.

Theoretical support: participatory paradigms

The participatory paradigms are epistemological and methodological models that have allowed the development of different ways of doing social research, and that arise as a consequence of the criticisms that have been made to the predominant and more traditional ways of doing social research.

Following Montenegro, Balasch and Callen (2009), We are going to list three characteristics or purposes of participatory paradigms , which are some of the ones that constitute the theoretical and methodological foundations of the Participatory Action Research:

1. Redefine roles by specifying the shared action field

The members of the communities are not mere recipients, recipients or beneficiaries but they are recognized as producers of knowledge, with which there is a joint work between different knowledge.

The interventor is no longer an expert but is a facilitator or facilitator in the process of investigation-intervention. Thus, it seeks to get out of the distinction between subject of knowledge - object of knowledge (person who intervenes - people intervened). Understands knowledge as a product of heterogeneous experiences and relationships that establish .

2. There is a political dimension

Participatory methods they seek that knowledge is used towards the transformation of power relations and of domination that have contributed to sustaining social inequalities. This occurs in contrast to some traditional positions of intervention, whose purpose is mainly the opposite: to adapt people to social structures.

3. Evaluate the challenges during the process

Assess the challenges and difficulties, as well as the solution strategies, for example, the inclusion of all people does not occur automatically nor is it always a desire shared by all or exempt from conflicts.It can also happen that the problematization made by all agents is not always oriented towards social transformation or the production of critical knowledge, whose solutions are proposed according to the context, needs and expectations of the actors.

In sum, to consider that people traditionally understood as "intervened", are actually subjects of knowledge (like the "intervenors") , the participative methods base the detection of problems and the decision making in the implication of different knowledge and seek to establish horizontal relations oriented to 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. IoĆ© collective. Retrieved April 13, 2018. Available at:

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