A Short Note on Participatory Research
- Professor Sirisena Tilakaratna
- Colombo, Sri Lanka
- 6 January 1990
|This paper was presented to a seminar of Sri Lankan
social scientists and community specialists in January 1990.
It was part
of a series of activities supported and funded by the United Nations/ Government of Sri
Lanka, Community Participation Programme 1988 to 1995.
The focus of the programme was the development of community-controlled research
methods and techniques for social change and life improvement.
|Participatory Research seeks to de-elitise and
de-mystify research thereby making it an intellectual tool which ordinary people can use
to improve their lives.
|Participatory Research must be
sharply distinguished from conventional Elitist Research which treats people as objects of
the research process.
In Elitist Research the fundamental underlying assumption is that people are incapable
of doing research - it is a monopoly of the elite who know scientific methodologies.
Information is collected from people through surveys and interviews conducted by external
investigators. This extracted information is then processed and analysed by professionals
without the involvement of local people. Reports are written in professionally accepted
formats and styles (often in English) to cater for the consumption of a select groups of
persons. Besides the financial rewards, the researcher enriches his or her CV.
People who have been researched are in general not the beneficiaries of this process.
The knowledge is not returned to the people. Moreover, the knowledge that is generated is
of doubtful value for practical purposes because it has been collected through mechanical
means which often fail to capture the perceptions of the people and their living
realities. People supply information for the researcher to write a book. They do not,
however, see a direct benefit for themselves.
In sharp contrast to elitist research the key features of participatory research are:
|people are the subjects of research: the dichotomy between subject and object is broken|
|people themselves collect the data, and then process and analyse the information using
methods easily understood by them|
|the knowledge generated is used to promote actions for change or to improve existing
|the knowledge belongs to the people and they are the primary beneficiaries of the
|research and action are inseparable they represent a unity|
|research is a praxis rhythm of action-reflection where knowledge creation supports
|people function as organic intellectuals|
|there is an built-in mechanism to ensure authenticity and genuineness of the information
that is generated because people themselves use the information for life improvement.|
Such participatory research may not get written up. Oral and visual methods
characterise this process of knowledge creation. If people can be stimulated to write them
up in their own idiom then such research could be an important source of a peoples
literature, and reading materials for a wider public.
Some of the material could be translated into pictures, cartoons, graphics, posters and
slogans which may be a more effective method of communication. Such documentation may be
carried out by community activists who are well placed to articulate the communitys
way of thinking.
The promotion of participatory research is basically an exercise in stimulating the
|reflect and analyse it|
|use the results as a knowledge base for life improvement, and|
|whenever possible, to document the results for wider dissemination ie for the creation
of a peoples literature.|
The role of the outside professional
The role of the outside professional is to promote the above processes. This can be
|assisting people to collect data and then to process and analyse the information using
simple methods which enables them to systematise their knowledge|
|linking the local situation (which the people know best) to the larger external
situation (about which the outside may know more)|
|improving peoples access to new information and formal knowledge (eg technology)|
|introducing local people to experiences from outside their environment|
|throwing up relevant issues or problems for local people to reflect on and analyse and
then assisting them in coming to their own conclusions.|
The important thing is that the interaction between local people and the outside
professional must primarliy benefit the people concerned by enabling them to articulate
and systematise their own thought processes and thereby enhancing their knowledge base so
that the can pursue independent actions.
Reaching a wider audience
Along with the above contributions, outside professionals could document the
experiences of peoples processes to cater for two audiences:
|development workers who wish to promote participatory processes|
|policy makers and intellectuals who wish to create wider support and facilitating
structures for people-centred development|
The reduction of intellectual dependence
Participatory Research is an important means of building peoples capacities
their intellectual capacities and thus reducing their dependence on outside
professionals and intellectuals.
Intellectual dependence is a subtle process which makes people feel small and thus
dehumanises them; it is more subtle than dependence in the material sphere but no less
Outsiders who assist the people to engage in Participatory Research must of necessity
be highly sensitised persons who are willing to dialogue with people on more or less equal
terms ie who are willing to adopt a horizontal mode of communication.
Participatory Research seeks to de-elitise and de-mystify research thereby making it an
intellectual tool which people can use for life improvement.