Participatory research to achieve social change has a long history of association with development, with recent significant evolutions and innovations in practice. Participatory and Action Research have never been a unified approach to inquiry with questions of vision, aim, and process, and as they extend to more and increasingly diverse contexts, this range of interpretations and approaches will grow.
Contributors to this IDS Bulletin reflect on both the theory and the practice of action research for development and social change, as we engage in it today. They ask questions such as ‘What do our collective understandings and experiences of, and approaches to, action research have in common?’, ‘What can we learn from instances where these differ?’ and ‘What separates these approaches from other forms of social inquiry?’ and reflect on methods to shed light on the practical implications and challenges of doing action research.
Firm conclusions or a single ‘theory of practice’ are not sought, but rather themes such as power, learning, action, and understanding of change are a starting point for further discussion. The authors in this IDS Bulletin all have different histories and relationships to action research, and use different language. Work is variously described as Action Learning, Action Research, Participatory Systemic Inquiry, Participatory Action Research and Systemic Action Research.
Authors have reflected on how their own positionality invariably shaped the aspects of the research process or outcomes while participating with other actors in trying to alter, improve or transform challenging situations, or at least prevent them from getting worse.