Participatory research

Participatory Action Research App

We are beginning to scope out the development of a Participatory Action  Research (PAR) App. This is something we have been thinking about for a long time but have always been held back by the idea that the best sort of participatory research is done in person. The COVID context has changed this though, and as we have started to adapt to running participatory research workshops and training sessions online we are beginning to see some of the benefits – as well as the challenges.

There are apps out there that replicate the flip chart and post-its workshop setting (such as MIRO, Google Jamboard) – but none quite do the job. We have also seen a rising appetite from our clients and collaborators for digital approaches to participatory research – it seems we need to up our game.

This is how our thinking has progressed so far:

Functionality – what would a PAR app do?

  • It would be great to have a bespoke app which included the pre-drawn PAR tools with instructions, functionality to use them in a flexible way, and the ability to adopt / evolve and develop new tools inside the app that others could use.
  • It would be fantastic if there was a way to automate the ‘write’ up of data – which can be boring and time consuming.
  • It would also be useful if there was a data analysis aspect to the application – enabling the coding and sorting of data collectively – and the visualisation of that data to show, for example, the frequency of certain codes/themes.
  • It would be useful to have a demographics plug in that tied certain types of people to certain types of responses.
  • It would also be good to ensure that there is a space to record the stories that have been told (by participants and peer researchers) as part of the research project. The case studies that really bring a subject / finding to life.
  • It would be important to have the ability to upload data that is collected on paper.

Application – how would a PAR app be used? 

A PAR app could work in many contexts:

  • It could be a general participatory action research app – this would support peer research projects in a range of sectors. In academia, in health, or in community development contexts.
  • It could be used to help community and public organisations to explore and find solutions to problems they are facing – or identify opportunities for change in a collaborative way.
  • It could be tailored to specific areas of work – for example evaluations looking at the impacts of a certain project or programme on people and communities.
  • It could be tailored to specific sectors – for example community energy, Post Occupancy Evaluation in architecture, or as a consultation feedback tool for local authorities who want to engage with local people, or co-operatives who want to engage with their membership.

Ethics – how can we ensure that research ethics are supported by a PAR app?

If this app was developed we would have to think clearly about ethics:

  • How would an app reflect the ethos of peer research?
  • How can we ensure that the research is not extractive and tick boxy?
  • How can we enable participants themselves to be in control – shape the research questions and data collection and recommendations/findings?
  • Could these ethical questions be part of the app?
  • So that commissioners are guided through the process and are better briefed about the ethos and approach?
  • Would we make the app open-source so anyone could use it?

Early days in our thinking, but we would love to work with others on this, including other organisations interested in supporting participatory and peer research, as well as people who have been involved in tech-for-good projects who might be able to lend a hand.

Is this a good idea? What are the challenges and pitfalls that you can foresee? Is there an appetite for it? Can you see how it would be applied to your own projects?

Please get in touch with your thoughts.

Image by Catherine Cordasco on Unsplash.

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