In order to progress towards future visions it is necessary for organisations as well as community participants to continually reflect on what has worked and what has not worked in the past, in order to better identify and benefit from opportunities, to foresee and address challenges and continually reflect on the implication for strategies going forward.

Alongside the community-led participatory learning there is also a role for external documentation and research, following ethical principles of ‘Empowering Enquiry’. This is particularly the case where information is needed on sensitive issues, or where triangulation of methods is needed for advocacy or fundraising.

This external and more extractive research however, builds on the information from participant diagrams, and reinforces the capacity of participants to analyse their situation and ways forward – those interviewed should always benefit and learn more from the time they give to researchers. They should also be informed of the findings so that the research contributes to their process.

Use of visual methods like photography and video are particularly important as a cost-effective means of recording participants stories as well as communicating findings.

Participatory Action Learning System

GAMEChange Participatory Action Learning System is based on action learning by participants in order to improve strategies to progress towards their visions linking:

  • champion individual tracking of achievements and progress on individual diagrams, and reflecting on the implications of strategies that have worked and what has not worked and implications for future actions. This action learning is inbuilt into each tool and a key element in facilitation.
  • sharing and quantifying these achievements in participatory workshops and groups to share experiences and how to improve
  • aggregating quantitative and qualitative information from the participatory process for analysis at organisational level and fed back to participants to strengthen and improve the process.

Through the focus on transparency and use of information to improve individual success, the information obtained is typically very rich and reliable because participants have a self-interest in understanding.

Complementing and linked to this participant-led ‘action learning system’ ’empowering enquiry’ is used to collect qualitative and quantitative information for advocacy and other purposes where triangulated information might be needed.

Empowering Enquiry: Principles for Advocacy Research

Complementing and linked to this participant-led ‘action learning system’ ’empowering enquiry’ is used to collect qualitative and quantitative information for advocacy and other purposes.

  • Advocacy campaigns often need to base themselves on research in order to convince policy makers as well as raise awareness in the affected populations.
  • Development organisations and donors may need issue-specific information to make policy or funding decisions

The best way of collecting this information is generally through well-designed participatory processes and rigorous use of participatory tools.

At the same time the sensitivity of some topics and/or the sheer numbers of people involved in order to give sufficient weight to advocacy campaigns create a range of differing perspectives and potential conflicts of interest. This means that research requires both in depth qualitative understanding of differing perspectives in order to avoid simplistic stereotyping and rigorous quantification and analysis in order to minimise domination by vocal vested interests.

Empowering enquiry uses an integrated methodology that builds on the complementarities between participatory, qualitative and quantitative methods in order to build on strengths, crosscheck and triangulate the information which is most crucial for addressing the particular research questions concerned and also try to disseminate information in different ways for different audiences in order to ensure, as far as possible, benefits for outcomes for participants.

Stakeholder participation

  • ensures inclusion and informed participation of the most vulnerable stakeholders
  • includes these stakeholders in those stages in research where participation can be most directly empowering to them. Participation may be more important at the design, analysis and dissemination stages than the actual collection of information itself.

Gender inequalities raise particular challenges for all types of research: participatory, quantitative and qualitative.

Participatory Framework

Participatory methods  play a central role at all stages from conception, through piloting and refinement to advocacy research proper and then finally dissemination. Using participatory methods as the ‘first port of call’, has many advantages in terms of rapidity and reliability of collecting many types of qualitative as well as quantitative information, manageability in terms of time and resources and also its potential for contributing to the development process. They are also generally an essential component of research dissemination to those participating in the research, a stage which is commonly ignored and omitted, but essential for accountability and implementation of advocacy goals.

Participatory methods have their origins in development activism: NGOs and social movements. The main aim is not only knowledge per se, but social change and empowerment wherever possible as a direct result of the research process itself. In particular it seeks to investigate and give voice to those groups in society who are most vulnerable and marginalised in development decision-making and implementation.

The participatory process may involve small focus groups, larger participatory workshops or individual diaries and diagrams which are then collated into a plenary discussion. Participatory research typically uses and adapts diagram tools from farmer-led research, systems analysis and also oral and visual tools from anthropology as well as tools developed by NGOs and participants in the field. In some cases (eg GALS) local people themselves conduct research following initial design of specific tools and training. There has recently been an interest in the use of participatory photography, video and theatre as a means of exploring and disseminated advocacy messages.

At the same time participation also has potential costs as well as benefits for all concerned. Participatory methods are often used badly – failing to collect reliable information and dominated by existing vested interests. In relation to gender there are specific challenges in:

  • going beyond stereotypes
  • opening spaces for women and men to discuss sensitive and potentially conflictual gender issues
  • giving spaces for both women and men from different backgrounds to discuss separately and together
  • negotiating conflicts of interest in analysis

Although any one single research process cannot resolve all the tensions and trade-offs inherent in gender transformation, participatory methods can make a contribution as part of an ongoing multi-stakeholder learning process to:

  • building up capacities and structures for ongoing representation of poor women and men and other vulnerable people in the policy making process.
  • facilitating direct interaction between powerful stakeholders and poor people in order to break down the barriers of complacency, misinformation and prejudice which are in themselves key causes of poverty.

For more discussion of using participatory methods as the basis for advocacy and other research see:

Qualitative and quantitative research

Qualitative methods have their origins in the humanities: sociology, anthropology, geography and history. They aim to obtain a holistic understanding of complex realities and processes where questions and hypotheses emerge cumulatively as the investigation progresses.

Qualitative methods:

  • typically focus on compiling a selection of microlevel Case Studies using a combination of informal interviews, participant observation and more recently visual media like photography.
  • questions are broad and open-ended, changing and developing over time to fill in a ‘jigsaw’ of differing accounts of ‘reality’, identifying which may be said to be generally ‘true’ and which are specific and subjective and why.
  • different sampling methods are combined: different purposive sampling techniques, identification of key informants and also ‘random encounters’.
  • causality and attribution are directly investigated through questionning as well as qualitative analysis of data. Computer programmes are used to deal systematically with large amounts of data.
  • in-depth qualitative research requires a skilled researcher in the field who engages in a reflexive process of data collection and analysis over a period of time.

Good qualitative research can reveal very powerful messages and illustrative cases which can be used in advocacy campaigns.

Gender issues, and particularly concepts like empowerment and sensitive issues like violence are often seen as best researched using qualitative methods. However this has often led to gender issues being marginalised and relegated to superficial anecdotes rather than fully integrated into ‘mainstream’ research.

The Forum for Qualitative Research website brings together resources and debates on qualitative methods in English and other European languages.

Advocacy campaigns often require justification through ‘rigorous’ quantitative information on large numbers of people. Quantitative methods as they are commonly conceived derive from experimental and statistical methods in natural science.

The main concern is with rigorous objective measurement in order to determine the truth or falsehood of particular pre-determined hypotheses.

  • the main focus is on measuring ‘how much is happening to how many people’.
  • the main tools are large scale surveys analysed using statistical techniques. Quantitative measurable indicators relevant to the pre-determined hypotheses are identified and combined into questionnaires.
  • questionnaires are then conducted for a random sample or stratified random sample of individuals, often including a control group.
  • causality is assessed through comparison of the incidence of the variables under consideration between main sample and control group and/or the degree to which they co-occur.
  • in large-scale research projects teams are composed of a number of skilled research designers and analysts assisted by teams of local enumerators.

Use of quantitative methods on their own have a tendency to reduce complex issues, including gender issues, to simplistic indicators chosen for ease of measurement, but which may not be the most important or relevant in planning for change.

Both qualitative and quantitative research and impact assessment methodologies, including statistical surveys, informal interviews as well as participatory methods, can be more empowering for those giving their valuable time to answering questions. Through:

1) Design of questionnaires, interviews and participatory meetings to contribute to increasing people’s understanding of their situation and ways forward as well extracting information without necessarily increasing their length. Questions can be sequenced to:

  • start by clarifying the vision people have
  • celebrate what they have already achieved
  • identify challenges to further progress
  • identify clear concrete strategies for moving further along the road to their vision.

2) The research process itself aims to contribute to an ongoing multi-stakeholder learning process through:

•  building up capacities and structures for ongoing representation of poor women and men and other vulnerable people in the policy making process.

•  facilitating direct interaction between powerful stakeholders and poor people in order to break down the barriers of complacency, misinformation and prejudice which are in themselves key causes of gender inequality and poverty.

Empowering Enquiry Toolkit

Impact Assessment Studies