Empowering Enquiry

Participatory Methods

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

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