A guide for field projects on adaptive strategies Layer 3 Layer 4 Layer 2
Underlying principles
Ecosystem-based approach
Participatory research methodologies
Participant Observer
Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA)
Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA)
Participatory Action Research (PAR)-You Are Here-
Project Stages
[Off-Site Link] Cornell: PARnet

Participatory Action Research (PAR)

Participatory Action Research (PAR) is a more activist approach, working to empower the local community, or its representatives, to manipulate the higher level power structures. Claimed for a variety of interventions - World Bank-supported credit unions for the relatively privileged, Grameen-type banks for the very poor, community based paralegal training and litigation, voter education drives among the marginalized - PAR can empower a community, entrench a local elite, right a wrong or totally mess things up. It depends on the extent of awareness and political savoir faire of the supporting outside organization.

PAR, which owes more to a radical activist tradition from the work of Paulo Freire and others in Latin America, derives some of its rationale from an awareness that PRA, for all its emphasis on participation, capability building, ownership of knowledge and empowerment, is still fundamentally an extractive and intellectual exercise. The benefits PRA brings to local communities can be intangible and even disappointing. PAR, by contrast, works directly with local political/development capacities to bring real, visible organizational structures, effective local advocacy, and a durable change in power relations with the center. If it can avoid the danger of entrenching a self-interested local elite, and address honestly the long-term choices that must be made on resource utilization, it perhaps has the most potential of all the methods described to secure the resources for sustainable livelihoods. The IISD project demonstrated more than one example of country project teams moving beyond a PRA approach to see that a PAR-type approach was desirable, seeking to mobilize actual resources in a follow-up exercise to produce durable change.

Dangers and drawbacks

Participatory Action Research is fine if you understand the local power structure and the issues. It is best reserved for situations where the external agent is aware of the potential for damage, both to themselves and, more importantly, to the disempowered in the community. It also works best where the external agency has a clear status and relationship with the community and can command resources for a long-term commitment.

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