Three Approaches to Participative Inquiry

By: Cynthia Joffrion

Participative Inquiry Methods and Applications to Educational Research

In the article “Three Approaches to Participative Inquiry” Peter Reason examines three approaches to participatory research: Cooperative Inquiry, Participatory Action, and Action Inquiry. The common attributes of each method are framed in terms of “participation. “ Each research method approaches the concept of participation differently, which produce results that are clearly distinctive. The “participator” component is presented as the main element places the participative approach in a different category from scientific or traditional orthodox research methods. Overall, Reasons’ descriptions of the research mythologies imply success using all three. In contrast, many researchers take a different view of participatory research and assert that influential factors affect the process and insignificant results are observed. To determine if the participative inquiry approach is a valid process for studying change in educational organizations main points from Reasons article are compared to other research articles. In addition, an application situation is described utilizing the participative action research (PAR) model in the hopes that a speculative outline will provide insight to future applications.

In order to reveal the positive and negative constructs of participatory research models Reasons assertions are compared to key research finding presented by Waterson. Reason focuses on three participatory approaches to research that stand in contrast to orthodox scientific method. Participant involvement is core strategy of the PAR methodology. Degrees of involvement vary depending on the study. Reason offers several examples that provide a positive view of the approach. For instance, community meetings serve as the impetuous for allowing knowledge to flow through the group. Reason sites results from a variety of sources that validate the success of the theory. The key attributes of the PAR method places emphasize on the importance of sharing power, but fails to consider seriously the ways in which leaders of democratic movements must develop personally and learn to exercise transforming power. Leaders will have to develop and be open to sharing the power structure. Reason provides several examples that illustrate that success of the process even when factoring in the potential problems of power sharing.
Waterson provides a case study example that support Reason ideal of “sharing power” but with negative results. Evidence indicates that integration of actions with the inquiry process frequently produced little action. This is primarily because the research does not take a strong role in “importing” knowledge and enabling group member’s sufficient autonomy to control their participation. Waterson provides additional information suggesting that the participatory approach is only successful if it is well planned and all political influences are factored in. Defensive resistance factors are described in detail and are related to the failure of the study. Reason did mention the factors but did not provide clear details to illuminate the resistance factors or interventions that could be effectively used in dealing with them in the article.

Overall the participatory process model is an effective mechanism for studying change and can be applied to educational organizations. The key to successful application rests with the degree knowledge is allowed to flow. In educational organizations it is not uncommon for groups to encourage open knowledge flow. Many educators are accustomed to participating in campus advisory teams that are used as a vehicle for driving the flow of knowledge. Many times the teams are charged with the task of outline instructional change and they are the owners or agents of the change process. Ownership ensures that all members have a vested interest in the change process and the intervention that are being implemented. The teams not only outline change innovations but they are involved with the application process. They further evaluate results in the implementation process and prescribe interventions to promote success. Campus advisory teams assimilate the participatory model easily. Change will result by applying the participatory process and focusing on providing the group with an organized method for information flow.
First, a clear agenda must be presented to the group so that the agents of change are clear to everyone. Waterson sites the predominate reason for failure that was evident in her case study finding was that there were multiple agendas present. The stakeholders did not agree on the process flow therefore everyone had a different agenda. According to Reason, the PAR method presents a different degree of participation that range from total emersion to passive recipient of information. Therefore, equality must be present for all that participates. In contrast, Watersons study clearly illustrates power struggles within the group, which contributed to the lack of success found in validating the research findings.

To illustrate the PAR process in detail it is helpful to provide a speculative scenario. The scenario mirrors a working model that can be used to provide insight into future applications. The following scenario incorporates the PAR process into current problem that is apparent in my work environment.

Currently, strategic planning is practiced by my organization but not everyone is included in the process. Our strategic plan is based on specific vertical markets such as government, medical, and education. The vertical market I work with is education. Our market analysis revealed that our education customers not only needed technology equipment but also due to restricted budgets they also needed value add services. The value add services that are needed included training, grant writing, and instructional resources. My company decided to include value add services with our traditional product offering for education customers. The value add services would change the way we viewed our customers and change the way we conducted business.
During the change process it became evident that not everyone had the same agenda is terms of providing value-add services to our customers. It was apparent that an intervention was needed to provide structure. In this instance the PAR process can be used to empower the work group to produce knowledge by direct action. The first step would be to have everyone collaborate on a shared agenda. The value add services would be outlined and the group would construct goals. If there is a consensus then everyone will be working to achieve the same goals. Next, everyone will work to envelope the value add services into their current customer sales offering and response to bids. The group will meet periodically to ensure success and recommend interventions for areas that present a problem. The change process will be a success if individual members participate in the application of the intervention and utilize the constructs of a common goal.

The end result for following the PAR process will result in a change with respect to company attitudes and wiliness to engage in the new value add offering. This can be easily measured by analyzing the increased use of the value add services. Both quantitative and qualitative measure can be produced although at some point a Likert scale survey may be one tool that is used to gather information and measure attitudes.

In conclusion, the feasibility of utilizing the participatory methodology specifically the (PAR) model as an impetuous for facilitating change is risky. In my opinion there are a number of variables present which will be difficult to control. This will result in findings that are not valid and will ultimately produce an unstable environment that will not facilitate change. In addition, underlying organization politics such as power structure and culture bias will always be present. In select situations where these variables can some what be control the methodology can prove effective.

REFERENCES

Hagey, R. (1997). Guest editorial: The use and abuse of participatory action research. Chronic Diseases in Canada. Retrieved June 16, 2003, from

Reason, P. (1998). Chapter 20: Three approaches to participative inquiry. In N. Denzin (Ed.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 324-338). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Waterson, J. (2000). Balancing Research and Action: Reflections on an Action Research Project in a Socail Services Department. Social Policy & Administration 34 (4), 144-159. Retrieved April 20, 2004, from Ebscohost database.

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