Participatory - Action - Research


Tool No. 9: Participatory – Action – Research

Participatory - Action - Research

Description of the tool

Participatory – Action – Research (PAR) is a tool whose objective is to enhance the participation and collaboration of community members in actions aimed at transforming the community. This implies that people must be an active part of all intervention processes, as well as in decision-making (Montenegro, 2004: 20).

PAR emerged in the 1980s as a critique of the limited channels for social participation and decision-making on issues and needs that directly concerned them (civil rights, social justice, inequalities, etc.). This critique also extended to the academic and institutional environment where social phenomena and communities were taken as objects of study, but not as participatory subjects when it came to researching them and seeking solutions.

This type of research aims to take into account social needs and problems, but whose actions are carried out by citizen initiative. Its methodological and theoretical roots are to be found in the pedagogical processes of Paulo Freire, in the militant sociology of Orlando FalsBorda, in community development and in the Critical Culture of the New Museology and Sociomuseology presuppositions.


The main features of this methodology are:

  • The whole community, each citizen, has a responsibility for his or her territory, heritage and future. This awareness of responsibility is one of the elements that Hugues de Varine pointed out as fundamental to the creation of ecomuseums.
  • The purpose is to bring about the transformation of a reality, be it cultural, social or economic.
  • It arises as a result of needs or problems detected by a group or citizens of the community. It is the “spark” (detonator) that authors such as Mayrand or de Varine pointed to as triggers for community mobilisation.
  • It starts from the concrete social reality of the participants of the process themselves. This implies a holistic view (historical and contextual) in which the research depends on the particularities of each situation and place.
  • Popular participation must be part of the whole process, accompanied by a model of horizontal relations, thus breaking the relationship of intellectual dependence; it therefore demands a change in interpersonal and inter-institutional relations from technicians and professionals.


Taking into account the purpose of the RAP and its characteristics, the objectives it pursues are:

  • Reflecting and researching on social history and promoting transversality among the population and technicians to create a Critical Culture.
  • Encourage the inclusion of the population as co-researchers.
  • Develop leadership skills, innovation and social commitment to respond to the needs and demands of the community.
  • Use appropriate methods and strategies in the search for comprehensive solutions to community problems.
  • Stimulateself-managementinitiatives.
  • Create new forms of social organisation.

Guidelines to apply the tool

PAR process:

First step. Diagnosis.
Knowledge of the territory, its problems and needs, based on existing documentation and interviews with institutional and associative representatives. Thispreliminaryphaseinvolves:

  • Meeting with local administrations and representatives, associations and groups, citizens, etc.
  • Programming a preliminary investigation in PEST format.
  • Identification of interest groups for the setting up of committees or working groups.
  • Start of fieldwork (individual and collective interviews with institutional representatives, associations, groups, etc.).
  • Preparation of a preliminary report.

Second step:

  • Constitution of a team composed of technicians and members of the community.
  • Carrying out a situational diagnosis. Investigating the community’s networks and actions, its problems, needs and strengths. For this, different forms of data collection are used (e.g. interviews, focus groups, SWOT analysis, etc.). The result will be the mapping of the priority elements and axes for the community and the networks of partners to address them.

Third step:

  • Action planning. With the research carried out, specific programmes and actions will be generated, and the social, cultural and economic problems and needs to be tackled in the short, medium and long term, their timing, the agents involved and the necessary resources will be decided.

Fourth step:
Implementation of programmes and planned actions. The entire RAP programme must lead to an autonomy of the communities in decision-making and self-governance, or at least in the generation of a critical culture that allows them to be aware of their social, territorial and patrimonial reality.

Support materials

In order to be able to develop the different phases, some PAR techniques are:
Situational diagnosis. This is carried out by means of a PEST and SWOT analysis.
Participatory mapping. These are tools to locate, in a shared and collaborative way, spaces and heritages that are identitary and with which to work on the future of the territory and the community.
Social maps and sociograms. These are maps that visualise neighbourhood collectives and associations, their interactions and networks of knowledge and work. Sociograms aim to graphically represent the degree of relations between the different entities (institutional, civil, etc.) and the direction of these relations, i.e. unidirectional or bidirectional.

Number of participants: this toolkit focuses on community work, so its success will depend on the participation of a representative part of the community population.

Materials: this Toolkit can be developed both in open-air public spaces (squares, parks, etc.) and in closed spaces (schools, cultural centers, etc.). the necessary material will depend on the methodology used and the economic resources available.

Technical team: it is convenient that there is at least one person specialized in PAR or in social and community work.

Online resources

PAR definition and process
PAR methodologies
Tool to create sociograms


Alberich Mistar, T. (2008). IAP, mapas y redes sociales: desde la investigación a la intervención social. Postularía, 8 (1), 131-151.
Benito, Patricia Mata, et al. (ed.) (2014). Propuestas de Investigación e Intervención desde un Enfoque Participativo. Madrid: Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia.
Chevalier, J. M., y Buckles, D. J. (2013). Participatory action research. Londres: Routledge.
De Miguel, M (1993). La IAP un paradigma para el cambio social. Documentación Social: Investigación acción participativa, 92,julio–septiembre, pp. 91-108.
Fals Borda, O (1993). La investigación participativa y la intervención social. Documentación Social: Investigación acción participativa, 92, julio–septiembre, pp. 9-21. Madrid.


Scientific Coordinators