Schön (1995) wrote more than two decades ago about the disconnect between practitioners and researchers, noting that often the research published is not necessarily applicable for practitioners. At the time, he recommended increased use of participatory action research (PAR), and this recommendation has been echoed by several counseling psychologists over the years (including a call for PAR research as a best practice for prevention, a mention of PAR as a mixed-methods approach to social justice work, a seminal piece on core tenets of PAR work, and an acknowledgement that PAR may be an innovative tool counter to typical, hegemonic research paradigms). These authors demonstrate how well PAR integrates our roles as scientist-practitioners and how it can be used to uphold the social justice values that have become integral parts of the counseling psychology identity.
What is it?
PAR is a methodological approach to research that emphasizes participation with the community and creation of final products beyond typical manuscripts. For example, PAR emphasizes doing research with these communities, giving power to the community members who participate in the research process. Researchers can recruit community members interested in the same issues, and these community members can serve as experts alongside the researchers. Though researchers may still aim to document their findings in scholarly journals, the action component of the methodology requires that researchers also return the research findings back to the community in some form of action (for example, policy change, consciousness-raising events, prevention programming). Through both participation and action, the main aim of PAR is to empower the community.
PAR projects typically employ mixed-methods and incorporate feminist and critical paradigms to raise consciousness and lead to liberation. Given the emphasis on how lived experiences are situated within systems of power and privilege, PAR utilizes a method that shares power with others, aligning well with the social justice values of counseling psychology as a profession.
What are some examples?
My fascination with PAR projects began when I attended the Critical Participatory Action Research Institutes at CUNY, a now twice-annual training program and workshop that helped shaped how I view scholar-activism. Through this program, I was introduced to several projects that used a CPAR methodology to help address current events within the community. Among these projects are ones that helped advocate for the end of stop and frisk in New York City, explored other experiences of inequity across all five boroughs in NYC, exposed the school-to-prison pipeline in Bushwick, identified policies harmful to LGBT+ and gender nonconforming youth in a number of diverse communities, examined health disparities for LGBTQ youth, and shed light on the racism experienced by youth in schools. Several of these projects have been conducted in conjunction with the Public Science Project and demonstrate core aspects of PAR.
Where can I find out more?
As these examples inspire you to engage in your own participatory action research (or youth-led participatory action research [YPAR]), you can find useful resources at the YPAR Hub, in this review, or with this toolkit.
Keri Frantell, M.S.
University of Tennessee
Counseling Psychology Program