What is participatory research ? And what can it do for me ?
Philippe Archambault, Prof. McGill University and Marc Saint-Onge, Coordinator of Observatoire Québecois du Loisir
Discover the participatory approach to research and the strategies to integrate all stakeholders and make research efficient.
So, the question: what is participatory research, and what can it do for me? You, Marc Saint-Onge of the Observatoire québécois du loisir, what are your concerns? I work a lot in the field with different actors and we are always very concerned about finding solutions, but it is not always obvious that we find all these solutions. Sometimes we find some that don’t satisfy us. Sometimes they are very short term and we are looking, I am looking for solutions that could come from the world of participatory research. I would ask you Phillippe Archambault, from McGill University in Montreal: how could it help me? how could we work with participatory research? So, participatory research is a process where practitioners in the field, like you, and academic researchers like me, get together to find solutions to real-world issues. Our goal is really to respond to one of these priorities through a scientific and therefore systematic approach. So it’s really an alliance between people in the field, like you, and researchers, to address an issue and a concern. I am happy to hear this explanation, because it clarifies me more, but I need solutions that will persist over time. When I have to meet with my managers to ask for more money, I have to be able to sell them that idea. And I’m always looking for those solutions and I’m always looking for those mechanisms that are going to improve. What I was doing five years ago or ten years ago, it’s impossible to do it again today. I have to find new solutions. How could it be the research itself to be helpful? Scientific research is a systematic approach where we ask a question, then we give ourselves the means to answer it and we find results, solutions. But maybe, it’s easier to answer your question with a concrete example, maybe you had an idea in your head, then we could go from there? I have several ideas, but one that I have to deal with is the integration of children with disabilities in day camps. Many municipalities ask us, many actors in the field want to do more, but it is not always easy to integrate the children. And this search for mechanisms is not always present. Would there be something in this to do a research with this idea? Well, this is an excellent example. Perhaps a first question would be to understand the problem, to understand why children with disabilities are not well integrated into day camp activities. So, for example, we could do interviews with the monitors, with daycare managers, with parents, even with children. We could get some of their ideas of what to improve. We could also do a search in the scientific literature to see who the other researchers are, because you are not the only ones who have had this problem. So, try to see what else exists on this subject. Then, by putting all this together, the observations in the field, the interviews, what already exists in the literature, we could propose concrete solutions that we could then apply in the field, therefore in the municipality. When we work together, it goes well. When you are present, it goes well. It’s when the people you work with, who have a lot of knowledge and are a bit removed from your daily life, and you encounter certain kind of problems, how far can you rely on the help of participatory research and researchers to really implement mechanisms, solutions that you find? The research can also be used to implement the solutions and to accompany you in this process, for example. So once we identify a solution or solutions for day camps, we could implement it, a pilot project. Then we can do field observations to see how things are going. Again, questions can be asked or interviews conducted with instructors, parents and children. See what was, what worked, what didn’t work well, what could be improved? Then, with all this, we can make recommendations to to make the solution more sustainable and improve it. What are the tasks, obligations, and responsibilities of being involved in a participatory research project? I still have my daily routine to attend to. I still have my tasks that are getting heavier and heavier. What does it mean? It certainly takes time. It takes a lot of work. Research is a systematic approach. There will be a lot of research assistants, students, so we’re going to do, we’re going to do a lot of the work, but it’s a team effort, so you’ve got to put in your own or your own resources as well. But we will adjust and therefore we will find a project that is feasible according to the timelines, according to the resources that are available. But the good thing is, after that, we’re going to come up with solutions that are well documented and that are going to be useful for all sorts of things, so for improving services and so on. Philippe, if I understand what you said, if I want to enter into participatory research first and foremost, we have to know our responsibilities, our tasks, our reciprocal obligations and how to deal with them. This is important so that we can come up with some solutions that are sustainable and that will really take hold. Exactly!