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It’s not long since I wrote My role as a researcher as part of my ongoing inquiry into the nature and value of research.  I think – using Vickers terms – that my appreciative setting is now firmly set to spot additional potential developments to this inquiry.  Either that or its like lots of buses coming along at once.

So I was really interested to see an online first announcement for an article by Khan et al (2013)  – the first three lines of the abstract saying…

“What is the purpose of knowledge? Is it an end product only, or a means for action for change? Who is expected to take action – the researcher, research subjects, both, or some unknown others who may come across the knowledge produced? The larger question then is: is it health research, or research for health, equity and development?” (no page numbers)

The article gave me some new food for thought…

The article argues that in a world of short resources and where change is so needed, it should be seen as a luxury to do social/health research where knowledge is seen as the end product. This model involves three roles the researcher (knowledge producer) getting data from ‘subjects’ (knowledge bearers) and turning it into knowledge and knowledge products for the use of policy makers/service providers (knowledge users).  When the issue of concern are marginalised or oppressed groups this is denying the ‘subjects’ a right to take action and make change – thus adding to the power imbalance and raising questions of ethics.

It is important that the research process itself is seen as a means for action and change by those involved.  Here the ‘subjects’ are research-partners, the actions and changes they take as a result of involvement in the process of research should be seen as research outcomes in themselves.

This is where participatory action research can help.  But it isn’t without its ‘tussles’…for example…

If you are building in concern for action and change, it is important at the outset to conceptualise at the outset how you understand change will take place.  Who will change? How will change occur?  Is it individual change or collective action?  The article draws on Freire’s concept of participation and change – that people can become conscious of oppression and structures of oppression as a first step to taking action.

Often research donors/sponsors are looking for knowledge and knowledge products, so you have to balance their needs with concern for change.

But most of all I am struck by the elusive question in the abstract – “is it health research or research for health, equity and development?”.  The ‘turn’ is not really explained in the paper but I love the re-framing that this switch brings.  It implies (to me) that the research process itself should be health improving and empowering.

References

Khan, Kausar S, Bawani, Sohail Amir Ali and Aziz, Ayesha (2013) ‘Bridging the gap of knowledge and action: a case for participatory action research (PAR)’, Action Research, online first.


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