Participatory Action Research

Researching Access to Quality Education

Participatory Action Research (PAR) is. . .

. . . a particular approach to research that differs from traditional academic or applied research.  It is a tool to be used by the community to develop, support and insert its agenda into the public dialogue. 

It differs from academic or applied research in that:

  1. It emerges from and is led by the community
  2. It is designed to make or support a specific point of view
  3. It is inherently political in that it brings new voices to the places where policies are made

Political, in this sense, is the art of translating the ideal into the real.  PAR is a tool accessible to the community that can facilitate it clearly identifying the "ideal" and developing a process and strategy for bringing it about.

Having a thriving public dialogue that includes all segments of a community is vital to our democracy, yet there are large segments of our communities who cannot afford the price of being part of the public dialogue.  While we tend to think of civic engagement as free, there are many hidden costs, e.g., extra gas for the car, minutes on the phone, child care, food, etc.  To those who have very little resources, these are not "hidden costs" but barriers to participation.  PAR has the capacity to reach those populations and bring them into the public dialogue.

Ways to use PAR include:

  • Act as a catalyst for organizing people
  • Identify a core issue within a community
  • Develop/strengthen community leaders
  • Create a action plan


  • Hunger and the Safety Net In San Diego County:  A dozen low-income women conducted over 400 hours of interviews with households earning less 200% of the federal poverty level. These women, developed the interview questions, conducted over 185 interviews, analyzed and published results and made over 100 presentations throughout the county.  This study changed the dialogue on food stamps in the county.
  • Access to Quality Healthcare for East African Families:  Twenty-two women, refugees from eight different East African Countries, developed and conducted a survey of 220 other East African women refugees on their access to healthcare. This study highlighted the poor quality of interpretation services being offered to this community.
  • Crawford Community Assessment:  A group of thirteen students, alumni and parents from a school community (i.e., a neighborhood served by a high school and its feeder middle and elementary schools) developed a community assessment and surveyed 100 youth and 100 adults on the issues of health, education, safety and youth.  An outcome of this assessment was the formation of the Parent~Student~Resident Organization that has become a strong voice for the that community in school policy.


What we do
Civic engagements
Area of focus