Research method

IPs 5&6 are focussing on community radio, a type of radio that, above all else, is participatory: the community owns the station, is represented in its governance and actively involved in the production of programmes and the training of volunteers. So it seems appropriate, in researching community radio, to use a participatory method. ‘Participatory action research’ (PAR) is how we describe the approach being used in our TRE work.

PAR is based on the Ethnographic Action Research method (EAR) which was first developed with funding from the UK Department for International Development (DfID) and UNESCO support in early 2002 to develop an evaluation methodology for a community radio and internet project in Sri Lanka[1] It combines a holistic approach, looking at the whole social setting of a radio station/project and contextualising it within the wider economy, government policies etc, while at the same time, as action research, encouraging projects to ‘own’ the research and its findings and to develop a research culture that allows them to monitor their own practice and develop research tools.

Our research in the TRE project combines three analytical levels, corresponding to the traditional divisions of media research –production (institution), text and audience – and matching the three themes of the overall project: Infrastructures & Public Spheres, Aesthetics & Territoriality and Archive & Cultural Memory.

We start by sharing the aims of the research with the ‘subjects’ and explaining that, rather than thinking about research as an activity that happens to them, they should themselves share in the ownership and control of the research.

We piloted the method in Bristol, in south west England. A significant amount of time was spent making contacts through existing local networks of community radio stations and projects. After initial contact work by a local researcher, Lewis and Mitchell spent three days meeting with potential workshop contributors to explain the project and PAR research method. This was seen as essential to secure attendance at the workshop and hopefully to secure a long-term ´buy in´ to the research. Community radio producers and community representatives were invited to a workshop which we titled ‘Sharing Experience’. Each participant received in advance a page of explanation about the TRE project and PAR.

After explaining TRE, we shared our assumption that most transnational encounters take place among minority ethnic groups – whether historically settled communities, or more recent refugee and migrant communities. Encounters might include connections with a homeland outside Europe and/or with diasporic groups in Europe and beyond. By connections, we mean anything from listener groups to arrangements for exchanging or co-producing programming, or exchanges of staff/volunteers.

We added that we were also including in our research the use of radio by other minorities such as LGBT communities, stations experimenting with art radio, and women's radio . We went on to list the questions to which we wanted answers, and these were based on the three main themes mentioned above  – Infrastructures & Public Spheres, Aesthetics & Territoriality, Archive & Cultural Memory.

(1)  What role has mainstream radio played through its representations (or misrepresentations) in bringing your community to the point where you decided to speak for yourselves?

(2)  What role does radio play among the other media you use – e.g. UK radio and TV, satellite channels from abroad, social media.

(3)  What do radio programmes made by and for different ethnic communities sound like (including use of different languages)?

(4)  In making these programmes what do you find helps or hinders your work – at the station level, and beyond?

(5)  Does your station/project hold archives that are evidence of the developing relationships between your community and mainstream media or the host community, and between yourselves and counterpart communities in mainland Europe?

A second pilot workshop took place in Jarrow in July 2014. For further details of the two pilot workshops in Bristol and Jarrow and future planned workshops, see under Activities.


[1] (Slater, Tacchi & Lewis 2002, available at The approach was implemented and further developed with UNESCO’s Bureau for Communication and Information (Asia-Pacific) in its ICT Innovations for Poverty Reduction initiative (Tacchi, Slater & Hearn 2003; Slater & Tacchi 2004).