Our chosen research method – participatory action research (PAR) – means that we cannot entirely predict or control the direction of the research. In our pilot workshops, we wanted answers to our research questions, but we couldn’t be sure that those were the questions our participant researchers wanted answered.
Explanations of the research aims and of relevant theory (e.g. Naficy’s ‘accented ‘ media) had to be ‘translated’ - an illustration of community-based participatory research in which academic researchers test the relevance of their ideas against the insights and experience of people working in the field under study.
We started by explaining that, rather than thinking about research as an activity that happens to them, our participants should themselves share in the ownership and control of the project. A hand-out sent in advance to workshop participants included the following explanation:
We are interested in collaborating with staff and volunteers in community radio stations and people involved in voluntary associations and communities who listen to and contribute to radio made by/for minority groups. We will use a technique called Participatory Action Research (PAR) which means that researchers, radio stations and people in voluntary associations can join in the research themselves and benefit from it.
Action Research is simply what happens when people take the time to reflect on their actions, learn from their experiences, make any necessary changes and plan their next actions more effectively.
Rather than us simply coming up with research findings and recommendations at the end of our project, you and your organization can be involved in research from the start. If in the end the research points to the need to make changes they are one you are likely to agree with.
PAR provides a way of listening carefully to what people know from their own experiences and then brings this local knowledge into the ongoing processes of planning and acting.
You can find out more about PAR at this website http://ear.findingavoice.org/
The ‘personal radio journeys’ – stories that were told in the workshop - became one of the projects that we hoped could take forward the ideas of the workshop. In a chain of interviews, participants would interview each other, and bring in other interviewees, to tell and record a chain of stories.
Here the question of research ethics came in. Consent forms had been completed in which participants confirmed that
“the purpose and nature of the study has been explained to us. In particular, we understand that participatory action research (PAR), the method being used in this part of the TRE project, involves our organization in actively contributing to the research and supplying, if we wish to, written reports, recordings and transcripts of interviews, programmes and podcasts. In participating in this way in the project, we undertake to adhere to the research ethics explained in the workshop and covered in the informed consent forms which we will use in dealing with individuals.”
How could we, the TRE researchers, be sure that the same ethical considerations would be applied in the interviewing and recording that would be set in motion after we had gone?
PAR tests the traditional university ethics requirements (enlisting non-academic researchers) as well as the financial rules of universities and funders (paying for childcare and travel to make participation at meetings possible for unwaged or marginal people). The approach works at the boundaries of two discourses (one might even say ‘empires’): that of academia, and of mainstream media. While the first has a history of recognising the informality of anthropological research, the second has only in the last decade watched its boundaries become invaded by user generated content, social media, citizen journalism.