So You Want to do PAR… 3 Key Things to Remember

Published on February 6, 2015 | Written by

by Jorge Rivas, Research Associate

I know the feeling. There’s an issue in your organization or a local community that needs to be investigated. Or you want to get your Tony Stark on and do some research that leads to an incredible breakthrough.
Maybe it’s as simple as doing some Google research that gives you some facts and figures. Doing relevant and effective data gathering is a concern for anyone who tries to do research, even those with years of experience and credentials to back themselves up.

Youthprise’s research team was the first youth-led research team in the state of Minnesota to complete a project with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) in Spring 2013. What resulted was a 10-page report, Holistic Indicators of Youth Development, a video and more than a few bumps and bruises that I get to tell awesome stories about. Read on below to find out more about how five twenty-somethings came together, asked questions, and spoke to nearly 100 young folks in the metro area about their experiences.

  • Identify the Issue: At the nonprofit and foundation level, it’s business as usual to use the money and resources at your disposal to solve issues. We know, however, that throwing stacks of hundreds at people while imploring them to do better is not a great strategy. It’s supremely important to do in-person investigation to assess whether what you want to research is a relevant question and whether or not resources can be better used elsewhere. This is true for the folks living in the communities they want to impact as well. For our example, the Youthprise Research Team had all experienced varying levels of discomfort with the education system. Having a peer team with different experiences allowed us to examine the issue from different angles and develop questions that touched on those experiences. In this case, the initial research issue was identified by MDE, but by having young folks in control of the question and design of the research project, we defined the scope and nature of the issue as we came into contact with it. As you start to identify and talk about the issue you want to investigate, emphasize diversity of experience with the issue in the people you talk to and pull into the process.
  • Recruit: Finding a group of committed individuals is difficult in any walk of life. As any manager will tell you: hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.That being said, it requires a lot of instinct and conversation to know when you’re approaching the right person to join a research team. Motivation, when it spills over into fanaticism, is not a useful trait to have when attempting to provide a diversity of perspectives. Additionally, you want to find a mix of people with the ability to ask tough questions, the technical ability to do the work and finally, the time. Time is such a vital resource when planning a research project. Make sure that the people you recruit for your team are people you would want to work with yet also meet these criteria.
  • Build Trust and Values Together: Our youth team members had a variety of traumatic experiences with different institutions (including the school system) that they were sensitive about. We had the privilege of working together full-time coupled with the freedom to conduct off-site meetups and gatherings, which helped to build comfort and trust. One of the first things we did was make a team value statement and logic model that exemplified our strategy. That logic model went a long way toward making us all feel active and represented in the work we did. Thus, even though we had more than a few verbal disagreements, we always understood where the other was coming from and that went a long way towards building trust. When working with your team, develop a community value statement that exemplifies your team’s reasoning and inspiration for being there.

These three steps are important to remember when trying to conduct a Participatory Action Research (PAR) project. Identifying issues and recruiting and building trust as a group are central to our approach and we often spend as long as a month building that trust before we actually get started on any work. For our team, research is something that can be fun and life-giving, but only when you do it the right way. Hopefully yours is too.

Stay tuned to the Youthprise Blog for more updates from the Youthprise Research Team on tools, tips and skills for doing research. Coming up next in the “So You Want to Do PAR” series will be a look into the skills needed to do PAR and how valuable literature review (yes, reading!!) can be to your research process.

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