Establishing a research approach based in both inquiry and action, the group asks how such methods can be used to identify new forms of understanding – both of the research process and the research question at hand – from a range of participants. It focuses particularly, however, on how participatory approaches can support marginalised or vulnerable groups to be listened to at the decision-making level. In participatory research, participants shape and identify the research agenda, the processes and the outcomes of their research project
Because of its commitment to participatory research values, the research group works with a range of stakeholders and partners, including local community members, community gatekeepers, grassroots and civil society organisations, NGOs, policy makers and governments. Its approach is interdisciplinary and focuses on building equitable partnerships with all stakeholders.
Key research questions include:
- Why use participatory arts in research? What do participatory arts look like in practice? What can they offer that other approaches cannot? What can they not do that other approaches can?
- What are the enables of – and barriers to – successful participatory arts initiatives? How can these lessons be shaped into practical, and sustainable, projects on the ground, localising best practice to the situation face by specific communities?
- What lessons can be learnt from the ways in which participatory arts have been used to help deal with the legacy of past violence or the exploration of hidden histories? How do such projects relate to, and negotiate, questions of ‘nation branding’ and other ‘soft power’ initiatives?
- What happens after the art takes place? How can a project’s success be meaningfully evaluated? How can they be scaled up? How can communities continue to build resilience while also bringing discussions to a policy level?
Impact and engagement
The research group is currently conducting a range of participatory research projects with colleagues from the University’s Centre for World Cinemas & Digital Cultures, the Nuffield Centre for International Health and Development, the School of English, and the School of Education, as well as a range of other academic and non-academic partners across the UK and internationally. Participatory research approaches yield long-term change that can require a number of years to be fully understood, however since their work began in 2016 some examples of impact are beginning to emerge, including the use of youth-led lobbying tools (developed during a participatory video project) by the National Association of Child Care in South Africa to petition local governments for more funding to support their ‘Safe Park’ scheme for vulnerable children.