What Technical Communicators and UX Designers Can Learn From Participatory Action Research

An infographic on the participatory action research cycle; Published as part of "What Technical Communicators and UX Designers Can Learn From Participatory Action Research"

Image Source: http://bit.ly/1H0Y6Yr

Professionals from many different walks of life are being asked to design educational opportunities, to communicate complex forms of knowledge to a variety of stakeholders, and to develop new user experiences. In collaboration with the Office for Leadership and Service-Learning at East Carolina University, I’m developing a workshop for faculty interested in developing service-learning classes. As part of this workshop, I’m helping participants to create education-focused, action-oriented research projects that result in positive outcomes for all stakeholders involved.

What Is Participatory Action Research (PAR)?

Participatory Action Research (PAR) is a research methodology that includes the following elements:

Action research integrates research and action in a series of flexible cycles involving, holistically rather than as separate steps: the collection of data about the topic of investigation; analysis and interpretation of those data; the planning and introduction of action strategies to bring about positive changes; and evaluation of those changes through further data collection, analysis and interpretation…

via: Action research: A methodology for change and development

It is an approach to research that asks researchers to do all of the following:

  • participate deeply with the communities they are researching;
  • commit to helping community members solve problems;
  • commit to a recursive, iterative style of research;
  • include community members in key research activities (i.e. data collection, data analysis, reporting on research, etc.) that they value.

How Can PAR Help Technical Communicators and UX Professionals?

Like participatory researchers, technical communicators and UX professionals are committed to serving stakeholder needs, fostering participation, and including stakeholders in core knowledge-making practices. PAR can help such professionals ensure that they are moving projects in a direction that serves the needs of all stakeholders.

Specifically, PAR helps such professionals:

  • ensure stakeholders are adequately represented in key research processes;
  • ensure the focus of a project is on solving problems that matter to stakeholders;
  • develop projects that are reflective, flexible, and responsive to long-term stakeholder needs;
  • open their projects up to stakeholders in a manner that encourages them to take ownership of the project, rather than just presenting results at the end of a project.

To learn more about this approach, check out my full presentation here: