Upon WISR’s founding in 1975, WISR faculty initially adopted the term, “action-research,” to emphasize our commitment to doing and teaching research different from scholarly/abstract research.  However, we were also not concerned with promoting mainstream professional “action-research” such as the organizational development consulting that is usually very beholden to those in positions of managerial authority who hire OD (“organizational development”) consultants.  Instead, WISR has always been concerned with the applied research concerns of its main constituents, our learners.  For the most part our learners come from these groups:

  • progressive community service professionals concerned with multiculturality, and who want to create reforms and even major changes within their agencies, communities or professions;
  • progressive community activists concerned with the needs and purposes of the disenfranchised groups with whom they are working, and/or with bringing about larger social change (be it social policy changes, institutional changes, or broader developments in public awareness and participation); and
  • college professors and other educators, including adult and community educators, who share some of the progressive and social change agendas noted above.

More and more, over the years, we have talked about the importance of methods of inquiry in supporting the efforts of people to engage in “community based knowledge building.”  A key emphasis of our approach to inquiry is to help people to become more aware of methods they can use, within the context of their everyday experiences and lives that support their roles as builders of knowledge.  We want people, first of all, to be aware that they already are, even if they don’t always consciously realize it, builders of knowledge.  To this end, qualitative methods like participant observation and interviewing can be seen as conscious tools that build on the ways all of us learn from our everyday observations and experiences, including learning from others through our conversations (“interviews”) with them.

A second emphasis of our approach is to engage learners in a consideration of a variety of specific research issues and methods that will further enhance and extend the knowledge building they are already doing.  How can observations go deeper beneath the surface?  How can we critique and refine the validity of the insights from our observations and experiences?  How can we more pointedly and astutely learn from our conversations with others?  Are there people with whom we should talk (“interview” if you like) that will provide important insights that we don’t yet have enough awareness of or access to?  Are there some things that we can read that will provide alternative perspectives or fresh frameworks (“out of the box”) for reflecting on and analyzing our insights and experiences?  How can we learn to look at the “bigger picture” while maintaining an appropriate concern with the pressing “immediate tasks” that require our attention?  These are the kinds of issues that we explore, and we use tools from qualitative research, the discovery of grounded theory, participatory research, even cutting-edge knowledge-building in the natural sciences, among other paradigms to help ourselves and our learners to fashion tools and perspectives to further enhance our efforts and our action-oriented inquiries.

Core Readings on Participatory Action Research for WISR Students

 Core readings on participatory action research at WISR

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