Participatory Agricultural Research: Approaches, Design and Evaluation

Expert Meeting and Writeshop

St Anne's College

Oxford, 9-13 December 2013

Personal Journeys

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How participatory agricultural research changes us

Compiled and documented by Terry Clayton at the ‘Participatory Agricultural Research: Approaches, Design and Evaluation’ (PARADE) workshopOxford, 9-13 December 2013

These ‘verbal snapshots’ are from a collection of personal journey stories written by participants at the Participatory Agricultural Research: Approaches, Design and Evaluation (PARADE) workshop. They are heartfelt and eloquent testaments to the potential that PAR approaches and tools have for transformative change, not just within the communities where we work, but within our own lives.


Read the full stories here:

How powerful participatory research is, that it makes you work with the people rather than on them. Valentine Ghandi, Social Scientist, IWMI

“Doing” PAR has made me respect very much the rich knowledge farmers and community members have with regards to not only agriculture but livelihoods in general. I believe I have learnt more from farmers than they have learnt from me. I believe agricultural development has not made the desired progress in many developing countries because of the lack of effective and meaningful integration of farmers’ and researchers’ knowledge. Saa Dittoh Department of Food Security and Climate Change, University for Development Studies, Tamale, Ghana

I get more satisfaction from impact at a local level than I would from ‘impact’ in publishing. That’s what PAR means to me – it’s what keeps me motivated to continue contributing to the research that underpins agricultural development. Nicole Lefore

I feel the use of PAR in my research approach has practically broadened my sense of the role and position of researchers. I think that researchers are never neutral as it is assumed in some scientific disciplines. Researchers are always part of what they are studying and agents of social change. Using PAR allows me to think over this in a more in-depth way by experiencing it on the ground. Florian Clement

Perhaps it has made me more open for alternative approaches and more critical of research and development. I see it as one approach that can be applied in certain situation not as a solution for everything. Pepijn Schreinemachers

Over time, my idea of what is “the bigger picture” has expanded a lot. Panomsak Promburom

Participatory research has given me two things: greater breadth and content to the more “scientific” work I was originally involved in and the chance to peer into other people’s lives. I believe the latter is good for the sprit in terms of perceiving the similarities in values and basic humanity that exist between people of different backgrounds and life exposures and in terms of the differences that we need to address in order to interact and basically live together.
Peter Thorne

It made me realize again and again that research is about people. It is not about me, or my publications. It is about them and finding creative ways o support them in ways that suit them. It made more humble in my work and careful in our interventions. Birgit Bolliger

Change in behavior takes ages, a lot change at personal level but also change in the cultural context. Working in rural communities with resource poor farmers has also exposed me to actual realities, and made me more critical in my work and ready to challenge some of the recurrent assumptions, especially about gender. I do not take things for granted. I have come to appreciate who I am and what I have achieved in life because there are people out there who wake up in the morning and are never sure of whether they will even have a meal in a day. I have also come to learn that to achieve PAR, then I have to nurture respect for, and openness to the community in which the research is taking place. To me PAR is all about negotiation… everything has to be negotiated - your position as a researcher, developer, professor, mother… name it. I have come to love what I do.Annet Abenakyo Mulema

Participatory Action Research has clearly demonstrated to me my position in society and in the general ecosystem. I am but just a small component of a very complex system. I behave and act in compliance with the dynamics of the wider society and environment with which I interact. PAR has made me understand that to live well requires properly observing, understanding, collaborating with and contribute to the social, economic and environmental dynamics of my community. Synergies within the community are the ones that can effectively and efficiently create sustainable and feasible solutions to the challenges and issues that confront the community and the environment. This has taught me to embrace the “wide systems thinking approach” as opposed to only focusing on particular elements. Consequently I am currently committed to learning how to balance the skills of observing, listening , probing, and judging.Clovis Kabaseke

I have become much more aware of farmers perceptions in relation to experimenting and technology adoption, and also of the interface between farmers and (outside) research like myself. I also realize that there is still a lot of work needed on understanding adoption processes, incentive mechanisms, etc. and I continue to stress this wherever opportune. Finally, I have become convinced of the need for participatory approaches and methods, but we still need to find ways how to scale these processes in a cost-effective way.Rein van der Hoek

I spent 7 months in a small and very isolated village in Tanzania as part of my MSc research. Although it was initially frustrating, in the end, I felt that I got a much richer appreciation of the rhythm of life in the village, and as such, a better understanding of what was important, and that this translated favourably into my capability to do relevant research. Adrian Bolliger

I’ve learned a lot about the diversity of farming systems in the dryland tropics and their opportunities and constraints. I’ve realized that if research is not based on a clear need identified with stakeholders, it cannot lead to change. I’ve also learned that farmers and local communities have knowledge of their systems that is mostly complementary to scientific knowledge and this implies that involving them in the research and project cycle from the start, will lead to more relevant, sustainable and economically viable results. I also realized that there is a strong need for innovation at higher level then farm and field. Therefore I’m motivated to partner with organizations that have capacity in institutional, landscape and policy level innovations.Thom Alexander

Besides giving me a chance to open my mind to various kinds of mindset, cultures and social contexts, the major change that PAR has brought to me is trying to make science dealing with uncertainty, unknown and moving perspectives. Géraldine Abrami

Doing PAR has helped me meet and understand better many people from their internal socio-environmental dynamic. Makes me exist in my institution and provoke some few changes and improvements! Nils Ferrand

What I learned through PAR was that I, and therefore many of the farmers I was working with, already had some intuition or knowledge about many aspects of the natural world around us just by the fact that we lived in the world, woke up and walked outside each day. People know much more than we think they know or give them credit for. It's true that sometimes we "know" things but with false reasoning, but that's OK because the whole philosophical process of science is driven by this notion. I would have to say that most importantly I learned that I needed people and the natural exchange of different types of knowledge that takes place when I am with them to improve my science far more than they needed me to "solve" their problems. Tracy Baker

It has complicated my political ideologies quite a bit through exposure to different people’s perspectives. It has pushed me to engage and react to issues happening on the ground and in the field site. It has also made me less sure about stating certainty – I am happier to dwell in the uncertainties and gaps in knowledge which a PAR approach can identify. Martha Cronin

My engagement with participatory approaches stems from my own sense of who I am and where I fit within my community and with the wider world. I have had the immense privilege to listen, to learn and continue to grow, to recognise the power, the beauty and insights that each of us has to offer, and through that the value of enabling these voices and this joint conversation.Amanda Harding

It didn't. It's not about changing me, but finding something that's make me feel at the right place. Jean-Emmanuel

I have developed immense respect for the viewpoint and knowledge of all people I meet.
Jo Cadilhon

I have gained valuable experiences in working with different groups of people and gained better understanding of the drivers that influence the creditability, legitimacy and relevance of research in addressing complex agricultural problems.Marc Schut