Navigating Qualitative Participatory Action Research and Reporting

Session Report
Asra Malik

The IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, is hosting a Four-Month Online Immersive Qualitative Participatory Action Research Fieldwork Certificate Fellowship cohort 2.0 from December 2023 to April 2024, which aims to provide a contextual analysis of action research and fieldwork to get a better grip on acknowledging public policy and its outreach by understanding real-life evidence and the know-hows of policy and law-related issues.

In lieu of which professor Vibhuti Patel flagged off the 4th session by paying grace to the team and due to previous sessions of the cohort for clearing the air regarding qualitative research, its nuances, and the practical issues of participatory action research. We also dug deeper into the subject, exploring the various participatory research presentation structures, typical methodologies, and means that would render the subject more approachable for the participants.

She referred to the relevance of grounded theory studies in thick of getting a perception on the theoretical backdrop of research so as to form a foundational ground of understanding before diving into critical discourse analysis that highlighted diverse methodologies, such as case studies, historical studies, action research, phenomenology, and ethnography, stressing the importance of considering the humanistic, feminist approach and inductive methods.

Critical Discourse Analysis: Unveiling Socially Conscious Initiatives

Critical discourse analysis, born in the 70s post the Latin American literacy mission, was discussed. The connection between socially conscious initiatives and participatory processes was explored, emphasising the role of cultural, post-colonial, and gender studies where empathy and a genuine concern and requisite for the problem at hand, as advocated by scholars like Paulo Freire, were deemed essential in this process so as not only to sensitise the research but also to relate rather than retract from the people concerned. 

Two-Way Learning and Imparting Knowledge

The session emphasised the two-way nature of learning and imparting knowledge. It underscored the significance of acknowledging the dominant discourse while giving due importance to the knowledge of subjugated domains. The participants were encouraged to shape micro-level policies and engage in participatory research grounded in theory.

Methodological Considerations in Qualitative Research

The importance of personal involvement, verbal and non-verbal cues, conversational analysis, and the understanding that words are data formed a crucial aspect of the discussion. Narrative explanation, contextualizing within political economy, and the clarity in methodology and empirical data were highlighted. 

An in-depth social enquiry, capturing people’s feelings, perceptions, emotions based on their experiences and life situations, Detailed narrative, Research design evolves in course of research process, Data in the form of objects, pictures, words, Researchers ideologies and interpretations,  Subjective involvement of researcher, Nuanced understanding about values, beliefs, emotions, behaviour, formal & informal relationships & roles, contradictions, places, stories, folk lore, songs, diaries, letters, drawings, photographs, archives, media outputs, blogs, social media

Open-Mindedness, Respect, and Critical Thinking

The session advocated for an open mind, respect, and critical thinking in organizing both qualitative and quantitative research. It touched upon statistical experiments using local idioms and the significance of a well-constructed concept note.

Application of Qualitative Research in Diverse Areas

The report further discussed the diverse areas where qualitative research can be applied, including communal bifurcation, sexual violence, sovereignty of water, and the political economy of water. The need for choosing the right method based on the specific problem at hand, such as constructivism for adaptive research, was emphasized.

In the realm of qualitative research methodologies, the case study approach involves an in-depth examination of events, individuals, social groups, and institutions. Utilizing an inductive approach, theorists treat data derived from participant observation to construct a theoretical framework. Phenomenology, on the other hand, captures narratives of experiences as they naturally unfold, providing insights into the subjective dimensions of human phenomena.

Ethnography focuses on the sociology of meaning through close field observation, aiming to understand the cultural context and social dynamics. Lastly, historical studies entail the collection and evaluation of data related to past events, delving into causes, consequences, trends, and their relevance to the present and future, thereby offering valuable insights into the evolution of societal dynamics over time.

Intersectionality: A Crucial Analytical Framework

The importance of intersectionality as an analytical framework, exploring multi-identities, determining social location, bargaining power, and performance, was underlined and how aspects of a person’s social, economic and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege. Examples of these aspects include gender, class, caste, sex, race, skin colour ethnicity. sexuality, religion, disability, age, physical appearance, and height. The session concluded with insights into the co-creation of knowledge, highlighting the need for researchers to approach their subjects as equals and avoid a unidimensional study.

To synthesise the information among the participants, the floor was opened up for questions which were being equally discussed among the attendees, organisers and Professor Patel; who was vehemently taking up the research topics of the researchers as if for a lack of better word, accompanying them through the process and walking over the importance of exploitative design of a particular quantitative research model, expansion of sample sizes and categories of stakeholders (triangulation)to tackle uncertainty of response rate(s) and in general, widen the pool of potential information.

This confirms the data collected is not due to chance or circumstances as data is collected from multiple sources, in multiple ways and collection of varied nature of data in multiple ways from multiple subjects, sources and strategies whilst customising individual questionnaires, to understand the facilitators and barriers in the process, the vocals in the field whose works should be paid heed to and majorly to focus on the details all of which could be easily traced back to her lecture. 

Recommend readings list: 

  • Bhattachariee, Anol (2012) Social Science Research: Principles, Methods, and Practices
  • Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (2004) Ethical Guidelines for Social Science Research in Health.
  • Donna M. Mertens and Sharlene Hesse-Biber (2012) Triangulation and Mixed Methods Research: Provocative Positions, USA: Journal of Mixed Method Research, Vol. 6, No. 2, pages: 75-79.
  • Kothari, C.R. and Garg, Gaurav (2019) Research Methodology-Methods and Techniques
  • Shah. S.K. and Corley. K.G.. (2006) “Building Better Theory by Bridging the Quantitative-Qualitative Divide, Journal of Management Studies (48:3], December, pp. 1821-1835.

Read more event reports of IMPRI here:

Fieldwork for Policy: Unearthing Insights with Qualitative Research