Participatory Action

Community action to develop and/or conserve resources on commonly owned land has a long history. Indigenous peoples treated the land on which they depended as a commonly owned resource, and the practices of many forest dwelling tribes often appear to conserve natural resources (Posey 1982). The concept of the "commons" appears in European history, and Hardin (1968) emphasized the importance of establishing conservation policy over commonly owned resources to prevent their depletion.

Participatory Action Research to promote conservation of commonly owned resources originated from the field of action research, that is, research focused on the resolution of social problems (Lewin 1946). Action research has made significant advances in social innovations (Trist et al. 1963). Because of the apparent improvements in work organization resulting from action research, the concept began to be applied to problems of development in less developed countries. Investigators sometimes played active roles in the process, and as a result it became known as Participatory Action Research (PAR) (Fals-Borda and Rahman 1991), an outgrowth of the Paulo Freire "con-scientization" method of the 1960s (Freire 1970).

The basic tenet of PAR is that subordination of the poor in developing countries derives not only from their lack of access to capital but also from their lack of access to education and information. However, they have their own popular knowledge which should be recognized and reinforced through dialogue with modern scientific knowledge. PAR is a way of organizing this dialogue with science and helping people to become conscious of their limitations as well as their potential strengths.

PAR may be limited to evaluation of the development process, or the eva-luators may become active stakeholders in the development project itself. The framework for a PAR program is determined by the varying degrees of emphasis given to one or more of the following main characteristics (Jackson and Kassam 1998):

• It empowers communities, organizations, and individuals to analyze and solve their own problems.

• It values the knowledge and experience of local citizens in analyzing their economic, political, social, and cultural reality.

• It uses learning and education to promote reflection and critical analysis by both project participants and development workers.

• Through a learning process, it improves the program and organization in the interests of the beneficiaries.

• It involves the active participation of project beneficiaries, who play a decisive role in the entire evaluation process.

• It promotes the beneficiaries by ownership of a development program.

• It uses a variety of methods, both quantitative and qualitative, to generate knowledge useful in future activities.

• It creates better, more in-depth, and accurate knowledge of the performance and impacts of development projects.

Chambers et al. (1989) applied the concept of PAR to agricultural development. In the following case study, PAR for agricultural development was used in a way that encouraged farmers to adopt methods that help conserve the rain forest in the Amazon region of Brazil.

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