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Impact through participatory research approaches: an archetype analysis

Theresa Tribaldos, Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland; Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Christoph Oberlack, Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland; Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Flurina Schneider, Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland; Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-11517-250315

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Abstract

Participatory research approaches are often assumed to be effective for addressing sustainability problems that involve a substantial amount of complexity, uncertainty, and conflicting values. The adaptive and integrative character of these approaches engages various scientific and nonscientific actors in collective knowledge production processes. An increasing number of case studies documents pathways to impact triggered by participatory research approaches. However, cumulative learning across cases about the impacts of participatory research projects remains limited to date. One question is of particular interest, namely how and when different intensities of actor interactions in participatory research effectively contribute to advancing sustainable development.



In this paper we address this knowledge gap by presenting a meta-analysis of 29 case studies of participatory research projects in agricultural settings. The study protocol follows systematic case retrieval and selection, coding, and data analysis through formal concept analysis. We introduce and utilize a new diagnostic framework to analyze the links between the intensity of actor interactions, sustainability impact goals, context conditions, and sustainability impacts. The results show that three archetypical patterns describe how the 29 case studies report that participatory research projects generate sustainability impacts: learning, knowledge products, and real-world transformations. Impact in all three patterns is consistently associated with higher intensities of interactions, i.e., coproduction and less consultation but not mere information. The most frequently reported impact is learning in a context of resources and environment problems. In this configuration, coproduction of knowledge is mainly used during the second research phase. However, the results also show that coproduction in the final phase of a participatory research project is more often used to achieve the impact of real-world transformations, which presumably involves more complexity and contestation than other impacts. We conclude that participatory research projects, which aim at transformative impacts in complex settings beyond knowledge products and learning, need to sustain high intensities of actor interactions in knowledge coproduction throughout all research phases to achieve their sustainability impact goals.

Key words

archetype analysis; archetypical configurations; diagnostic framework; participatory research approaches; sustainability problems

Copyright © 2020 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087