1.3.2 Participatory Techniques

Participatory techniques are simple techniques for use with individuals and small groups. They require the EAR researcher to ensure that those who are taking part both participate in and benefit in some way from the experience. These techniques are used with the aim of involving people in the research process, as well as in the design of activities in the ICT initiative.

The great advantage of participatory techniques is that they can help identify different groups such as the poor and marginalised, so that they can be included in our research. The techniques are simple and inexpensive to apply and can be used in a variety of settings. They involve the participants and EAR researcher working together to think through issues and build consensus. They are informal and can be enjoyable for all participants. They can help build up self-confidence amongst participants and stimulate a process of self-learning. Many participatory techniques do not require formal literacy or numeracy. They often employ simple visual methods using symbols, tokens and diagrams.

These techniques can help to include the socially excluded in research, in media initiatives and in decision making processes. They help researchers and participants understand complex issues in a schematic, clear and simple manner that is immediately accessible to all. Information derived from using these techniques does not flow in one direction, from the researched to the researcher; it tends to flow in both directions, which is part of the great strength of participatory techniques.

Participatory techniques help you to:

  • Identify local issues quickly and efficiently.
  • Listen to local voices and involve local people in planning and activities.
  • Build consensus with the community to allow the community to have a stake and a say in ICT initiatives OR accommodate conflicting interests in a way that allows the ICT initiative to serve different communities.

There are a range of participatory techniques in the EAR toolbox, along with examples of how to use them. Combining ethnographic principles and methods with participatory techniques allows us to build up detailed and rich understandings - but how do we use these to improve our media and communication initiatives? We need to find a way to feed these rich research understandings back into the ongoing work of initiatives. This is where action research comes in.