A unique approach to development cooperation


After some flourishing first stages of Participatory Action Research (PAR) in the seventies, it started having some struggles with the name. “Action” Research was often (wrongly) confused with activism and hence suppressed in any possible way by governments. Under all kinds of different names, PAR was still performed, leaving a long track of successes behind. Since the turn of the century, thanks to its multiple successes, PAR is finally gaining momentum again worldwide. It is now recognized as a type of research that can create sustainable change in communities. Applying PAR to development cooperation can be called a unique approach as it brings some great added value to the traditional forms of development cooperation. Check the differences.


Dependence vs Independence

verkleind, zwembroekTraditional development cooperation creates dependency by providing ‘help’: as soon as it is gone, the situation returns to how it was before the help. Such form of help kills creativity as people are sort of ‘waiting’ untill the next help arrives. PAR does not provide help. It creates the playground for creativity, (international) connectedness and the co-creation of the best fitted innovations.




Focus groupThe rich decide vs the poor decide

Where in traditional development cooperation often ‘the rich and powerful’ decide what is good for the poor, PAR lets the poor decide and take the lead. Being not ‘one of the poor’ makes it very difficult to decide ‘what is good’. Why not let them decide what is good? If people can decide for themselves what is improving their livelihood they will see the value of the (read: their) project and make it a success.


Clear data vs change-data

Ilse focusgroup voor column home pageIf research at all is being done in traditional development cooperation, it’s recommendations are often given to local organisations without the tools and means to execute those recommendations. PAR takes them along during the whole research process, co-creating together with their target group solutions that can directly be put into action. In other words:


Traditional research for development cooperation favors the status quo to create ‘clear’ data, PAR favors change-data to create impact.


Funding wasted vs efficiency

10801881_388951727938480_6222851856081297221_nIn traditional development cooperation often a lot of funded money is wasted because it ‘strangely dissapears’ or because the project was not taken up by the local communities. In PAR there is no such thing as wasted money. First, solutions that are designed on-the-ground are often cheaper than solutions that are designed in ‘the ivory tower’. Second, you work directly together with people on-the-ground which reduces chances for corruption enormously. Third, you only execute what locals consider meaningful which increases efficiency.


Problemthinking vs strengths-thinking

focus groupTraditional development cooperation is often focused on ‘what is going wrong’, creating an atmosphere of problem-thinking and seeing more and more problems. PAR puts more emphasis on ‘what is going well’, creating a positive atmosphere in which people see more and more opportunities for improving their livelihoods.




These are just few of the many differences of the PAR approach versus traditional development cooperation. But what does PAR entail? Read all about it here.

Do you want to (learn how to) do Participatory Action Research yourself? Join the 7Senses Challenge to conduct PAR yourself or join the 7Senses Academy to lead a multidisciplinary Challenge team in your own PAR!

Earlier this post was published by 7Sensesfoundation.org.