The author has a background of delivering contextual safeguarding interventions ‘at place levels’, in diverse communities across the country. He has also a strong background in youth and community work, criminology and community cohesion, approaches that are fused together in this blog. The author currently works in the West Midlands in a local authority and also as a visiting lecturer of criminology at a local university.
Participatory action research (PAR) is now promoted and delivered by many international development agencies and university programs, as well as countless local community organisations around the world.
Alongside other colleagues (and in partnership with young people, parents, carers and residents) I have used PAR methods across the country in four distinct projects which have led to new interventions for each community engaged. Each project has provided me with learning that I have taken into the next piece of work.
Based on these experiences, my professional opinion is that PAR can play a critical role in helping us understand, take action and respond effectively to a whole range of safeguarding issues that take place contextually, in and beyond the home unit; affecting individuals, groups, families and communities.
Through well planned conversation, underpinned by motivational interviewing, PAR gives residents including children, young people, parents, and carers (and local organisations serving the community) the opportunity to work collaboratively in relation to the following:
PAR can challenge barriers and complexities which prevent a strong understanding of vulnerable communities. For example, by adopting an action research model, feminist criminologists found more domestic violence incidents in 3 streets in Islington then agencies had recorded for the whole London borough. By inviting survivors to be part of the journey to improve, better responses from key agencies to domestic violence were achieved and responses transformed.
My experiences of PAR
In street-based youth work projects I have led, youth workers have used action research to re-engage previously disengaged parents, residents and young people; re-positioning residents as part of the solution in their communities, not the problem. For example, in Goldington in Bedfordshire, following action research in 2007 and a needs and community lead approach, a strategic partnership with University of Luton, George Williams YMCA and Bedfordshire Youth Service was created. This led to an innovative, ‘grow your own’ youth workers scheme that trained local adults and young people to be youth workers; providing them with national accreditation, and building their self-esteem, strengthening community resilience to exploitation in the process. Mums who trained as youth workers organised call ins’ where they held community discussions that halted escalating gang violence, giving services another chance to work.
In action research I lead in the West midlands in 2020, the Director of ‘integration strategy’ at the Ministry of Communities Housing Local Government [MCHLG] was invited to observe the rich and honest narratives planned conversations harvested with community residents and local agencies; this secured their buy-in in relation to supporting reset plans including funding from them to support better community facilities and diversionary activities and support for vulnerable families and also improved policy direction.
PAR is concerned with real consultation, partnership, co-production and co-delivery, underpinned by professional, holistic, empowering engagement that inspires and mobilises children and young people, parents’, carers, residents and agencies and services, including business, to work together (instead of against each other) under one agreed direction of travel.
The graphic below illustrates a basic approach to PAR. As the graphic clearly shows, PAR is concerned with bringing about desired changes within a community with problems in a systematic, democratic, enabling and empowering way.
How PAR can support a Contextual Safeguarding approach
Some disadvantages/challenges using PAR approach
None of these challenges and risks outlined are insurmountable. Indeed with proper strategic and operational planning and agreement quality training and supervision, risks can be mitigated shared, accepted and anticipated barriers taken down.
PAR methodology sits well in the above Contextual Safeguarding approach and provides holistic ways of assessing the spectrum of risks within the home environment and outside the home environment including the existence of perpetrators who take advantage of vulnerable people and groups of people.
I have been involved in delivering meaningful PAR for over 15 years across the country. I have been very fortunate to see it done well and the impact this has had in terms of transforming areas marred by gang violence, drugs, poverty and faltering local services. Providing the will is there it can be an incredibly powerful way of meeting the needs of communities, using a multi-agency co-produced approach where everyone shares the responsibility. Living free from exploitation and harm enables families and communities to rebuild their lives. One of the special qualities of PAR is its upfront, ‘cards on the table’ approach, even when people choose not to engage (initially or ever), they rarely voice upset by being afforded meaningful opportunities to have a voice and influence over their environment. There is something powerful in being invited to be part of the solution and not seen as part of the problem and pathologised. In using such an approach, PAR rewards practitioner with real relationships with families and children which are only earned through building trusting relationships which start where are young people, families, and organisations are at, ‘really listening really hearing’ and as Freire would say unlearning and relearning from our cherished communities.
A plan on a page to deliver participatory action research to an area of need.
For further information on this blog please contact Imran Suddle [firstname.lastname@example.org]
 From a theoretical standpoint, PAR builds on the critical pedagogy put forward by Paulo Freire as a response to the traditional formal models of education where the "teacher/or professional" stands at the front and "imparts" information to the "students/participants" who are passive recipients.
Participatory action research removes this unequal power relationship instead both teacher/researcher and student/participant swap roles, and ‘teach’ and learn from each other.
 For a good clear outline for Resilient communities model see https://www.flintshire.gov.uk/en/PDFFiles/PSB-Draft-Well-being-Plan-Consultation/PSB-Well-being-Plan-Resilient-Communities.pdf
 Middlesex University : Islington Crime survey
 This project was observed by Ofsted and described “as expertly delivered seamlessly integrated anti oppressive practice, local issues, and learning... one of the most unique community development projects they had seen”.
 Goldington Action Research report findings  Bedfordshire County Council & Pravin Consultancy