Thursday, April 23, 2015

Examples of participatory action research tools

There are a variety of popular tools utilized in participatory action research to analyze the local context. Below, some of them are analyzed in their implementation during PAR trainings with some local organizations in the Bay area of San Francisco, California, Asheville, North Carolina, and Chelsea, Boston area, Massachusetts. The main theme was “immigration reform” and the local efforts carried out by local organizations to achieve that reform.
San Francisco Bay Area Time Line

Timeline of resistance/oppression
Timelines are very useful to recover the recent history or resistance of a community. The procedure was the following:
Step 1: Form a group. Appoint a person as secretary and as spokesperson, who then will present the group's work to the rest of the participants.
Step 2: Ask the group which are the most important historical events during the last 12 months related with immigration reform or the movement in favor of immigration in California. Those events are divided between facts of immigration repression and facts of resistance against that repression. The Secretary writes the facts on a piece of paper.
Step 3: On a flipchart, draw a horizontal line like an arrow in both directions. The events related with the history of immigration-repression are written at the top of the arrow. The events related with the history of immigration-resistance are written at the bottom of the arrow. Try to identify the historical trends of each level with a dotted line.
Step 4: Finally, answer the following questions: What are the lessons learned in that historical process? Lessons from the past: POSITIVE: Which year or group of years has been more intense in terms of positive events? What conclusions can we draw from that period? NEGATIVE: Which year or group of years has been more intense in terms of negative events? What conclusions can we draw from that period? Lesson for the future: What seems to be the tendency in the near future?  What the organization can do to influence on the current historical tendency in favor of the communities that it works for?
On the top of the timeline are listed the "immigration oppressive events" (red) of the last year and half previous to this workshop (2013). At the bottom, the "resistance events" (green) or organized actions against that repression and in favor of immigration reform. Additionally, the dotted lines indicate the tendencies through time. Thus, in both cases, repression and resistance the tendency has been variable. 

Asheville, Immigration Reform Social Tree

The social tree
The social tree is a very well known PAR analytic tool. Using the metaphor of a tree´s structure and functions (roots: nutrients, trunk: structure, foliage: breath). The procedure is as follows:
Step 1: Assign 2 basic roles: Coordinator (to guarantee everyone’s participation during the discussion) and a note taker/spokesperson (to document in writing and present the group's work).
Step 2: Using the social tree in the illustration describe the meaning of each of the elements of the tree:
1. The roots: the base of the social structure, its economic system. Economics has to do with who owns what, the primary sources of income and economic productivity, how people survive their conditions of life, and how economic resources are distributed.
2. The trunk: the social and political structure that makes the system run smoothly. It regulates the system through laws, policies, and institutions. Also, it relates to alternative use of power by social movements.
3. The leaves/fruits: the ideological and cultural elements of society. This includes beliefs and intuitions such as churches, schools and the mass media (news & entertainment) that shape values, ideas, and norms.
Step 3: Divide participants into three sub-groups. Ask each group to analyze a different element of the social system. Give them 20-25 minutes to complete the task, draw the social tree and then ask them to share their work in plenary. Discuss each group´s analysis of how the different aspects interrelate.
Step 4: Questions for group discussion:
1.                  Which economic groups or sectors and industries are in favor or against immigration reform?
2.                  Which institutions, political parties, associations, and organizations are in favor of immigration reform and which are against?
3.                  What values, messages, cultural organizations, and mass medias are in favor of immigration reform in the region and what values, messages and media are against immigration reform in the region?

In the example above, the participants analyzed the dominant social forces (on the right hand side) that oppose to immigration reform and the progressive groups (on the left hand side) that support immigration reform throughout the social structures. On the roots, the groups identified the economic groups and organizations, on the trunk, the institutions and organizations that sustain the local society and on the foliage, the dominant and counter-cultural ideas, values, mass media and cultural organizational from the region. 

Social problems map, Chelsea, Massachusetts

Social Problems Map
This a very useful tool to analyze the social context and its social, economic, politic, and cultural components, to identify the most pressing issues that affect a community and determine the priority issues to be tackled in possible action plan. The procedure is as follows:
Step 1: Assign 2 basic roles among the members of the group. Appoint a person as coordinator (to guarantee everyone’s participation during the discussion) and another one as note taker and spokesperson (to document in writing and verbally present the group's work during the plenary sessions).
Step 2: Read the correspondent instructions (step 3 below) for the work assigned to the group.
Step 3: List and classify the most relevant problems. Ask the group, what are the most important economic, social (gender, class, racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, age, and geographic location related), cultural, and political problems that affect the communities in your region? Try to classify the answers, if possible, by counties or specific places or communities in the region. The note taker writes the problems in a piece of paper.
Step 4: Locate the most important problems. On a large piece of paper (usually, 6 flipchart sheets stuck together with tape), draw a map of the region, distinguishing the different counties or localities in it. The map does not have to be perfect. (It is not a competition or an art exhibition!) What is important is the information collected and represented in the map. Paste the color cards representing the different problems in its corresponding location in the region (assign one color to each type of problem, e.g. red to economic problems, black to political problems and so on). You could also draw specific problems (funny drawings are allowed and encouraged to be done!). Try, if possible, to identify certain patterns or characteristics within the region: most impoverished localities, most politically conservative, most repressive against immigrants or other minorities, etc.
Step 5: Prioritize and analyze. Prioritize the different problems and identify the 5 most pressing problems of every category that the communities can tackle in the future. Fill out the chart provided to the note taker (just point out the challenges, but not in detail).

River of Life. NALACC. Chicago, Illinois

The river of life
This PAR tool is oriented toward the recovery of an organization or social movement history throughout the years. Again, being a metaphor, every component is symbolic and it represents different aspects of the organization/social movement´s evolution. The procedure is as follows:
Step 1: Assign 2 basic roles among the members of the group. Appoint a person as Coordinator (to guarantee everyone’s participation during the discussion) and another one as Note taker and Spokesperson (to document in writing and present verbally the group's work during the plenary sessions).
Step 2: Read the correspondent instructions (step 3 below) for the work assigned to the group.
Step 3: The group compares the drawing of the river with the process followed by the organization during the last ten years:
Facilitators: clouds and rain (factors that impulse the emergence and growth of the organization), tributaries (alliances which fortify the organization), and trees (factors which permit the sustainability of the organization)
Obstacles: stones of different size or fallen trees in the river (context conditions that limit or prevent at a different extent, the advancement of the organization plans); and the fire in the mountain (context threats)
Successful actions: Waterfalls (activities that create a stronger organization, good practices, good management, and a greater impact on society, etc.)
Unsuccessful actions: swamps, eddies (activities that undermine the organizations, failed projects, bad policies, bad management, etc.)
Current challenges (energy plant) and future proposals (the sea), hopes and dreams (the sun)
Step 4: Analyze. Reflect on the lessons learned from CPC’s evolution. What does this historical process teach us? Conclude by identifying lessons learned and best practices implemented by the organization during the process.

Step 5: Review the results with the group. If the group is satisfied with the outcome, the work is ready to be presented.