Setting out for a day of measuring agrobiodiversity with a team of youth researchers in Tzucacab, Yucatan.  Photo: Chelsea Wills

Setting out for a day of measuring agrobiodiversity with a team of youth researchers in Tzucacab, Yucatan.  Photo: Chelsea Wills

Participatory action research

Participatory action research can make development projects more relevant to communities, increase participation and community investment, and provide scientifically rigorous ways to assess results and improve practices.  For researchers, participatory methods can build community investment in an investigation while increasing the reliability and relevance of the results.  

Community participation can range from training and employing local research assistants who can bring valuable knowledge of their own community and environment to a project, to holding community meetings to assess the effects of a development intervention, to working closely with a community before a project to define research questions and needs.  Wherever participatory methods can fit into your project, the potential benefits are greater trust, deeper impacts, and longer-lasting collaborations.

The participatory action research approach challenges conventional divide between researchers and the researched, repositioning participants on both sides of that divide as collaborators in making knowledge and making a more just and sustainable world.  This goal is easy to talk about, but difficult to implement in a world where inequality is embedded into the economics, cultures, and customs on all sides of development and research relationships.  I can bring more than ten years of practical experience with participatory action research to your project.  

 Garden mapping using a "micro-zonation" methodology to assess the relative importance  of different elements of an agroecosystem  to a household. This was a pilot project for the Autonomous University of Yucatan.  

Garden mapping using a "micro-zonation" methodology to assess the relative importance of different elements of an agroecosystem to a household. This was a pilot project for the Autonomous University of Yucatan.  

Mixed methods

Quantitative methods measure trends and compare populations.  My quantitative work on agrobiodiversity and food security, for example, showed that rural households in Yucatan with more diverse gardens were more likely to get through a drought without going hungry.  A multiple regression model allowed me to assess the effects of diversity separately from wealth and other socioeconomic factors.  

Qualitative methods delve into contextualized knowledge and uncover understandings that shape people's choices. In Yucatan I used qualitative methods, particularly ethnography, to identify the sometimes surprising ways that farmers make decisions about biodiversity on their farms, and I used participatory photography as a window into the underrepresented perspectives of young people in the process of making decisions that will shape the future of agriculture and food systems in Tzucacab.  

By combining rigorous quantitative and qualitative methods, you can synthesize the richest picture of a place, and consider the broadest set of explanations and possible solutions to a problem.  From defining questions to analyzing data and communicating results, I can help your organization with cutting-edge research.  

Agroecology

If your work includes agriculture and food, I can be of even more assistance.  I am an agroecologist, meaning I study the ecology of farms and food systems.  Agroecology is an interdisciplinary and change-oriented science.  Some examples of agroecological questions are:

  • How might a given change in agricultural practices impact the environment and human health? 
  • How can farmers reduce reliance on pesticides without risking catastrophic crop loss?
  • What existing community assets can be used to increase access to healthy food?
  • What innovative and effective agricultural practices are already being used in this community, and how can they be adopted more widely? 
  • How is migration and market integration likeley to affect local food systems?

I can help your organization:

  • Define relevant questions with stakeholders
  • Construct testable hypotheses
  • Identify the best, proven, cost-effective methods
  • Work with local partners to implement a study
  • Train researchers and research assistants
  • Manage data collection
  • Analyze quantitative data appropriate statistical tests
  • Visualize trends
  • Analyze results in collaboration with community
  • Communicate results to multiple audiences


Contact Devon for more information on consulting services.