Chapter 5: How to write/publish about participatory research?
As academic researchers we have the ethical obligation to share our research findings. Research participants have put trust in the academic researcher(s) that the time and efforts they have dedicated to the study will be respected. In participatory research there are additional responsibilities for the academic researchers, as the participants can also have a role in publishing and dissemination.
Participatory researchers strive for ownership by participants throughout the research. This is often neglected in the last step of writing and disseminating results. The extent to which research participants want to be recognized and named in dissemination should be discussed with them. Options are to include them in the acknowledgements or as co-author on a (scientific) publication, together give a presentation at a location of their preference or make a vlog about the results. This requires extra care to ethics and privacy. Harry Shier, an expert in participatory action research with children, writes about the dilemma between recognition and anonymity (70). In traditional research it is usually required by ethical committees that the anonymity of participants is protected. But in participatory research, participants can move away from being a participant and become a researcher. This entitles them to rights that academic researchers have, such as recognition for their efforts and work. It also means breaking through the barriers of anonymity. Harry Shier describes this as a continuum with on the one end children as research participants, and on the other end children as co-researchers. When children are research participants and research is done ON children, anonymity should be guaranteed. But when children are co-researchers and research is conducted WITH or BY children, ownership and authorship should be discussed. This rhetoric also counts for research with adults.
When you want to publish participatory research, some level of detail in describing the research process and context is necessary. This includes a description of the community, the participants, and relevant local contexts such as schools or religious institutions. The role of the participants and their own research practices often do not become clear in academic publications, which makes it hard to understand how the participatory research in collaboration with the participants has been conducted. Throughout the article this has to be clearly described – or at least take a full paragraph to describe this in detail – to enhance this understanding and improve the quality of participatory research publications, e.g. (28, 40, 71). Furthermore, academic researchers should describe their own background, their roles throughout the research and reflect on that. These roles could change in the research process and influence the relationships with the participants. The role as facilitators should therefore be continuously reflected upon and also be described in (academic) publications. Not all journals provide a word limit or article design to be able to describe all of this. Separately publishing research protocols could provide a solution to this problem of limiting word counts.
Dissemination can take place in different formats (72). Publishing in peer-reviewed journals has the benefit of greater credibility and that the paper can be improved through the peer-review process. Also, the resource can be easily found as it becomes indexed in various databases. Getting action research or participatory research published used to be a challenge, but currently there are several journals specifically for such studies or who have specially spoken out to be interested in publishing such papers (Relevant Journals – Graduate Certificate in Participatory Research (unc.edu)). However, there is still a challenge in writing a paper about participatory research that needs to fit conventional formats of research articles. Academic researchers often have to be creative in their writing and often have to write multiple articles about a study to be able to describe the study in sufficient detail – as they can be limited by journal guidelines, features and word counts. An option could be to publish a detailed protocol at an open science source, such as Open Science Framework (OSF) (73), where you can refer to in later publications. Other formats for dissemination such as reports, a video, comic or drawing, can be added as they may be more accessible for the participants and local community. We advise to discuss together with the participants what they find important in the dissemination of results. The academic researchers should dedicate time and resources to try to make sure to match the participants’ preferences.