Overview of epi's Qualitative Research Protocol Development Program

The need exists for improved approaches to community engagement. Participatory research offers a viable solution. Participatory research serves well in public health and international development, yet is underutilized in other sectors such as economic development, environmental planning, resource management, transportation and sustainability. Participatory research is a powerful optic for engaging local people in addressing the pressing challenges of our time. 

epi works with partners in the Participatory Network to to develop participatory research strategies and to identify protocols that permit the systematic inclusion of diverse local knowledge and socio-cultural patterns in the considerations of public decision makers and stakeholders.

Through epi's online Participatory Network, we expect to be able to achieve a high level of certainty regarding the benefits of PAR as a new approach to community engagement that can improve outcomes for planners across the United States. We intend to support the Participatory Network in developing PAR strategies that offer credible, unbiased results while also being easy-to-apply and relatively risk free. Our goals is the ongoing refinement of systematic, rigorous research protocols for the range of PAR strategies including Participatory Learning and Action, Participatory Rural Appraisal, the range of ethnographic methods and more.

A majority of the data stream in participatory research is qualitative[link].  Perceptual barriers exist in the use of 'soft' science (see Hiking with Darwin)[link]. The development of sound protocols for PAR across a range of sectors is primary.  Through interactive exchange on best practice by members of the Participatory Network [link], epi expects to see momentum achieved for the advancement of PAR for public planning in every sector and at every scale.

In sound qualitative research, a “chain of evidence” is essential for demonstrating credibility. (Yin, 1989:103)  The credibility of qualitative data can be demonstrated through “a codified procedure for analyzing the data” and through the use of “standard devices” used in qualitative data presentation.(Glaser and Strauss, 1967:229).   A researcher must design the research so as to triangulate data sources and methods and later confirm analytical results with other research partners.

epi seeks to provide sufficient resources to the Participatory Network so that members may jointly formulate and refine QA/QC protocols that ensure unbiased results credible across most  if not all constituencies.  A goal is protocols that ensure validity, reliability, credibility and confirmability by third parties.

In time, epi expects to partner with planners and researchers in the Participatory Network to demonstrate participatory research within the framework used for comment analysis in the implementation of National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).

A shift in practice of this scale would normally take at least a decade (see the adoption of social technologies such as mediation). Web 2.0 social networking technologies offer a quantum leap for advancing participatory research. 

In addition to data collection and analysis, PAR protocols include best practice in the reporting of results.  Accessiblity is necessary to ensure validation by every target audience from experts, decision makers, electeds to local people who can corroborate reports, implement objectives and validate results. 

Consider contributing to or referencing epi's online discussion

Hiking with Darwin: Making Sense of What We Observe

A blog on scientific consensus.


Note:  epi's web icons are images of 19th century scientific instruments and cultural resources; the icons evoke the use of systematic record keeping to form conclusions in the era of Charles Darwin.