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“It was a bit meandering but so what?” Using Participatory Action Research in river catchment management Geoff Whitman and Rachel Pain.

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Presentation on theme: "“It was a bit meandering but so what?” Using Participatory Action Research in river catchment management Geoff Whitman and Rachel Pain."— Presentation transcript:

1 “It was a bit meandering but so what?” Using Participatory Action Research in river catchment management Geoff Whitman and Rachel Pain

2 What stakeholders said at the beginning: R5 Well I find it you know, with academics, they know, they’ve been to university, they’ve got their degrees, they’ve read this, they’ve studied that...and I justthought to come on something like this and not be patronised... R6 They’ll come from, these people will come along from the Environment Agency and this, that and other, and they’ll say you do that, they haven't a bloody, no practical idea whatsoever. R5 No. R6 They won't listen to you, they’ve read it in books and that’s what we come across and that comes regular and that’s what’s wrong with the country they don't listen to the people enough.

3 The Centre for Social Justice and Community Action A research centre made up of academic researchers from different disciplines and community partners. University-public engagement as a two-way dialogue, research as co-produced. Our aim is to: –promote and develop research, teaching, public/community engagement and staff development around the broad theme of social justice –provide a centre of excellence for theoretically informed participatory and community-based research –provide a locus for good practice in this type of research and associated initiatives in teaching, training, engagement and staff development. Website: email:

4 Co-production What do we mean by co-production? Moving beyond interdisciplinary working and its ‘dialogue amongst Experts’ 1. Institutional level Jasanoff (2004) – Institutional focus of observable historical phenomena at level of society 2. Individual level Callon (1999) the Co-Production of Knowledge Model. This recognises that concerned publics have, “…specific, particular and concrete knowledge and competencies, the fruit of their experience and observations’”(p.85), which, have an important role to play in enhancing “…the abstract…knowledge of the scientists: (p., 85). PAR A foundational tenet of PAR (Lewin, 1945; Freire, 1973), that requires that we “…stop working with people as ‘subjects’…instead we build relationships as co-researchers” (Reason and Bradbury 2008, p.9) and that co-researchers are engaged as, “…full persons and that exploration is based directly on their understanding of their own action and experience, rather than being filtered through an outsiders perspective” (ibid, p.9).

5 Participatory Action Research PAR involves people who are concerned about or affected by an issue taking a leading role in producing and using knowledge about it. Many names are now used to describe research processes that are in some way ‘participatory’ - PAR is distinct because: it is driven by participants (a group of people who have a stake in the issue being researched), rather than an outside sponsor, funder or academic (although they may be invited to help) it offers a democratic model of who can produce, own and use knowledge it is collaborative at every stage, involving discussion, pooling skills and working together it is intended to result in some action, change or improvement on the issue being researched. “it inverts who constructs research questions, designs, methods, interpretations and products” (Fine et al 2007)

6 Participation in water management Public participation is now firmly established across academic and policy spheres (and also hotly contested and critiqued) Particular resonance in recent European water legislation: –Aarhus Convention (1998) requires that measures are taken to include public participation approaches during the preparation of plans and programmes (Carter and Howe, 2006) –Inclusion of stakeholder participation requirements within the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC). –WFD one of the first pieces of European legislation that explicitly demands a high degree of involvement of non-state actors in the implementation (Newig et al., 2005). In the UK, River Basin Plans management is currently trialled through the Environment Agency’s 10 trial catchments: –‘We are exploring improved ways of engaging with people and organisations at a catchment level in ways that can make a difference to the health of all our waters’ http://www.environment- –Richard Benyon, Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries: these catchments should, ‘provide a clear understanding of the issues in the catchment, involve local communities in decision making by sharing evidence, listening to their ideas, working out priorities for action and seeking to deliver integrated actions that address local issues in a cost effective way and protect local resources’ (World Water Day, 22 March 2011). BUT... “Technical decisions on river basin management will mostly be made within the regulatory framework encompassed by the WFD so there is little scope for extended, in depth, involvement with the public” (Wood, 2008). Conflict with above?

7 From ‘surveillant science’ and ‘participatory modelling’ to PAR Diffuse pollution is a key area in catchment management –Catchments as ‘critical’ filters’ for water issues –Difficulty of location – few intensively monitored catchments –‘Surveillant science’ (Lane et al., 2009) – using mathematical models and remote sensing –Limited public engagement –Project written to challenge this approach –Participatory modelling – “...the use of modelling in support of a decision-making process that involves stakeholders” (Voinov and Bousquet, 2010, p.2) – has been widely used in catchment management Can a PAR approach be applied to this (seemingly oppositional) issue/methods? –PAR is an alternative way of doing science Refusing the distinctions between theoretical and applied, and science and advocacy; critical participatory action research commits at once to human rights, social justice, and scientific validity” (Torre et al., 2011, forthcoming) –‘Public Science’ (Torre et al., 2011) ( action-research-as-public-science/) action-research-as-public-science/ –But doesn’t sit easily with traditions/institutions of science (or social science) –Are the challenges greater when PAR is attempted with ‘hard science’ methods/research/policymaking? –What can PAR learn from engaging with the scientific method? Can this method be peeled off the traditional hierarchy of expertise? What does that do to science?

8 Background to the project Two projects both funded under the RELU programme: Understanding Environmental Knowledge Controversies: The case of flood risk science (Oxford, Durham, Newcastle and UEA) –3 year project –Multiple aims but focusing on one: ‘To experiment with a new approach to public engagement in the production of interdisciplinary environmental science, involving the use of Competency Groups’ Building Adaptive Strategies for Environmental Change with Rural Land Managers (Rachel Pain, David Milledge and Geoff Whitman) –18 month project focused on how we might ‘explore and promote novel approaches and partnerships for interdisciplinary research and analysis on living with environmental change in rural contexts’ Methodology: (i) We used PAR with Lune Rivers Trust (ii) All members of team critically evaluated the process and outcomes

9 Identifying the research focus

10 SCIMAP – Sensitive Catchment Integrated Modelling and Analysis Platform SCIMAP aims to determine where within a catchment is the most probable source of diffuse pollution 1.The idea to develop some form of risk assessment tool that might be used on farms 2.The idea that you might be able to identify how vulnerable a farm yard is in terms of material from it getting into the river The influence of roads as pathways that concentrate and sustain water flow, increasing the likelihood of connection The critique of SCIMAP, particularly the Land Cover map and its inability to differentiate between different forms of improved pasture – leading to data collection by the group and a small test of the influence of more complete land cover data.

11 The rest of the research process then focused on co-producing 3 outputs: A Farm Vulnerability Tool A Risk Assessment Tool A PAR toolkit

12 The movement and sharing of expertise Knowledge production is a negotiated process - both between academics and locals and between the locals themselves (they contested each others knowledges) The coding of the models remains with the scientists. However, other aspects were collectively negotiated such as: –What the questions of interest were –How feasible solutions might be –What the wider institutional context was and how this would impact on our proposed solutions –Risk assessment index –Farm vulnerability tool –Critiques of SCIMAP and land cover –How to disseminate and use the end products The models become a product of the collective competence of the group, as they incorporate multiple knowledges We question the term ‘redistributing expertise’ (c.f Lane et al., 2009; Landstrom et al., 2011) – because its underlying assumption is always that the academic/scientist/policymaker is the active partner who is benevolent and able to ‘empower’ local knowledge. With the conditions in place for real collaboration, this can happen on both sides.

13 Evaluating PAR Collective evaluation the project approach of PAR: –Whole group discussion (meeting 9) –Follow-on interviews with participants –Audio diary kept by the academics throughout the project –Project tools being used already

14 Critically evaluating PAR Lack of clarity / culture of ground-up working? “I haven’t grasped really what you want here…I’m baffled at the moment completely you know and you’re on about four meetings, if I don’t get more understanding I wouldn’t be at the next one because I don’t know what you’re on about… “ [PAR local member] It’s just an academic exercise “Yes my comment was this is just going to be an academic exercise, that’s how I felt about it, I didn’t feel it was going to progress or do it’s something that Durham University it’s almost a self-indulgent thing you know…I didn’t think it was particularly a two-way thing…” [PAR local member]

15 Benefits of the PAR process Rachel: An alternative would be that we’d come to you…on that first day and said “this is what it’s going to be about”, that would have been the alternative. R1: This is definitely better, this process. R2: Definitely. R3: Yes. R1: …Instead of somebody coming along and saying this is what we’re going to do, we decided what we wanted you to do, and that’s pretty unusual. So we weren’t being forced to accept something that…might not be exactly what we wanted, we had the input too. R1: We’ve got a very good result out of it…Don't forget you’re dealing with a big diversity of people and I don't think that’s easy, that’s not easy, I thought it worked very well…The people who live here and work here and fish here and farm here are the people who know what goes on. I think there’s nothing better than local knowledge when you need information about the land in my opinion.

16 Geoff: Yes, so one of the things that was raised was that as a Rivers Trust you rarely get the opportunity to just sit around the table and discuss issues in the way that we did. R1: You hit the nail on the head, the Rivers Trusts if you will are very much seen as a spending arm of DEFRA, and DEFRA may come along and say well there’s X amount of money available for buffer stripping and X amount of money available for tree planting and X amount of money available for weir removal and there’s always then a scramble to get projects on that meet the criteria for each one of those particular fields…This I think is a very useful tool to actually get people round the table, sit down, look at the catchment, decide what the issues are in there, and then prioritise your action plan to address the pressures and I think it corrects that sort of, at the moment things are sort of top down, driven from the top if you will.

17 Using project tools Geoff: Has anything happened with it since we finished? R1: I’m using that bit that we developed…the land study and the risk assessment…Wenning Improvement Project. Geoff: Oh so the Environment Agency sounded interested in it? R1:Very interested. Geoff: Really? R1:Yes, yes I had a meeting last night here with [] who is the team leader…for this area and we actually discussed that work…and he is keen for me to talk to somebody from Natural England…who’s leading work on diffuse pollution… and maybe give them my ideas you know…to maybe give a catchment assessment of where the pressures are arising.

18 A roller-coaster ride Geoff: This has just been, it’s been a roller-coaster…Within the first, what was it, maybe the first five minutes of that meeting of me trying to quite clumsily explain what we were trying to do Mick put his finger on it and said basically you know I have no idea what you’re talking about, what the hell is this project about you know and I just at that point I got really anxious and thought oh no, this is going to be a disaster…And how are we going to pull this one out of the bag…So that was my initial thing but then very quickly it changed…I think the rest of it for me has been a fantastic process, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being part of it, so that’s my experience of the project, it’s gone up and down and up and down but at the end you know I think it’s been a great process for me personally.

19 Conclusions? Is the first use of PAR in the UK on a river catchment management issue a success? And could this be a ‘model’ of how to do public engagement in river catchments (i.e. River Basin Plans)? We think so but…. –The institutional/policy context may be a challenge –Scientists/policymakers/all of us vary widely in our aptitude for PAR What about the impacts on PAR?  Shows that PAR can work with the (other) ‘scientific method’ - the commitment to real collaboration is what matters  Institutional capture – national support but local implementation  Boundaries of PAR  LRT not the ‘usual’ focus of PAR – legitimacy issues?

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