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Participatory Action Research in physical geography with SCIMAP

This is the journal paper that used SCIMAP to investigate the use of ‘Participatory Action Research’ to work with stakeholders in addressing environmental issues.

“Going with the flow? Using participatory action research in physical geography.”
Geoff P. Whitman, Rachel Pain, and David G. Milledge
This paper critically appraises the idea and practice of ‘participation’ in scientific environmental research, arguing for the wider uptake by physical geographers of Participatory Action Research (PAR). PAR offers an alternative approach to science, involving the co-production of an open research process by local stakeholders or activists, through every stage from question definition to outcomes. We begin with a critical review of public participation in environmental research and policy-making to date. We argue that much rhetoric and practice of participation is relatively shallow, focusing narrowly on including relevant publics and stakeholders without granting them substantive input, or on building trust in science or policy-making rather than reshaping agendas to reflect public concerns. This is a stark contrast with the radical traditions in which participatory research and planning originate. We then report on a collaboration between academic researchers and a UK Rivers Trust , in which we used PAR to research farm slurry pollution, discussing and evaluating the research process. We argue that PAR not only has the potential to result in enriched and innovative science relevant to pressing environmental problems, but that it provides a more democratic and equitable approach than conventional academic and policy structures allow; PAR can thus present a valuable approach for future physical geography research. Nonetheless, a number of barriers to deep participatory processes need to be addressed if this way of working is to become mainstream.

Keywords Participation, participatory action research, co-production, knowledge hierarchies, catchment management, critical physical geography

The full paper is available from Durham University Online at