The idea of participatory research and its various related forms (collaborative research, action research, participatory action research), as a way to assist community self determination, has exploded in popularity over the last decade. As a practitioner of the method, however, I have become increasingly concerned about whether I am doing it correctly. There are three roles that academics seem to play in participatory research: the initiator, the consultant, and the collaborator. After discussing these issues and the various models, this paper argues that, in any participatory research project there are three goals to be achieved for all participants: learning something, developing relationships, and acting more effectively. Doing the research is not a goal in itself but only a means. Achieving these goals require that four functions be fulfilled: “animator,” community organizer, popular educator, and participatory researcher. Determining how the academic will fit in the project (as initiator, consultant, or collaborator) requires addressing three questions: What is the project trying to do? What are the Academic’s skills? How much participation does the community need or want? Typically, the answers to these questions will vary according to how organized the community is.
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