Our Strategy

What is PAR?

PAR (participatory action research) is a methodology used by many researchers around the world. At the heart of participatory action research lies a simple commitment: to combine research and action for social change. Relationships between researchers and the communities they partner with are long-term — cultivated over decades in many cases — with the goal of empowering communities and spreading new knowledge. Using PAR builds a mutual trust between the researchers and communities by making communities equal partners within the defining of research agendas, research products, and how that research will be used and applied.

In all of CAN’s programs, we strive to apply the lessons learned from each PAR experience to subsequent experiences in other CAN partner communities. The result is a continuously developing method on how to study — and address — the interrelated problems of food insecurity, rural outmigration, agricultural sustainability, and the lack of opportunities for young people in rural communities in Mesoamerica. Our relationship with each community-based organization is different and distinct, and the problems identified are localized and content specific — and so must be the solution!

PAR Cycle

Research: Starting with People and a Community

The cycle begins when a member of a research team establishes trust and a long-term relationship with a community-based organization as a primary counterpart. Over time, the researchers build strong relationships with many local groups and community members. This creates an expanding network through growing relationships, and leads to wider research and culturally appropriate action agendas. 

Reflection: Learning During the Change Process

Problems and action agendas are identified collaboratively by community-based organizations and researchers through a reflection process. Thinking with — and not for — communities leads to strategies that are more likely to be sustainable.

Action: Change Through Learning

After participants have completed the research and reflection process and identified strategies for action, they proceed to the third step in the PAR cycle – implementing those strategies through action. These actions can take diverse forms. Some past examples of PAR in action:

  • In El Salvador, the three partner cooperatives working with CAN researcher Ernesto Mendez decided to convert to certified organic coffee production
  • The Network of Small-Holder Fair Cooperatives in Latin America and the Caribbean contracted with CAN researcher Christopher M. Bacon to conduct a study that led to increase minimum Fair Trade prices in 2007.
  • CAN’s direct coffee-marketing program grew out of CAN co-founder Steve Gliessman’s long-term relationship with farmers and cooperatives in Agua Buena, Costa Rica. University of California, Santa Cruz undergraduates lived and learned in this community where they witnessed farmers struggling to survive the low coffee prices. The students wanted to collaborate with the farmers to create a fairer market. When the students returned to Santa Cruz, CAN Director Robbie Jaffe helped the students create a new grassroots coffee market at their university and in the Santa Cruz community. CAN works to coordinate these market channels and shares profits with the producer cooperatives. That model has since evolved into our AgroEco® Coffee program, which promotes environmentally and socially sustainable coffee grown by smallholder farmers, and backed by research.

All of our current Action Research Initiatives were initiated withcollaboratively designed participatory diagnostic studies in 2010-2012. Problems affecting food sovereignty and security were identified locally with community-based organizations and community members, and specific strategies were developed, which are currently being implemented and monitored on the ground.

Sharing: Amplifying Voices, Putting Research to Work

Participatory Action Research includes the voices of those not traditionally heard in academic circles, serving to share the perspectives of those on the ground with policy makers, researchers, and institutions.

Results are also shared with farmer-collaborators in a way that makes them most useful through workshops, on farm training, and research.

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