Doing Participatory Action Research in the Social Sciences: A ‘Warts and All’ Exploration Sarah Noone; Nick Jenkins

This workshop will explore some of the practical issues, challenges and opportunities of conducting participatory action research [PAR] within the social sciences. Drawing on their own work conducting research with people who live with a diagnosis of dementia, Sarah and Nick will explore what draws us to PAR and how we go about adopting its principles and approaches to address key issues facing contemporary society. The emphasis throughout the session will be on sharing experiences of PAR - with all its hopes, difficulties, anxieties and complexities – rather than offering a one-size-fits-all recipe for incorporating PAR within your own projects. By sharing our own candid experiences of conducting PAR in a social research setting, alongside examples of other participatory action research from within the social sciences, and encouraging you to share your own experiences of the highs and lows of conducting PAR, we hope to facilitate a rich discussion that will enable you to deepen your understanding of the practicalities of participatory action research, and the many opportunities offered by this approach.

During this workshop, you will:

  • Identify what, for you, distinguishes PAR from other approaches within the social sciences
  • Anticipate likely barriers to adopting a PAR approach within your own research, and explore potential strategies to address them in a participatory, action-orientated way
  • Explore the value of embodied approaches to data collection and their compatibility with PAR principles and frameworks

Discussion questions

What is it that distinguishes participatory action research from allied approaches within the social sciences, such as ‘user-involvement’ and ‘co-production’?

What are some of the challenges of conducting participatory action research as a doctoral project? How might we address some of these challenges in a participatory, action-orientated manner?

What research techniques are effective within participatory action research and how might we adapt these for our own projects?

The emphasis throughout the session will be sharing experiences of PAR - with all its hopes, difficulties, anxieties and complexities – rather than offering a one-size-fits-all recipe for incorporating PAR within your own projects

Suggested Readings

Academic Articles

  • Noone S & Jenkins N (2017) INTERDEM Academy Special Section – Digging for dementia: exploring the experience of community gardening from the perspective of people with dementia. Aging & Mental Health. DOI: 10.1080/13607863.2017.1393793.
  • Jenkins N., Keyes S, Strange L. (2016) Creating vignettes of early onset dementia: An exercise in public sociology. Sociology 50(1): 77-92.
  • Scottish Dementia Working Group Research Sub-Group (2014) Core Principles for Involving People with Dementia in Research. Glasgow: Scottish Dementia Working Group. URL: http://dementiavoices.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Involving-people-with-dementia-in-research1.pdf
  • Dupuis, S.L., Whyte, C., Carson, J., Genoe, R., Meshino, L., Sadler, L. (2012) Just dance with me: an authentic partnership approach to understanding leisure in the dementia context. World Leisure Journal 54(3): 240-54. FULL TEXT
  • Foster-Fishman, G., Law, K.M., Lichty, L.F., Aoun, C. (2010) Youth ReACT for Social Change: A Method for Youth Participatory Action Research. American Journal of Community Psychology 46(1-2): 67-83. FULL TEXT

Weblinks and resources:

When Methods Meet: Co-production & Participatory Research. Scottish Graduate School of Social Science:

When Methods Meet: Big Data & Action Research. Scottish Graduate School of Social Science:

Resources and Presentation Recordings

Video from presentation- including copy of slides will be made available.

Slides from the workshop presentation are available to view below, click on the first image to view as a slide show.

Slides from the workshop

Delivery team bio:

Nick Jenkins is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology & Social Policy at the University of the West of Scotland. He began his research career in 2001 as a Research Intern within Barnardo’s UK, where he was first exposed to participatory approaches to conducting research with children and young people. Latterly, since 2012, Nick’s research has focused on the lived experience of dementia. Nick has a keen interest in dementia activism, and has served as a co-opted member of the Scottish Dementia Working Group and collaborated with Dementia Alliance International. He is currently a member of the Associate Editorial Board for Sociological Research Online, a publication of the British Sociological Association

Sarah Noone

Sarah Noone is a final-year PhD researcher at the University of the West of Scotland. Through her doctoral research, Sarah sought to develop a framework for the development of participatory community gardening initiatives for people with dementia. Sarah is currently focusing on disseminating her findings to promote the value of meaningful participation and collaboration in establishing outdoor engagement activities for people living with dementia.

Created By
Alison McCandlish


Photos by Alison McCandlish

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