Enhancing Knowledge Creation In Participatory Health Research In Swaziland- Synthesising Participant Observation And Participatory Methods



"Participatory research methods (PRM) aim to facilitate doing research with a community. Although seemingly at odds with participant observation (PO), a method of doing research on a community, the potential benefits of ‘creatively synthesising' these methods are recognised, but not well understood (Evans, 2013). Our aims were to elucidate: how PO and PRM can be creatively synthesised; and how mixing these methods can enhance the knowledge created through participatory health research (PHR). Participant observation was used to document a PHR process that involved 10 lay co-researchers from a rural Swazi community and the first author (MB) sharing their ideas and knowledge through PRM. This process included discussion, role play, mapping, sorting and debating activities. Transcribed PO data, documenting 224 hours of interactions in 42 participatory workshops, were analysed using an iterative-inductive approach. Participatory research methods facilitated the co-researchers sharing their local knowledge and proved a rich source of data, which was documented through PO. Participant observation enabled: the systematic documentation of knowledge shared through PRM activities; long-term reflection on the knowledge (particularly for MB during PO data preparation and analysis); and local knowledge to be contributed to the global scientific literature. Community co-researchers felt the knowledge they shared was taken seriously and valued because they saw their ideas being recorded as PO data. The experience showed that PRM and PO can be creatively and synergistically synthesised in PHR. Further, doing so can enhance reflection and improve knowledge creation. Keywords Community development/engagement, capacity building, partnerships Health Promotion Research methodologies and methods Key messages 1. Participant observation and participatory research methods can be creatively and synergistically synthesised. 2. Participant observation can enhance participatory research methods because it enables documentation of knowledge shared. 3. Participatory research methods can enhance participant observation because it facilitates knowledge sharing and informs the data collection focus. Reference Evans, R. (2013). Towards a creative synthesis of participant observation and participatory research: Reflections on doing research with and on young Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. Childhood, 20(2), 169. doi:10.1177/0907568212459774


Michelle Brear

Monash University, University of the Free State