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North-South methodology workshop for social and cultural analysis


Network Cultures has often been challenged by practitionners to go beyond the necessary critique of ethnocentrism and the plea for taking local cultures into account in development work. Many of them said : "Now that we are more aware of the reductionistic nature of our approaches, with their materialistic and rationalistic biases, tell us what to do ? Give us tools to understand local cultural dynamics, and to act better in the field of development". Network Cultures took this challenge very seriously.

1.1 A preference for Participatory Action Research

Network Cultures held two conference (Glasgow in 1992 and Chartres in 1993) to explore the "implicit meaning of local practices" (See Cultures and Development - Quid Pro Quo no. 10/11 of September 1992 and no. 14 of January 1993). These first efforts led us to turn our backs to the production of "tools" of analysis in the social and cultural field. Tools have something mechanistic about them. They tend to reduce social systems and human motivations to cause-and-effect relationships which do not leave enough scope and flexibility to comprehend the human being's extraordinary creativity and perplexing unpredictability. Reality being holistic, no mechanistic tools are appropriate. We need something better even if this may sound frustrating to hurried interventionists.

Rather than tools we opted for a deeper approach which questions the researcher's movitations and ethics. To know a community is not just a matter of having acquired technical or intellectual skills. It is a matter of patience, ability to listen, modesty, and compassion ... just as much as it is a matter of scientific discipline.

In the course of our reflection, we spotted Participatory Action-Research as probably one of the approaches which corresponded rather well to our needs.

1.2 The Brussels Workshop 1995 on Methodology

In December 1995, Network Cultures organized a Workshop on Methodology for social and cultural analysis with NGOs, Social Workers, sociologists and anthropologists from various countries of both South and North.

All of them were experienced in one particular type of action : community development in urban milieu. The confrontation of experience with the same urban problematique in Luanda and Brussels, Santiago and Stuttgart, Bangalore and Poitiers, Rio and Sydney proved highly rewarding.

One of our advisors on methodology was Jacques Boulet whose texts will be used in the pages to follow and whom we are greatful.

Jacques Boulet is a Belgian sociologist and doctor in Sociology as well as in Social Work (USA), presently teaching in Australia. Jacques has field experience in places as different as Germany and Zaire. He is very concerned about a proper approach to cultural specificity. This text of his offers in a way a summary of large parts of the French text to be found in the first part of this special issue. It was drafted in 1995 for colleagues as an internal work document. The I-form indicates the informal character of this text Jacques Boulet writes to his colleagues. Nonetheless, this is a very learned and extremely valuable text and we are proud to present it.

Locating Participatory Action-Research (P.A.R.) epistemologically, methodologically and methodically is the objective of section 2 underneath.


I usually present the various epistemological positions underlying social research in four "clusters", each encompassing a wide range of variations, "schools", even individuals who would probably challenge me for subsuming them under the "labels" I attach to the clusters. As of late, I have started to include a fifth cluster, leading to an overall re-configuration of the entire epistemological "landscape" based on (often implicit) ontological assumptions. Briefly, the re-configured five clusters are as follows :

2.1 An epistemological cluster based on an "a-human" ontology:

Positivism : a-human because it assumes the capability on the part of humans ("researchers" or "scientists") to act/think "objectively"; it assumes the "objectivationability" of the human "subject" as the "object" of research; all the while espousing Cartesian/Newtonian anthropocentric idealism.

2.2 Three epistemological clusters based on a "humanist" ontology :

(2.1) Interpretationism (or based on Phenomenology); restoring (inter-) subjectivity to the dialogue between researcher and researched and legitimizing it as an adequate basis for (human/social) research and science; could be referred to as anthropo-situationist, drawing on various existentialist, phenomenological-symbolicist and pragmatist ontological traditions.

(2.2) Critical-dialectical ("Structuralist"); attempting to strike various versions of balance between objective reality and human (subjective and social/collective) appropriation (of which research/science is one form). Materialist/dialectical ontological foundations from Marxism "tempered" by Frankfurt School "critical theory"; some feminist "schools"; various re-definitions of the subject/actor, but still distinctly anthropocentric.

(2.3) Critical-dialectical ("Participative"); an ontological amalgam of the previous two, often focused on pragmatic action-contexts but with recognition of "structural" reality operating "behind people's backs". Pragmatic-hermeneutic, pragmatic-activist and pragmatic-consciousness-centered combine to varying degrees to "construct" this brand of anthropocentrism/humanism (also referred to - by Hopenhayn - as "critical humanist").

2.3 "Transpersonal Ecological"

A (re-emerging) epistemological cluster which de-centers the human being from constituting "all-there-is-to-be-known-and-done" and which I term (following Warrick Fox) : transpersonal ecological. It derives from versions of Deep Ecology (Naess) as well as re-connecting with "primal" (J. Highwater) or "indigenous" modes of knowing and being; from modern theoretical physics (Bohr, Prigogine), new/old spirituality (M. Fox, Wilber, Skolimovsky); Eastern philosophies.

The corresponding epistemological specifications as they relate to the self-understanding of the researcher; the understanding of the "object" of study; and the understanding of the "knowing" relationship between researcher and object (= theory) and the "acting" relationship between the two (= practice) are summarised on the any broadsheet (to be found in this special issue as "Schéma 5") under item 2.3 of the French version).

The reader will find in Chart no. 7 a graphic presentation of the above.


I usually attempt to present methodological positions within a framework which de-emphasises dichotomies and boundaries and encourages researchers to locate themselves and their research design eclectically but appropriately within two intersecting continua of options, appropriate, that is, to the "nature" of the research at hand, the intentions of the researcher and the researched and the available resources and other constraints. In this sense, methodological decisions are decisions which link or mediate between epistemological (and political) decisions and more practical-technical decisions of method (see below). That means that methodological decisions are thoroughly theoretical, or, as some would say, methodology is the theory of method.

3.1 What distance between researcher and "researched" ?

The vertical axis in the representational system of coordinates (see below) runs a continuum from experimental to participative designs and focuses particular attention on the relationship between the researcher and the researched, more specifically on the degree of control the former has over the latter (in terms of interpretation of the "data" and the determination of the situation) and the degree of participation (even plain information) accorded to the latter in defining purpose, design and execution of all research undertakings.

3.2 How specific or how general ?

The horizontal axis runs a continuum from qualitative to quantitative designs and focuses particularly on the intended modes, strategies and scope (i.e. generalisation vs. specification) of interpretation/analysis and their associated forms and techniques of data collection.

As can be seen, the underlying processes of reasoning (inductive, deductive, etc. strategies) can be easily 'plotted into' the coordinate system, at least in as far as the "main" logic of the research designs is concerned. Indeed, it is now commonly accepted that every research process involved variously organised dialectical sequences of induction and deduction, except, probably, for the strictest of experimental-empiricist conceptions of research process.


4.1 For compound as opposed to single techniques

The level of methods is the level of concrete operation where process, instrumentation, data "collection" are central. I usually distinguish between "single techniques" and "compound techniques", with a strong emphasis on the fact that 'stand alone' methods are usually less robust, lead to less convincing or 'saturated' evidence and that 'triangulation' usually leads to better interpretation/analysis/understanding. That applies in particular to the compound method of "action research", not in the Feyerabend sense of "anything goes", but rather in the context of continuous negotiations and feedback with the action group (or rather the "actors groups") and of what seems appropriate and meaninful/purposeful for their goals and intentions.

4.2 The relational aspect of research

I also put a lot of emphasis on the relational aspect of Research practice; the limitations of the verbal-cognitive mode on which many of our data collection techniques are based (e.g. interviews and many "participant" strategies) as well as the limitations and biases of our sensory apparatus, with its heavy emphasis on visual messages to the detriment of other perceptional modes and messages. Finally, in recent times I have also become strongly aware of how much "we" in the "West" have lost our capacity for memory and how much our cultural emphasis on "written documents" (as signs of "real" - and rational - civilisation) has contributed to that. The (re-) emergence of oral history has restored some legitimacy to other forms of (personal and social) "knowing" and I would love to see some work done in the area of local history, oral history, community development and P.A.R.

In order to strengthen people's awareness of the above mentioned relational aspect inherent in the act of researching (or, if you prefer, its interactional aspect), I organise the methods and techniques in terms of the "closeness" or "distance" they require between the "subjects" (the researchers and the researched) involved in the study :


5.1 Take your pick of the combination which seems most useful to express :






Our friend and advisor on issues of research methodology, Dr. Jacques Boulet has been a member of the Action Research Issues Association Inc. of Melbourne. This institution published in 1991 Everyday Evaluation on the Run by Yoland Wadsworth, a remarkable document which further develops its 1984 Do it yourself social research. We are particularly grateful to J. Boulet who handed over this document to us, and to Yoland Wadsworth as well as to the Melbourne friends for the pioneering job accomplished by producing these publications. Further contact with the network of 150 people interested in participatory action research (PAR) and evaluation can be made by writing to Action Research Issues Association Inc., 4th Floor, Ross House, 247-251 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 3000. Their publications are part of a broader social justice project intended to provide a range of resources for community groups to carry out their own research and evaluation.

Since Dr. Boulet often referred to the work accomplished by this PAR network and since the report (in French) of our own methodology Workshop also refers to it, we take the liberty of quoting here selected extracts of this publication. Copies of it may be purchased on receipt of 12 Aus. $ plus postage (1993 prices) to above-mentioned address. Its ISBN no. is : 07316 7153-8. Some of the cartoons reproduced here are by Simon Kneebone.

6.1 Action research - action evaluation

Action research is not merely research hopefully followed by action. It is action which is intentionally researched and modified, leading to the next stage of action which is then again intentionally examined for further change, and so on. Everyday evaluators might call it 'trial and error' - a kind of naturalistic experimental approach over a longish period of time. Life itself is a kind of an action research project when you think about it !

In this way, research can be thought of as following a cycle or spiral of action, reflection, questionning, researching hunches, drawing conclusions, evaluating options and planning further action, then taking the new action, and reflecting again and so on. The spiral hopefully goes up towards improvement - but it can also go down !

Much conventional and academic research acts as if it starts with hunches or hypotheses and ends with conclusions, but, this is an inadequate formulation of the full research process for two reasons. Firstly, it does not take seriously the matter of the value-driven and experience-based sources of the hunches - which is terribly important to getting both meaningful, and relevant or useful hunches. And secondly, it does not take seriously the matter of putting the conclusions to the practical test (with their value being judged ultimately by those whose interests led to the questions in the first place).

Some theorists believe that evaluation stands separate from research - however this book has argued that the two elements are part of one action evaluation process, and that they are bound together by the purposes of the exercise (and thus by the group who has those purposes, needs, interests or values). In practice, whenever we try to describe a 'fact' we find we are constructing a description of the world in which we have some kind of a value-interest, whether mild, strong, positive, or negative. So also, wherever we try to describe a value, we find we are describing valued-states or valued-activities. That is, just as there is no such thing as a value-free fact (or value-free research to come up with them), there is also no such thing as a fact-free value (in that our values are valued-states we have learned about through endless previous cycles of everyday action research or action learning).

In a way, social research or social science has as much to learn from the value-explicit nature of its evaluation elements, as evaluation has to learn from the evidence-seeking and hunch-testing nature of its essential research process. The 17 tenets of action research on the following page are drawn from McTaggart : 1989.

References :

KEMMIS, Stephen and Robin McTAGGART, The Action Research Planner, Deakin University : 1988
LEWIN, Kurt, 'Action Research and Minority Problems' Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 2. pp. 34-46, 1946
McTAGGART, Robin, Principles for Participatory Action Research, Nicaragua, 1989 (Reprinted in Wadsworth 1991).

6.2 Principles for participatory action research

A paper presented to the 3rd Encuentro Mundial Investigacion Participativa (The Third World Encounter on Participatory Research), Managua, Nicaragua, September 3-9, 1989 is particularly illuminating about PAR.

Participatory action research is an approach to improving social practice by changing it and learning from the consequences of change.

Participatory action research is contingent on authentic participation : it is research through which people work towards the improvement of their own practices (and only secondarily the improvement of other people's practices). Through dialogue among participants, regular checks are made to ensure that the agenda of the least powerful become an important focus of the groups work.

Participatory action research develops through the self-reflective spiral : a spiral of cycles of planning, action (implementing plans), observing (systematically), reflecting ... and then re-planning, further implementation, observing and reflecting. One good way to begin a participatory action research project is to collect some initial data in an area of general interest (a reconnaissance), then to reflect, and then to make a plan for changed action; another way to begin is to make an exploratory change, collect data of what happens, reflect, and then build more refined plans for action. In both cases, issues and understanding, on the one hand, and the practices themselves, on the other, develop and evolve through the participatory action research process - but only when the Lewinian self-reflective spiral is thoughtfully and systematically followed in processes of group critique.

Participatory action research is collaborative : it involves those responsible for action in improving it, widening the collaborating group from these most directly involved to as many as possible of those affected by the practices concerned.

Participatory action research establishes self-critical communities of people participating and collaborating in all phases of the research process : the planning, the action, the observation and the reflection; it aims to build communities of people committed to enlightening themselves about the relationship between circumstance, action and consequence in their own situation, and emancipating themselves from the institutional and personal constraints which limit their power to live their own legitimate educational and social values.

Participatory action research is a systematic learning process in which people act deliberately, though remaining open to surprise and responsive to opportunities. It is a process of using "critical intelligence" to inform action, and developing it so that social action becomes praxis (critically informed, committed action) through which people may consistently live their social values.

Participatory action research involves people in theorising about their practices - being inquisitive about circumstances, action and consequences and coming to understand the relationship between circumstance, actions and consequences in their own lives. The theories that participatory action researchers develop may be expressed initially in the form of rationales for practices. They may develop these rationales by treating them as if they were no more than rationalisations, even though they may be our best current theories of how and why our social (and educational...) work is as it is. They subject these initial rationales to critical scrutiny through the participatory action research process.

Participatory action research requires that people put their practices, ideas and assumptions about institutions to the test by gathering compelling evidence which could convince them that their previous practices, ideas and assumptions were wrong or wrong-headed.

Participatory action research is open-minded about what counts as evidence (or data) - it involves not only keeping records which describe what is happening as accurately as possible (given the particular questions being investigated and the real-life circumstances of collecting the data) but also collecting and analysing our own judgements, reactions and impressions about what is going on.

Participatory action research involves participants in objectification of their own experience, for example, by keeping a personal journal in which participants record their progress and their reflections about two parallel sets of learnings : their learnings about the practices they are studying (how the practices - individual and collective - are developing) and their learnings about the process (the practice), of studying them (how the action research project is going).

Participatory action research is a political process because it involves us in making changes that will affect others - for this reason, it sometimes creates resistance to change, both in the participants themselves and in others.

Participatory action research involves people in making critical analyses of the situations (projects, programs, systems) in which they work : these situations are structured institutionally. The pattern of resistance a participatory action researcher meets in changing his or her own practices is a pattern of conflicts between the new practices and the accepted practices of the institution (accepted practices of communication, decision making and educational work). By making a critical analysis of the institution, the participatory action researcher can understand how resistances are rooted in conflicts between competing kinds of practices, competing views of social (and education...) positions and values, and competing views of social organisation and decision-making. This critical understanding will help the participatory action researcher to act politically towards overcoming resistances (for example, by involving others collaboratively in the research process, inviting others to explore their practices, or by working in the wider institutional context towards more rational understanding, more just processes of decision making, and more fulfilling social forms of work for all involved).

Participatory action research starts small, by working through changes which even a single person can try, and works towards extensive changes - even critiques of ideas of institutions which in turn might lead to more general reforms of projects programs or systems-wide policies and practices. Participants should be able to present evidence of how they started to work on articulating the thematic concern which would hold their group together, and of how they established authentically shared agreements in the group that the thematic concern was a basis for collaborative action.

Participatory action research starts with small cycles of planning, acting, observing and reflecting which can help to define issues, ideas and assumptions more clearly so that those involved can defined more powerful questions for themselves as their work progresses.

Participatory action research starts with small groups of collaborators at the start, but widens the community of participating action researchers so that it gradually includes more and more of those involved and affected by the practices in question.

Participatory action research allows and requires participants to build records of their improvements : (a) records of their changing activities and practices, (b) records of the changes in the language and discourse in which they describe, explain and justify their practices, (c) records of the changes in the social relationships and forms of organisation which characterise and constrain their practices and (d) records of the development of their expertise in the conduct of action research. Participants must be able to demonstrate evidence of a group climate where people expect and give evidence to support each other's claims. They must show respect for the value of rigourously gathered and analysed evidence - and be able to show and defend evidence to convince others.

Participatory action research allows and requires participants to give a reasoned justification of their social (and educational...) work to others because they can show how the evidence they have gathered and the critical reflection they have done have helped them to create a developed, tested and critically examined rationale for what they are doing. Having developed such a rationale, they may legitimately ask others to justify their own practices in terms of their own theories and the evidence of their own critical self-reflection.

Source : Robin MacTaggart, Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria 3217, Australia. Extract from "Everyday Evaluation of the Run" by Yoland Wadsworth.


In Every Day Evaluation on the Run, Yoland Wadsworth offers a useful overview of a large number of tools and techniques available to professional evaluators. We picked out for our readers a few of those techniques, particularly those which help to understand or corroborate our preference for the principles and approaches undergirding PAR.

7.1 The explication model

This approach tries to avoid the implication of 'judgement' (often by an external 'objective' expert) that has given evaluation a negative connotation. Instead, like illuminative naturalistic or constructivist approaches, it tries - as the name implies - by means of clarification, interpretation and explanation, to understand and illuminate. It draws on anthropology as a source of techniques such as on-site observation, and its key strength is that it may produce more rich and detailed descriptions of both practices and intentions. Its drawback lies in its fear of being evaluative (judgemental) which may obscure the necessity of having to produce at least some kind of value-driven comparative analysis that implies that some practices and intentions are more desirable than others (for critical reference groups' purposes or needs). Constructivist evaluation overcomes some of these difficulties by both using an explication model but also shifting the locus of judgement from an independent 'objective' expert back to the collective participants in the evaluated phenomena.

References :

KOPPELMAN, K.L., 'The Explication Model - An Anthropological Approach to Program Evaluation' in George Madaus, Michael Scriven and Daniel F. Stufflebeam (Eds) Evaluation Models - Viewpoints on Educational and Human Services Evaluation Kluwer Nijhoff Publishing, the Hague, pp. 59-64 : 1983
McDERMOTT, Fiona, and Priscilla PYETT The meaning of Treatment - An Evaluation Handbook for Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Agencies University of Melbourne : 1991.

7.2 Group self evaluation (GSE)

Group self evaluation incorporates the basic elements of SELF EVALUATION but in an organised collective setting. It might be a group brought together to work collectively on exploring the fruits of individual self-evaluations (e.g. a service staff meeting might work to regularly receive and offer ideas about individual staff's self-evaluation exercises) or it may be a group that together is providing the same service and which comes together to examine collectively that joint effort. As well, like self evaluation, group self-evaluation may be an exercise in looking at one's own practices, but will generally also extend to reflection on the context and efforts of the practices of others - not in the sense of taking responsibility for what others are doing and giving them Good Advice, but in the sense of examining the effects - both enabling and frustrating (see FORCE FIELD ANALYSIS) - of their practices. There are some important conditions for GSE working well :

"Critical" does not mean criticism. A critical question takes the form of a query about the conditions for knowledge - why and how people came to know what they know. It is essential that the route to current conviction is retraced and useful questions asked to generate new conclusions or a different route to a new way of knowing. Secretly you might be convinced that someone is spending a lot of their time doing some things that are unimportant, irrelevant or downright damaging. You suspend your pre formed conclusions in the spirit of sceptical science and you go back to the start by asking what led the person t"And what led you to draw that conclusion ?" o do what they are doing. The forthcoming explanation can be further pursued by group members continuing to ask each other "why" questions such as :

This style of questionning helps each person retrace their steps and possibly beat a new track in order to finish up in a different place than the current problematic one. People need to do this for themselves if they are to be truly committed to the new way of seeing. As the old Chinese proverb (only slightly modified !) goes :

"What I am told - I forget.
What I read - I recall.
What I see - I remember.
What I do - I understand."

If the group includes no critical reference group members then a further range of "touching base" questions can be asked such as :

The group can vary in size, formality, number of times it meets, and so on. It might be three other like-minded souls you trust to reveal something you feel very vulnerable about, or it might be five people including an outsider with a fresh perspective, or it might be ten people who include some of your greatest critics ! It might be a "once-off", or you might "contract" to meet once a month for six months, or once a week for four weeks, or on an ad hoc basis whenever a member would like it.

GSE examines "circumstance, action and consequence" in an active participatory and organised learning process. It has strong action research elements. While GSE has been developed for professionals working together in human services provision, there is no necessity for the approach to be limited in these ways. Service users, self help groups, or "slices" of mixed collaborative groups made up of providers and users could use GSE which is at essence a reflection on "learning by doing". Even groups of managers could use GSE, perhaps involving some service providers and users to get a fresh handle on their own practices. Groups, it must be remembered, need to operate as "learning communities", united around shared interest, organising around joint tasks, and with a sense of solidarity around a desire to question, understand, learn and develop. Group processes do however need to overcome or work hard at overcoming the non-democratic effects of any power imbalances amongst members.

References :

Brown, Lynton, Group Self-Evaluation - Learning for Improvement Ministry of Education, Victoria : 1988
Brown, Lynton, Group Self-Evaluation - A Collection of Readings Ministry of Education, Victoria : 1990

7.3 Hermeneutic evaluation

The term "hermeneutic" has traditionally been used to describe the practice of Biblical exegesis, that is, what scholars do who are trying to understand and contextually interpret the stories and material of scripture. In social science if has come to refer to the task of trying to put forward an understanding of a message by grasping the context from which it was sent. It implies that one cannot know or interpret the particular without knowing the whole (just as the whole can only be hermeneutically grasped by reference to the particular). For example, the value of one self help health group's efforts may only make sense by reference not only to its own past history but also to the current and past practices of other self help health groups, all self help groups, the medical profession and its institutional forms, and the nature and level of community support for self help groups. In turn, each of these other contexts may be better understood by reference to the activities of that one particular self help group. The concept of "hermeneutics" captures the popular idea of a grain of sand being a microcosm of the universe - while it being impossible to understand fully the universe unless the grain of sand is part of it. When "living" societies are studied, we can talk of a double hermeneutic whereby the "study matter" can be contextualised by an observer and then can review and alter that contextualisation themselves !

Reference :

Bauman, Zygmunt, Hermeneutics and Social Science, Hutchinson, London : 1978.

7.4 Illuminative evaluation

This is another approach concerned with description. Interpretation and understanding rather than the rigours of measurement, quantification and prediction. Malcolm Parlett and David Hamilton coined the terms "illuminative" to describe evaluation which takes account of the wider contexts in which programmes (in their case : education programmes) take place. It draws also on social anthropology traditions, and was developed in response to the dominance of what they called the "agricultural-botany" experimental tradition. The "context" elements of context, input, process, product (CIPP) attemps a similar task.

Reference :

Parlett, Malcolm and David Hamilton, "Evaluation as Illumination : A New Approach to the Study of Innovatory Programs" in David Hamilton et al (Eds.) Beyond the Numbers Game - A Reader in Educational Evaluation pp. 6-22 Macmillan, London : 1977.

7.5 Interpretive evaluation

"Interpretive" refers to how the nature of what we are evaluating isn't in and of itself good or bad, valuable or unworthy - but that these judgements are entirely relative to the people making the jugdements, who do so from their own standpoints and contexts. That is, we are faced with a task of interpreting the meaning of people's views in the context of the rest of their lives. To do this we must become like anthropologists who "go native" or else we may miss grasping the true meanings - "true" relative to those whose meanings they are. This is also sometimes referred to as a hermeneutic or constructivist task, and is what is accomplished under the heading of much qualitative evaluation.

References :

Denzin, Norman, The Research Act in Sociology, Butterworths, London : 1970.
Rabinow, Paul and William Sullivan (Eds), Interpretive Social Science - A Reader University of California Press, Berkeley : 1979.

7.6 Naturalistic inquiry (NI)

The title of this technique picks up some of the meaning of the word "natural" in the sense of inquiring into what is usual, customary, and unaffected; and some sense of the old-fashioned "naturalist" being someone skilled in the observation of nature as found in its habitats. That is, NI uses qualitative or "grounded" designs which do not artificially manipulate the phenomenon or its environment and which proceed inductively from practice to theory, rather than the other way around. As a discovery-oriented approach, it has much in common with the open inquiry approach described in this book. Like many of the other evaluation techniques described, it arose in reaction to the more manipulative approach to science derived from laboratory experiments. Indeed Guba and Lincoln, its most important exponents, note that it represents a paradigm shift from a rationalist and positivist science which they argue has generated unused and unusuable findings. The table illustrates its fundamental axioms, in contrast to those of conventional science.

They also developed criteria to assist in what they call the "assurance of trustworthiness" of findings (in contrast to conventional science's concern with reliability and validity). Thus, in contrast to the rationalistic concerns about truth validity, applicability, consistency, and neutrality - NI's concerns are for credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability. They suggest a number of techniques to ensure this. Guba and Lincoln have recently carried their work a further step forward with the publication of their book on constructivist methodology.

References :

Guba, Egon G, Toward a Methodology for Naturalistic Inquiry in Educational Evaluation Centre for the Study of Evaluation (CSE), University of California : 1978.

Guba, Egon and Yvonna S. Lincoln, "Epistemological and Methodological Bases for Naturalistic Inquiry" Ch. 18 in George F. Madaus, Michael Scriven and Daniel F. Stufflebaum (Eds), Evaluation Models - Viewpoints on Educational and Human Services Evaluation Kluwer Nijhoff Publishing, The Hague, pp. 311-333 : 1983.

7.7 Participatory evaluation

This again refers to the inclusion of some or all the parties to an evaluation (as does collaborative and stakeholder evaluation). Like collaborative evaluation, this can mean a pluralist kind of participation. Both these terms have arisen in reaction to the dominant form of evaluation which was conducted entirely by the external "objective" expert using an old-paradigm form of experimental science. The reaction of being disempowered in the learning and evidence-gathering processes was felt by those most disempowered : service providers at the level closest to "the ground", advocates of service users, and service users themselves. The demand to participate has been usefully conceptualised by Sherry Arnstein as involving a hierarchy of possibilities, and these can be matched to a hierarchy of possible forms of participation in evaluation (See diagram).

Reference :

Arnstein, Sherry, "Ladder of Citizen Participation" in American Institute of Planners Journal July pp. 216-224 : 1969.

Whyte, W.F. (Ed) Participatory Action Research Sage, London : 1991.

7.8 Positivist evaluation

The term "positivist" is a term which is now often used in a pejorative sense to describe the fundamental philosophy of conventional or traditional science. This conventional view of science rests on two key assumptions :

- Firstly, positivist philosophy holds that the subject-matter of science (or research or evaluation) is independent of the observer (or the researcher or evaluator). That is, that there is a single, real, true, factual world "out there" which is know-able separately from the knower. Hence the observer (or scientist) should strive to capture this truth objectively without bias or contamination and this should be done by remaining separate and uninvolved. (The observed person or people are also seen as biased and contaminated in their own opinions or views, and these should be avoided, ideally by unobtrusive research, so the researched are not aware of the study or the researcher's hypotheses).

The interpretive or naturalistic, qualitative or constructivist critique says that this is an inappropriate and unhelpful science for the human world where subjective and objective meanings are socially-constructed and negotiated and multiple realities are the essential nature of human society. To try to avoid them is to avoid deep understanding of human phenomena. (Interestingly, modern physics makes the same arguments about the natural world e.g. relativity theory, the uncertainty principle, etc.).

- Secondly, and closely related to the first assumption, positivist philosophy holds that the reasons for pursuing science (or research or evaluation) reflect no particular purposes but ideally derive from mere curiosity for its own sake. Indeed, to admit to reasons or purposes other than "sheer interest" is to risk biasing and contaminating inquiry with values or interests. Inquiry, seeks only to know "what is". Values about "oughts" are supplied by users of the otherwise neutral information. (Hence researchers or evaluators have no logical responsibility for the use of their work - nor duty to select morally defensible topics in the first place.)

The critical interpretive or value-interested critique says that the purposes of science, research or evaluation always derive in some way from the values and interests of those whose situation gives rise to the inquiry in the first place. That is, all inquiry is inspired by some discrepancy between an experienced and an expected state and that this sense of discrepancy is always charged with a "valuation", whether small or large, conscious or not conscious. Hence, all knowledge is in some way "interested". Far from being value-laden, all research, science or evaluation is essentially value-driven, and the best way to avoid error or "getting it wrong" for the purposes, is to be critically-questioning or sceptical about one's own conclusions until competing explanations can be answered, or refuting evidence explained. Hence researchers and evaluators, once aware that all their work will be in some interests and not in others, must choose as best they can "whose side they are on", and consciously and self-sceptically focus attention on developing the best-evidenced theory possible. Got that ? Sorry ! It's a bit hard getting 300 years of philosophy of science into a couple of paragraphs ! Well what it boils down to meaning is that we decide what is true and valuable - it's not inherent in what we are evaluating, it is inherent in what we value, and that, in turn, is relative to our purposes, needs and interests.

Reference :

Fay, Brian, Social Theory and Political Practice George Allen and Unwin, London : 1975.

Bryman, Ian, Quantity and Quality in Social Research, London ; Unwin Hyman : 1988.

7.9 Qualitative evaluation

This term has come to be applied to various streams of evaluation which might otherwise variously be called interpretive, phenomenological, naturalistic, hermeneutic, grounded, anthropological, inductive, experiential, symbolic interactionist, emergent, field-based or responsive ! The naming of all these methods as "qualitative" has much more to do with a reaction to the dominance of quantitative evaluation with its reliance on numerical data and mathematical and statistical manipulation. The primary flaw in calling some material or evaluation "qualitative" (or quantitative) is that the unhelpful split between words and numbers is perpetuated. Some research and evaluation reports are actually being written up under the headings of "quantitative" and "qualitative", rather than headings that relate to the content or purposes of the study. In practice, all verbal matters could be counted and all numbers could be "unpacked" to show how they are comprised of a lot of words. It is more important to ask "What are the right questions ?". "How many" type questions will need numbers as an answer ? "Who", "which", "what", "when", "why" and "how" type questions may need words. Features of "qualitative" methodology include those in the table on the next table (Patton, 1990).

References :

Patton, Michael Quinn ,"Qualitative Methods in Health Care Evaluation" in Health Care Evaluation Public Health Association of Australia Inc., Canberra : 1989.

Patton, Michael Quinn, Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods, Newbury Park, California; Sage Publications : 1990.

7.10 Themes of qualitative inquiry

1. Naturalistic inquiry - Studying real world situations as they unfold naturally; non-manipulative, unobtrusive, and non-controlling; openness to whatever emerges - lack of predetermined constraints on outcomes.

2. Inductive analysis - Immersion in the details and specifics of the data to discover important categories, dimensions and interrelationships; begin by exploring genuinely open questions rather than testing theoretically derived (deductive) hypotheses.

3. Holistic perspective - The whole phenomenon under study is understood as a complex system that is more than the sum of its parts; focus on complex interdependencies not meaningfully reduced to a few discrete variables and linear, cause-effect relationships.

4. Qualitative data - Detailed, thick description; indepth inquiry; direct quotations capturing people's personal perspectives and experiences.

5. Personal contact and insight - The researcher has direct contact with and gets close to the people, situation and phenomenon under study; researcher's personal experiences and insights are an important part of the inquiry and critical to understanding the phenomenon.

6. Dynamic systems - Attention to process; assumes change is constant and ongoing whether the focus is on an individual or an entire culture.

7. Unique case orientation - Assumes each case is special and unique; the first level of inquiry is being true to, respecting and capturing the details of the individual cases being studied; cross case analysis follows from and depends on the quality of individual case studies.

8. Context sensitivity - Places findings in a social historical and temporal context; dubious of the possibility or meaningfulness of generalisations across time and space.

9. Empathetic neutrality - Complete objectivity is impossible; pure subjectivity undermines credibility. The researcher's passion is understanding the world in all its complexity - not proving something; not advocating; not advancing personal agendas; but understanding. The researcher includes personal experience and empathetic insight as part of the relevant data, while taking a neutral stance towards whatever the specific findings are which may emerge.

10. Design flexibility - Open to adapting inquiry as understanding deepens and/or situation change; avoids getting locked into rigid designs that eliminate responsiveness; pursues new paths of discovery as they emerge.

7.11 Reflexive evaluation

This is a term which simply means that, whether self evaluation or group self evaluation, the evaluation is intentionally change-oriented. The important meaning of this term is that we are not only being reflective (looking at ourselves in a mirror is a useful metaphor), but also that this effort will assist us to act back on ourselves in ways which change ourselves and the things around us - preferably in desirable directions !

Reference :

Freire, Paulo, Cultural Action for Freedom Penguin, Harmondsworth, Middlesex : 1972a.

Freire, Paulo, Pedagogy of the Oppressed Penguin, Harmondsworth, Middlesex : 1972b.


The booklet written by our Senegalese friend from ENDA-GRAF Emmanuel Ndione, and entitled "Dynamique urbaine d'une Société en grappe : un cas, Dakar" (Dakar, 1989) is a fascinating piece of work based on a series of case-studies, as well as providing honest and illuminating conclusions drawn by the author. Emmanuel Ndione, a friend of Network Cultures, is a Senegalese practitioner in community development. His rich experience in sub-urban and rural Senegal, combined with a thorough academic training (PhD in Social Sciences) allow him to write one of the most challenging studies on education-consciousness-raising work in Black Africa. The study shatters any illusions about the universal validity of community development theories based on ideals of equality, democratic decision-making, people participation and equality, and its methodology based on setting up new associations for collective upliftment by and for the poorest.

The Grand Yoff area of Greater Dakar is the place where the author's NGO called CHODAK, an off-shoot of ENDA (Environnement et Développement du Tiers Monde, an outstanding INGO) launched various projects, whose failures are analyzed with unusual frankness and lucidity. It appears that these failures are not primarily due to the oft-mentioned causes such as ill-will of the powerful, exploitation by rich merchants, corruption and inefficiency by government departments. These factors are present in some cases but the root-causes of CHODAK's repeated failures is its ideology and methodology. And yet CHODAK faithfully followed the best theory on community development: enquiring about "felt needs" as expressed by the local population; stimulating an attitude of collective promotion in a spirit of equality and solidarity; setting up groups which would gradually take over the initiatives in a spirit of self-reliance and ever-increasing social justice. To this purpose CHODAK brought together the poorest sections of the population: all those who are most marginalised and exploited (eg. women, youth) so as to remove them from their surrounding social context, considered oppressive. Then CHODAK organised them into autonomous groups so that they would become counter-active powers, and thus promoters of social change. Projects were launched according to this spirit in the areas of woodwork/ carpentry, mother and child health-care, sewage, vaccination and family planning. All of them failed, more or less...

The lesson drawn from many years of repeated downfalls of theoretically excellent projects is that suburban societies live according to very strong traditional or neo-traditional patterns, and are closely knit according to rules of mutual aid, reciprocity, patronage, quid pro quo and hierarchy. There are "sociétés en grappe" where neo-lineages control all aspects of life. These neo-lineages and their institutionalised off-shoots, such as "tontines" (mutual serving associations) are the locus of dynamism and allegiance. CHODAK attempted to set up associations of a new type, without reference (and indeed sometimes in open opposition) to existing social interaction, deemed unfair or inadequate for development purposes. These attempts met with formidable resistance in the form of inertia, half-hearted participation, deviation of project funds for other purposes (responding to interests negotiated within the neo-lineage), and a remarkable smoke-screen strategy whereby CHODAK's activists were left ignorant of the participant's real intentions and expectations. CHODAK's own democratic groupings could not alter social reality because they were artificial, a mere creation of CHODAK workers. CHODAK's aims, such as encouraging saving among women, or equipping each house with its own sewer came up against unexpected rationales. In the case mentioned here, women preferred to accumulate on one occasion a large sum of collectively controlled money (the "loans" from CHODAK, interpreted as a gift, and immediately redistributed according to age, kinship and social status) rather than to save. As for the case of the sewers, these were only installed by people who owned their house and who had their own kin in the CHODAK-promoted "Sewage Committee". Mere tenants (who refused to invest money and energy in a house which they did not own) nor people without family members in the said Committee were not interested.

Not only did organisations set up by CHODAK according to alien principles fail to succeed, CHODAK's social workers soon found themselves caught in a web of relationships of reciprocity whereas they liked to look on themselves as mere outsiders providing services for the peoples' benefit. It later dawned upon them that this altruistic stance was never the way in which the local people regarded CHODAK. Its money and competence could not possibly be totally free from secret purposes such as power, social status and various "do ut des" tactics (litt. I give you so that you may give me back), etc. Thus, participating in CHODAK's projects was a favour granted to CHODAK, for which reciprocity was expected in the form of individual favours, patronage and private advantages.

One of the key conclusions of the study is that people have not only "needs" but above all "interests". The latter is of a more subjective and secretive nature than the former, and revolves a lot around security (the first thing a new city-dweller is looking for), and at a later stage social status and power to be acquired through one's capacity to promote the well-being and the social status of the entire group (neo-lineage). Communal and egalitarian ideas of Western origin, as well as long-term programming of the use and accumulation of funds (ie. saving) just did not conform to existing cultural realities.

Once CHODAK people had realised this after a number of years they were faced with the agonizing question: are we to stick to our community development theories and try at all cost to disseminate our views until they become accepted, or are we to adapt to the socio-cultural context, accept compromises and forsake the "purity" of our ideals? As one social worker says: "The people re-create village solidarity mechanisms so as to safeguard them against the aggressive hostility and the great insecurity of urban environment and we are...ideological trouble-makers" (des emmerdeurs idéologiques). So CHODAK then decided to try to solve the dilemma by "starting from what exists in order to build something new". They decided to approach already existing groups, whose social cohesiveness would be greater than new groups set up under the auspices of CHODAK.

As expected the social cohesion sought after was found in the existing groups. Yet it proved to be so strong that CHODAK could bring about very little change in its rationality. In fact CHODAK was challenged to become part and parcel of the neo-lineage reciprocity (quid pro quo) system, that is to become kinsmen of the group, or to remain an alien and inefficient actors. CHODAK workers felt tired and disappointed by attitudes which they considered to be selfish and materialistic. Some workers, however, started to wonder whether they were not labouring under "a messianistic urge for mass participation". Reality showed that neither the "mass" nor "the poorest" were participating but existing neo-lineages. Within these the interests of the most powerful were dutifully looked after first, and the profits going to those "notables" and/or elders were dutifully redistributed to each one in turn so as to maintain social cohesion, allegiance to the "notable" and overall security of the group.

It is impossible to summarise here all the complexity of the cases highlighted in E. Ndione's work. Nor does his book indicate what CHADOK's final stand is on all these vexing questions. Yet we find a number of thought-provoking ideas in his study which are worth pondering by anyone concerned about development, eg. CHODAK's aims and objectives are being re-interpreted and finally made use of in a different way by the local people. This process, whereby the rationale of the project is being highjacked and twisted around might turn out to be the local people's own path to development!... The price to be paid is also unexpectedly high for the NGO: it loses control over the people and their evolution, and it must give up its very satisfying image of pure, progressive, democratic social workers committed to justice and equality...the image needed to obtain funds from Northern NGO's!

CHODAK's conclusion was to try and have a better understanding of local socio-cultural situations and to start from existing situations, whatever the ambiguities and risks of having their project "perverted" by the logic of the existing group. CHODAK recognised that it was an error to start by considering traditional institutions (the lineage chief, the elders, the rules of reciprocity, relative inequality) as inherently evil and contrary to development. One may see negative points in an existing culture but that should not prevent social workers from recognising it as the starting point and guiding dynamic.

A social worker is often called "un animateur" in French ie. one who instills "animus", spirit, life. This widely-spread expression illustrates the error of much development work: the societies are not "without life"! On the contrary, their own life, their culture will resist attempts to impose alien values, methods and institutions. Solidarity, selfishness, money and personal interest have different meanings according to each culture. When community development parachutes a single ideology, be it generous and idealistic, it fails miserably.

Emmanuel Ndione's study is of vital importance. This booklet also offers a very dense introduction by Prof. Dominique Desjeux. We may come back to it in one of the later issues of the Bulletin.

Thierry G Verhelst


Our friend and Network member Raff Carmen published an important book Autonomous Development. The humanizing of the landscape. An excursion into radical thinking and practice, Zed Books, London, 1996 on various issues which are of interest to us in Network Cultures. Since we favor Participatory Action Research as methodology, we want to delve into the idea of "participation". Who better than our friend Raff Carmen could introduce us to this theme ? We therefore quote a number of extracts of his powerful book with his and Zed Book's kind approval (Zed Books : Cynthia Street, London N1 9JF, U.K., tel. 0171-837-4014)

Chambers is known for being a strong advocate of the need for a number of "reversals" in rural development thinking and strategy, away from the position of the "normal professionalism" of the self-colonizing academic - alias (rural) development tourist "who does not spend any length of time with the rurals", to the "new professionalism" of the outside development agent who is ready to "sit down and listen", to practise "learning in reverse", by learning from the farmer "who is also a professional" Chambers 1980). From this basic insight Chambers, from his institute in Sussex (IDS, 1981), evolved the Rapid Rural Appraisal projects itself as a counter-model to the "quick and dirty" appraisal mode of the urban-based professional or "development tourist" and the "long and dirty" research tradition of classical research tradition of classical which is keen on "collecting a massive amount of data". Rapid Rural Appraisal and Putting People First enjoy the confidence and seal of approval of the World Bank and the Rome-based Institute for Food and Development (FAD) (Ghai, 1985 and 1988), to name but two important institutions. Chambers' paper, "Shortcut methods of gathering social information" is part of an anthology of participation literature published by Oxford University Press, the World Bank's favourite publishers (Sabelli, 1992).

(...) What is at the same time so frustrating and possibly self-defeating about the entire "participation" discourse is that external projects and participation relate to, and rely, depend and feed on each other as a plant feeds on the soil in which it is rooted. Take away the fertile soil of external intervention and participation withers on the vine. Indeed from the moment we enter the space of people in full ownership and control of the satisfaction of their fundamental needs - affection, protection and freedom, among others (Max-Neef) - we enter the domain of power, ie the stage at which the very concept of participation - in other people's projects, in "benefits" - becomes redundant. The poor have no use in being reached, being intervened in, being fitted (to projects), being appraised, "rapidly" or otherwise : in a word, being developed. Their (the beneficiaries) poverty may be eradicated, alleviated, or eliminated by benevolent outsiders (benefactors). As organic intellectuals (see box below and note 15), they are quite capable of doing all of these by themselves and for themselves. Research is not, just, about people being made objects of research by professional data collection and appraisal : what ought and, even more importantly, what ought not be appraised - the terms of reference of the appraisal - remains firmly within the jurisdiction of the self-appointed appraisers or experts.

Autonomy means, among other things :

the development of their (the poor's) bargaining power to an extent that (intervenors) cannot unilaterally impose their conditions and regulations upon the poor as passive recipients, but that the terms and conditions of collaboration are the outcome of a process in which both parties are respectful of each other's priorities and specific interests (Verhagen, 1987:13). (...)

Research, including social science research, conceived of as a process by which dependable solutions are arrived at through the planned and systematic collection of "data", is perceived to be the domain of the expert, usually male. Equipped with specialist knowledge and skills, a university degree and substantial financial back-up, the expert sets out to extract information, more or less in isolation. This process is usually mediated by disembodied data ("givens"), aggregated into sets of single figures. In other words, Doxa (scientific knowledge, opinion) exponentially and quantitatively expands in the absence or at the expense of Epistème (comprehension, wisdom, wholeness, quality).

The belief that knowledge can and must be produced by (politically) neutral, objective and detached observation, and owned, transmitted, distributed and certified by official, neutral bodies, is part and parcel of the myth which shores up the artifical separation of a certain class of intellectuals from the uninformed masses, and the world of mental from that of physical labour on behalf of the power wielded by the owners of knowledge. Scientific research is premised on separation : the object of research may be an atom or a chemical compound, but it may also be people in society, or a living organism. The whole is presumed to be the sum of the parts. Hence, the understanding in depth of each segment becomes all-important : the "chop up and study the parts" method of research triumphs. The active agency of the scientist as knower becomes separated from the object and superior to it in its separation. In the last resort, the much-vaunted objectivity and neutrality of science can be little more than a sophisticated form of partisanship, geared to the maintenance of a (power-knowledge) monopoly. The scientist himself/herself is culturally, socially and politically grounded and part of a historical context : neutrality - simply washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless - means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral (Freire).

Genuine knowledge (wisdom) is holistic : it is not just "produced", but continuously created. In that sense, we are all intellectuals, educators, professionals and researchers - creators, not just producers of knowledge. That is the deeper meaning of Gramsci's concept of the organic intellectual. People already have a practical knowledge of their reality, they have a "feel" for it. The world is not, simply, divided into owners and receivers of knowledge. All humans have the innate capacity to create new knowledge which allows the understanding of reality in order to transform it. For Mayor, education is more than the provision of instruction and skills. It is the awakening of human cretive potential, the building of endogenous capacities. It is also about the acquisition of the ability to master one's own destiny (Mayor, 1994). Or, as (Anisur) Rahman puts it :

"The value of such (conventional, professional) knowledge stands and falls with the paradigm which premises structural subordination as the basis of development. If the people are the principal actors, the relevant reality must be people's own, constructed by them only" (Rahman, 1991:17).

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1972) and Education for Critical Consciousness (1973), Freire elaborates his philosophical anthropology of adult education, "a theory of human nature, one might say a secular liberation theology, containing its own categories that are irreducible to virtually any other philosophy" (Aronowitz, 1993:12). Fundamental to Freire's philosophy is his conception of education (and implicitly, communication) as a dialogue between mutually respectful equals. The interlocutors' histories, their culture and their knowledge may be different. But, as humans, as adults, all are on an equal footing : "Without dialogue, there is no communication and without communication there can be no true education" (Freire, 1972a: 65). Freire makes a sharp distinction between dialogue, which implies a horizontal relationship between persons, and anti-dialogue, which is based on a vertical relationship between unequals. Freire visualizes this close interrelationship between education and communication as dialogue, and that between communications, extension and communiqués as anti-dialogue (1973:85ff) (Table 6.1). In Freire's understanding, there is "no such thing as absolute ignorance or absolute wisdom (1973:43). From his understanding of education stems Freire's differentiation between "banking education" - teachers depositing in students' heads the treasures defined as knowledge which is good for them - and problem-posing education, where monologue is replaced by dialogue :

The task of the educator is to present to educatees as a problem the content of which mediates them, and not to discourse on it, give it, extend it, or hand it over (Freire, 1973:153).


Brussels, ITECO, 11-16 December 1995

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