Internships & Assistantships
in Natural Resource Management


Why Participatory Research?

A basic premise of community-based natural resource managementis that the active participation of local people in natural resource management is essential to achieving sustainable relationships between communities and the land. Put another way, CBNRM is based on "bottom up" rather than "top down" approaches to management.

Participatory research is research that is conducted as a collaboration between professional researchers and the people affected by the issue being studied. The latter are full partners who participate in all phases of the research from question formulation, through data collection and analysis, to dissemination of results.

The use of participatory research is thus aimed at building the capacity of local people to participate meaningfully in natural resource management decisions and to enable them to better control their own destinies.

Participatory research is founded on the principle that local people are knowledgeable about the environments in which they live and their relationships to them, and that the active engagement of local people in research can enhance analysis by diversifying the knowledge base and encouraging the examination of the research problem from many perspectives.

Principals of Participatory Research

In an extensive synthesis of community-based and participatory research literature, Israel et al (1998) propose the following key principles of community-based research widely accepted in the field of public health. These can be taken as a starting point but are by no means definitive:

  • Recognizes community as a unit of identity. This research should work explicitly with communities, which may be defined by a geographic area, or defined as a community of identity that is geographically dispersed but members hold a sense of common identity and shared fate.
  • Builds on strengths and resources within the community . This research should explicitly identify, support and reinforce social structures, processes, and knowledge already existing in the community that help them work together to improve their lives.
  • Facilitates collaborative partnerships in all phases of the research. This research should involve community members in every phase they want to participate in, including but not limited to: problem definition, data collection, interpretation of results, and application of the results to address community concerns. This may involve applying skills from outside the community, but should focus on issues identified by the community and create situations in which all parties can truly influence the entire research process.
  • Integrates knowledge and action for mutual benefit of all partners. Though the research project itself might not include a direct action component, all parties must have a commitment to applying the research results to a social change effort intended to benefit all partners.
  • Promotes a co-learning and empowering process that attends to social inequalities. This research should recognize the inherent inequalities between marginalized communities and researchers, and attempt to address these by emphasizing knowledge of community members and sharing information, resources and decision-making power. Israel et al offer the example that researchers learn from the knowledge and local theories of the community members, and community members acquire further skills in how to conduct research.
  • Involves a cyclical and iterative process. This research should involve trust-building, partnership development and maintenance in all phases of the research.
  • Disseminates findings and knowledge gained to all partners . This research should disseminate information gained in a respectful and understandable language that acknowledges all participants contributions and ownership of the knowledge production.

Israel , Barbara; Amy Schultz; Edith Parker and Adam Becker. 1998. Review of Community-Based Research: Assessing Partnership Approaches to Improve Public Health. Annual Review of Public Health 19: 173-202.


Professor Dreamal Worthen
College of Engineering Sciences, Technology and Agriculture
Florida A & M University, Tallahassee, FL 32307
tel: (850) 599-3440
email: dreamal.worthen@famu.edu