By Abe Sampson, Fundraising Officer

Participatory action research. As well as being a bit of a tongue twister, it’s a term that’s been used a lot at Techniquest over the past couple of months. In the summer, 12 of us took part in an introductory course to co-production, which you can hear more about here. We were looking for the best way to learn from the audiences that do and don’t visit Techniquest in order to make ourselves more accessible and relevant. The outcome of our training and initial research sessions was clear — participatory research was the way to go. So, what does it mean?

According to Wikipedia; “participatory action research is an approach to research in communities which emphasises participation and action. It seeks to understand the world by trying to change it, collaboratively and following reflection.” Okay, but what does that actually mean for Techniquest? More specifically, how does it affect the way in which we work and how people perceive us?

Participatory research has been the core foundation of our new approach to engagement. That’s engagement of the staff, visitors and partners who make up all of our communities. It’s a process that started small, within the charity, that’s gradually expanded outwards into the communities around us and beyond. After successful sessions in one small community centre for example, word of mouth spread and our network grew. Other centres were keen to help us with our research, which led to new audiences visiting and engaging with science through Techniquest as well as new collaborations with the community.

On a basic level I feel as though our success boils down to improved communication with our stakeholders. Communication is, after all, an essential tool for Techniquest an educational charity, as a cultural attraction and a member of the community. It began with an awareness on our behalf that there was a need to change but we had to learn how that aligned with how our audiences felt. Rather than have them tell us why they weren’t visiting Techniquest, we listened to what they had to say about all of the attractions that they visit. By broadening the scope of the research, participants could fill in the gaps for us as opposed to us trying to do it for them.

Above is just one example of how we altered our thinking but there is no ‘one size fits all’ method when it comes to participatory research. Understanding how to be flexible in your approach, able to adapt to the situation and interpret the information that you receive is crucial. By focusing on more interactive and fluid methods of gathering information where participation is key, we invited a greater contribution from those taking part in the research. This made the process more rewarding for both the participants and ourselves.

Looking back over the last couple of months it’s hard to believe just how much work has been done and the journey that we’ve made. The partnerships and opportunities that have formed and the new methods and practices integrated into our work speaks volumes for our progress. Although we’ve come a long way in just a few short months there’s still plenty of work to do, so watch this space!