Academic journal article Educational Research for Social Change

Participatory Action Learning and Action Research (PALAR) for Community Engagement: A Theoretical Framework

Academic journal article Educational Research for Social Change

Participatory Action Learning and Action Research (PALAR) for Community Engagement: A Theoretical Framework

Article excerpt

Copyright: © 2015 Zuber-Skerritt

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


Community engagement is a core function of higher education in South Africa and other countries. Yet relatively few academics and postgraduate students in higher education and related fields know how to conduct research and development in this emergent area of scholarship. The need for capacity building in theory and practice is clear. This conceptual paper therefore builds on previous research that positions participatory action learning and action research (PALAR) as one possible approach to effective, collaborative, creative, innovative, and self-developed community engagement (Kearney, Wood, & ZuberSkerritt, 2013; Wood & Zuber-Skerritt, 2013; Zuber-Skerritt, 2011; Zuber-Skerritt, Kearney, & Fletcher, 2015). The purpose of this paper is to present the essence of this work by developing a theoretical framework and vision for community engagement through PALAR and to contribute to understanding what kind of research, knowledge, and action we need to create in order to achieve practical community engagement and improvement for social justice and for positive, transformative, and sustainable change.

The conceptual models I have developed are based on my practical experience in higher education for over 40 years and on my critique of the literature on qualitative research methodology, lifelong action learning, participatory action research, and higher education. In particular, the models are based on my experience of designing, conducting, and evaluating PALAR programs with academics, postgraduate students, and community leaders in several universities and private business schools in Australia, South Africa, and other countries-collaboratively with my coauthors mentioned above, and with other scholars. I've invited some colleagues as critical friends to provide constructive feedback on drafts of my theoretical framework that I present here in revised form (before developing it further in later work). The paper is structured around, and based on seven questions, using interrogative pronouns:

What is PALAR and its theoretical framework?

Why is it important in this 21st century?

Who can benefit?

How can PALAR be learnt and facilitated?

When is it appropriate and/or effective or not?

Where can it be applied?

What are the successes and challenges?

What is PALAR and its Theoretical Framework?

PALAR is an acronym for participatory action learning and action research. It is a holistic, integrative concept that incorporates related concepts and values such as participation, collaboration, communication, community of practice, networking, and synergy. It is also related to ALAR, an integrated concept of action learning (AL, traditionally used in organisation and management development) and action research (AR, traditionally developed in social work, education, and higher education). Although several authors (Knowles, 1985; Margerison & McCann, 1985) had noticed the similarities between action learning and action research before, these two traditions were brought together for the first time at an international conference, namely, the First World Congress on Action Learning, Action Research and Process Management (ALARPM) at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, in 1990 with 360 delegates from across the world and from all sectors of society (including consultants from industry, government, and business schools, and school and tertiary teachers and university staff). A year later we founded the ALARPM Association, now called ALARA (Action Learning and Action Research Association). At the fourth ALARA World Congress, organised by Orlando Fais Borda in Cartagena, Colombia in 1997, we had about 1,850 delegates because we partnered with the Participatory Action Research (PAR) network whose members have been concerned mainly with community development, mobilisation, and engagement. …

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