Research and Social Transformation: Notes about Method and Methodology in Participatory Research

By Streck, Danilo R. | International Journal of Action Research, August 31, 2007 | Go to article overview

Research and Social Transformation: Notes about Method and Methodology in Participatory Research


Streck, Danilo R., International Journal of Action Research


This text is a contribution to methodological reflection on research, based on the experience of a research team who explored various aspects of the participatory budget in the State of Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil). It is situated within the context of participatory research, and deals with the following topics: method and methodology: the insertion of research and education within the same process of knowing; research and its ethical and political commitment; research as public action directed towards the constitution of the public sphere. The intense interaction in the research process, attending to the assemblies of the participatory budget in various municipalities, being present at council meetings, talking to communities and community leaders as well as participating in academic circles, contributed to understanding research as integrated within the movement of knowledge, values, cultures, worldviews, and above all, people towards the achievement of their goals.

Key words: participatory research, socio-political commitment, method, public

Introduction

Whoever engages in research knows that at some time, and in a variety of ways, he or she will have to compose the corpus of the data from which to extract or reconstruct the meanings which will roughly correspond to the re- suit of his or her project. They are notes in the form of graphics, field diaries, videos, interviews, besides images and gestures that have simply been registered in the researcher's memory. This process, as will be argued here, is an act, and a way of describing the world. In this text there are some reflections on the process, as an attempt to contribute to the reflection on method and methodology, based on participatory principles and practices.

Some preliminary notes are necessary to situate the considerations that follow. The project, which is frequently referred to, had as its objective the study of the pedagogical dimensions of participatory processes in South Brazil, especially those related to the participatory budget. This political and administrative practice began in Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do SuI) in 1989, and has challenged the imagination of public office holders and social movements who are interested in fostering people's participation in matters regarding their cities. In Brazil alone (Avritzer/Navarro 2003: 14) there are over 100 experiments with this methodology for developing the budget, and all over the world one learns of initiatives to overcome the well known deficiencies of representative democracy. (Santos 2003).

In spite of many differences, there is usually a set of principles which permeate the experiences of participatory budget. The basic assumption is the search for a new balance between representative and direct or participative democracy. In this sense, participatory budget is a tool for social change based on an active citizenship; it is a "school" where citizens learn about the role of government, the local and national policies and their own rights and duties as citizens. Participatory budget is also an innovative democratic institution, as different social agents come to interact on what is the core element of public planning, i.e., the public budget. The process can also be defined as a public policy, in the sense that it radically transforms the traditional understanding of planning, and especially the development of the public budget in Brazil, dominated by a reduced group of technicians together with politicians who currently occupy power positions. At its origins there was an explicit purpose of redefining priorities, and redirecting investments towards marginalized social classes and groups. (Fedozzi 1999).

Within the research team, the issue has been looked at from various perspectives. From the point of view of political sciences, there is the question of the legality and legitimacy of procedures of direct popular involvement, sometimes conflicting with the established practices and even legal arrangements of representative democracy. …

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