Voices of Change: Participatory Research in the United States and Canada

By Peter Park; Mary Brydon-Miller et al. | Go to book overview

marized in the relocation planning study. The community, however, remained responsible for analyses, decisions, and actions. The students from Evergreen initially coordinated relations between the community and outside planning and funding agencies. But as the project matured, more and more of these functions were assumed by the community itself. Eventually the student researchers found themselves redundant as the residents took over more and more of the research, planning, and fund-raising activities and carried them out with a sophistication unimagined in 1971 and 1972.

We have said that the validity of the results of participatory research can be gauged first, by the extent to which the new knowledge can be used to inform political action and second, by the degree to which a community moves toward the practice of a self-sustaining process of democratic learning and liberating action. At each phase of the project, the information created by the community and its student researchers was used as evidence to wrest economic and political assistance from government agencies and legislatures. Information about the community was also used to politicize residents and encourage their active participation in the town's struggle with the Corps.

Perhaps the most striking result of the North Bonneville experience has been the degree to which a self-sustaining political process was initiated. We see this in the early phases of the project, when the town led the way to the formation of an interagency relocation advisory board, annexed the new town site, and began taxing the construction project. The growth of self-direction continued as the residents, no longer content with their original demand that a new town be planned and built for them, demanded control over the design of their own community. The results of this process can be seen today in the political involvement evident in the recently contested mayoral election, and it is especially evident in the town's decision to study and develop the geothermal energy resources of their area. In this and other ways, the North Bonneville experience demonstrates the potential for participatory research to initiate a potentially revolutionary process in which members of a community gain control over the conditions of their lives and the creation of new understandings--understandings that represent an immanent critique of their oppression.


CONCLUSIONS

Several lessons might be drawn from the North Bonneville experience. First, it demonstrates the potential for participatory research to provide a basis for successful political struggle by a community. Other communities that may be faced with economic or social destruction at the hands of government agencies or private organizations can be encouraged by the example of North Bonneville. Collective research and education does create the conditions for collective action against exploitation.

Second, the North Bonneville experience shows that participatory re-

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