Consult, Collaborate, Clarify and Commit: the Four C’s of Social Justice

Venn_diagram_of_Participatory_Action_ResearchMany development projects and social initiatives have fallen apart when confronted with four simple concepts.  These concepts include consultation, collaboration, clarification, and commitment.  Together, these concepts form the foundation of what today is called Participatory Action Research (PAR).  PAR is a development strategy which states that research must happen with people, and not on orfor people.  By using a PAR strategy, researchers and social activists strive to better help marginalized communities achieve their goals in the best way possible. Unfortunately, many organizations – armed with good intentions – have produced more harm than good when attempting to work with communities they are mandated to help.  This is often little more than a failure to remember the four C’s that are the foundation of their work!

This is the first post for a six part blog series. Next week, I will discuss the first ‘C’ in detail – Consultation. The intent of this blog post is to introduce the four concepts which can lead to reduced conflicts, improved community capacity, and greater sustainability for the partners involved in development projects. In the final week, I will bring all four C’s together, and show how these concepts can best help marginalized communities. This week, I will discuss PAR more generally.

PAR is an important strategy in development work, because it has proven to be effective in addressing many of the United Nations (UN) sustainable development goals (SDGs).  These 17 goals are designed to “end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by the year 2030”.[1]  For more information on these important goals, check  PAR is now recognized as a valid way to address the SDGs, because it focuses on community and household problem solving and supports rural participation and traditional or Indigenous knowledge systems.  For many years, researchers attempted to use strict western scientific methods to solve community problems, and failed to accept that the communities they were ‘helping’ often had centuries of knowledge about the issue.  PAR tries to work with communities to discover how their own knowledge can contribute to a solution.

Since PAR allows communities to become co-researchers, they are actively involved in every step of the project – designing the research, collecting the data, analyzing the data, and even writing the final reports.  The role of the researcher, or consultant, becomes one of facilitation and providing skills or information that can help the community achieve their goals.  This process ultimately allows the community to engage in projects which are relevant to them, and acknowledges them as ‘experts’ in project decisions and results.[2]  One of the tools used in PAR is community and participatory mapping.  Mapping becomes a highly visual way to simplify complex issues, and help communities better realize what problems they need to focus on the most.

Effective PAR, by its very nature, must therefore use the four C’s: Consult, Collaborate, Clarify, and Commit.  Neglecting any of these steps can result in a failed project at best, and at worst, harming a community in sometimes unexpected ways.  Next week, I will be examining the first ‘C’ in participatory action – Consultation.  Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity, working to make the invisible, visible!

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