Principal Investigators Association

Participatory action research (PAR) involves the community targeted for research or intervention as partners in all phases of the project, from planning to implementing outcomes. PAR projects ideally develop longterm relationships with communities that lead to an iterative process of defining needs, planning, research, and development of interventions that empower and change the community. As such, PAR is not a technique or method used as part of a toolkit of research strategies, but an approach to working with a community that involves rethinking the relationship between researchers, health institutions and the communities they serve.

This form of research is most often associated with high poverty communities, international development, education, or health disparities.  While some forms of action research have existed since the 1940s, PAR evolved in the social sciences in the 1970s and 1980s to address a variety of social problems. It is widely used in development, social sciences, education, urban studies, and some forms of policy research.

Inside this guide, Dr. Jo Anne Schneider provides an overview of the process for creating an effective PAR project, and addressing the challenges involved in each aspect of the project. The guide relies on examples from a wide array of projects to discuss what works and provide strategies to address common problems. It focuses primarily on health related research given the special issues associated with using PAR in health research, but includes examples from projects on other topics.

PAR projects expect much more of the community, research team and institutions involved than standard research projects. Above all, deciding to do a PAR project means owning the various goals of empowerment, social change, and community involvement in solving social problems. While it may mean more work and requires an ability to let others lead the project, the results are well worth the effort.

- Dr. Jo Anne Schneider

This 70-page guide has been designed to help researchers understand the ins and outs of PAR projects, learn how to develop meaningful relationships with the target community, ensure research quality, implement key communication strategies, develop products appropriate for the community and much more. This guide includes:

  • 8 Advantages of PAR for Health Projects
  • What is PAR? Do you Meet All the Criteria?
  • Understanding PAR Goals—1 Key Theme to Remember
  • Do’s and Don’ts for Developing Relationships with a Target Community
  • How Your Institution’s Behavior Impacts the Outcome of Your Project
  • Identifying Community Problems and Finding Solutions that Actually Work
  • Expert Tactics for Hiring and Training Community Members to Perform Research
  • Confidentiality Issues and Conflict of Interest: What You Need to Know
  • Developing Your Most Important Link to the Community: Advisory Committees
  • Communications Strategies with Key Stakeholders and Advisory Committees
  • Overcoming Project Misunderstandings and Putting an End to the Rumor Mill
  • How to Create Products Useful to the Community: Ingredients for Success
  • Publication Issues: What Your Agreements Should Include
  • How to Maintain Successful Relationships After a Project Ends
  • Plus much more!

About the Author:

Dr. Jo Anne Schneider has developed participatory action projects since the
late 1980s.  Her work with training and community organizations in Philadelphia
led to changes in training contracting and the state TANF plan.  The Kenosha
Conversation Project, a community process to understand policy implementation,
received national attention and was featured on National Public Radio.  She has
advised on participatory action projects in multiple settings and published widely
on this and related topics.  A former American Association for the Advancement
of Science Policy and Technology Fellow at NIH, she is currently an Associate
Research Professor at George Washington University.  She also has an international reputation for university/community involvement, serving as a PennServe Community Based Fellow for Service Learning involving community/researcher partnerships.  Recent major projects include developing a model to reach at-risk communities for NCI, the Faith and Organizations Project (, and multiple projects related to social welfare and human services (see


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This guide is brought to you as a training tool by the Principal Investigators Association, which is an independent organization. The information presented and its contents are not connected with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the National Science Foundation (NSF), nor are they endorsed by these agencies. All views expressed are those personally held by the author and are not official government policies or opinions.