Participatory Action Research (PAR) Online


We worked with Equinet Africa to devlop an online Participatory Action Research (PAR) tool, PAR Online.

From Wikipedia - PAR is an approach to research in communities that emphasises participation and action. It seeks to understand the world by trying to change it, collaboratively and following reflection. PAR emphasises collective inquiry and experimentation grounded in experience and social history.

The PAR spiral is a representation of this process and shows how it is a continuously evloving process.

PAR in the wild

Prior to working with Maldaba the existing Equinet PAR process was very well defined.  All relevant parties involved in the process meet at a pre-determined location and go through the relevant parts of the process for that particular meet up.  This is a very expensive and time consuming process, and including factors such as air travel, incurs significant fees and environmental impact. Hotels costs, both accommodation and conference room hire, also add to this.

A typical part of the process involves groups discussing certain existing real world processes and then using manual mechanisms, such as placing an allowance of beans onto a set of options, to cast their vote as to which is their preferred option(s) with regard to how the next part of the process should proceed.  These types of tasks were repeated multiple times throught the entite PAR process, often taking different forms.  Other mechanisms, such as a likert scale, were also accommodated as part of the manual process.

Bringing it online

It was identified that this could not continue as the costs were too high. The processes were however very well defined and deemed by the core stakeholder to be highly effective.  We were tasked with converting the existing physical processes to an online digital equivalent.

We created functional prototypes, in this case a set of Likert scale 'smilies' that were tested by the key stakeholders.  In certain instances we were able to create prototypes using InVision, or we created HTML prototypes if more specific interaction was required.

Advanced Prototypes

One of the key parts of the process was the Primary Health Care (PHC) diagram.  From an earlier part in the process the particiants identify key targets for improvement.  These must then be identified with refard to how they relate to the eight key identified factors relating to Primary Health Care.  We created an initial wireframe to explore the concept.  User need to be able to allocate each target to all the relevant PHC options.

We experimented with many different layouts, even considering options that would be mobile friendly so each option would display in a single column, however the primary stakeholder felt it was essential that the core circular element of the diagram was maintained.

Eventually a preferred design was chosen by the key stakeholder.  This option was chosen as it was essential to be able to show a large number of targets in each PHC.

Participant Communication

One of the key elements of PAR Online was the ability for participants to comminicate effectively.  The existing process relied on discussion, and being able to make your points heard. One of the key benefits of the online version is the fact that those who may have previously struggle to get their point accross were now able to do this more effectively.  We created a bespoke communication and voting system for this very purpose.  The active participants communicate via a messaging system, and they are then able to add their opinions in the main area.  The PAR facilitator will then provide feedback, and make suggestions based on the key objectives.  The messaging system is used to clarify specific points.


Over a period of nine months the PAR process using the online version was a great success.  Many of the participants were better able to comminicate their ideas which mean a fairer process for everyone.  A signifant amount of time and money was saved due to the need to be in the same location was now no longer a requirement.  The communication tool also gives far greater flexibility as previously participants felt they were only able to ask questions are the official gatherings.  They can now ask for feedback whenever they need.

Responsible for

Process Analysis, Sketches, Wireframes, Rapid Prototyping, Visual Design, HTML & CSS

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