Schneider, B. (2012). Participatory Action Research, Mental Health Service User Research, and the Hearing (our) Voices Projects. International Journal of Qualitative Methods.

Note: All pull quotes below are from this paper. The additional comments and questions are my own, unless otherwise attributed

Salient Details


Participatory Action Research (PAR) in mental health service-user research is a valid and empowering philosophy of engagement and knowledge-making.


Provides a rich historical / theoretical framework for PAR and relates that clearly to the “Hearing (our) Voices” projects’ various research practices and outcomes.

Theoretical and Conceptual Framework:

  • PAR comes out of Marxist and Frierian approaches to knowledge -making
  • Questions and examines power structures, positions typically marginalized or oppressed voices at the centre of the research
  • Posionality matters, knowledge-making is never neutral


This is a literature review and case study of the 8-year “Hearing (Our) Voices” project.


  • Using the PAR approach, Hearing (Our) Voices was able to build knowledge and make (advocate for) practical changes to the ways participants are treated in the health system.
  • The validity of PAR findings can be challenged, especially from a quantitative POV. Author, Barbara Schneider used Bradbury and Reason’s Criteria for assessing the quality and validity (six questions) and demonstrated the findings met the criteria.

My Notes With Quotes:

Participatory research contests the exclusive right of expert researchers to determine how research problems are defined and studied. It asserts ordinary people as a legitimate and important source of expertise and allows people who have historically had little power to articulate their experiences and determine how they are represented… and about how marginalized people can claim full and equal citizenship as participants and contributors to society

Observation: there’s a strong link between the ideals of this model and the ethos of digital accessibility.

PAR researchers (e.g., Anderson & Hall, 1999; Bradbury & Reason, 2001) have responded with criteria for assessing quality and validity in participatory research. Bradbury and Reason (2001) propose a series of six questions to guide assessment of PAR projects: Is there relational participation? Is it practically useful? Is it conceptually, theoretically, and methodologically coherent? Does it extend our ways of knowing? Is it significant? Does it lead to new or changed social practices?

Bradbury, H. , & Reason, P. (2001). Broadening the bandwith of validity: Issues and choice-points for improving the quality of action research. In Reason, P. & Bradbury, H. (Eds.), Handbook of action research: Participative inquiry and practice (pp. 447–455). London: Sage

To-Do: read this source. Consider the six questions as a guide for knowing when the research is done, (i.e. when all criteria have been satisfied.)

As Reason and Bradbury (2006) state, “Knowledge-making cannot be neutral and disinterested but is a political process in the service of particular purposes” (p. 6). Central to this tradition is Freire’s concept of conscientization, in which popular education enables socially dispossessed peoples to come to critical consciousness and challenge the oppressive status quo (1970, p.47).

Observation: who decides what is included and excluded from literacy and digital literacy education? Where are voices of people who use assistive technologies in those decisions. What if they could feed in? We read and write in more than one way! Isn’t it important to know the many ways people CAN read and write with technology?

[PAR] has links to the disability rights movement of the [1970’s]. This movement worked to politicize disability, arguing for a social model of disability that rejects the traditional medical model of individual bodily deficiency and instead asserts that disability is produced by societal attitudes towards impairments, rather than by the impairments themselves. Researchers began to focus on the experiences of social discrimination associated with disability, and influential scholars in the field (e.g., Oliver, 1992; Zarb, 1991) advocated a version of PAR described as emancipatory disability research as a way to change the social relations of disability research, from research carried out “on” people with disabilities to research carried out “with” people with disabilities. Building on the disability rights movement slogan, “Nothing about us without us,” researchers strove to carry out research that would promote the rights of disabled people, challenge the oppression they face, and change their lives by changing attitudes, services, policies, and legislation.

Observation: Natural and historical fit for my research area.

[PAR] projects accomplish the three primary goals of PAR: to produce practical knowledge, to take action to make that knowledge available, and to be transformative both socially and for the individuals who take part. 

Observation: these may be the overarching goals for this type of research but seeing if participants come to a matching and mutually satisfactory set of goals would be an important step in the process. This can’t go without saying or be assumed.