Participatory Action Research – Change for what?

PIF Summary 8 December 2016

We were delighted to welcome Dr Maritta Törrönen, Marie Curie Individual European Fellow, who shared her work on Participatory Action Research with young adults leaving care with the Participatory Inquiry Forum. Maritta’s approach sits within the field of reciprocal social work, which acknowledges that people receiving social support and care services also want to contribute something of value to others and that breaking this norm of reciprocity can diminish self-respect and self-worth.

Höjer & Sjöblom (2011) found young adults leaving care are at risk of invisibility in the welfare system, while Stein (2006; 2008) highlights the importance of promoting the resilience of young adults leaving care and the need for more comprehensive services for these young adults across the life course. Maritta is working with young adults leaving care as co-researchers to undertake case studies in Finland (already completed) and in the UK on the experiences of care leavers as they enter their independent lives.

With the support of Essex County Council, four young adults have received training on research skills delivered by Maritta, Professor Carol Munn-Giddings and Dr Niamh O’Brien. They will conduct peer research on experiences of leaving care. This participatory approach allows young adults to take ownership of the research – including design and ethics, data collection and analysis, interpretation and dissemination. In Finland, becoming a co-researcher led to leadership opportunities for the young adults, including attending conferences overseas.

Just some of the research knowledge gained by co-researchers included the importance of:

  • leadership, communication and adaptation skills during interviews
  • building a relationship with young adult participants and making them feel comfortable
  • encouraging young adult participants to trust themselves and enabling them to participate
  • helping young adult participants to feel they are able to contribute / take action
  • being sensitive towards young adult participants and safeguarding them
  • teamwork and recognising responsibilities throughout the whole research process

As experts by experience in developing social services for care leavers, these young adults aim to generate user-driven findings and recommendations. In addition, the research process itself intends to raise awareness around the value of young adults participating in research and action for improved social work policy and practice. Finally, the young adults will have the opportunity to strengthen their skills and capabilities to act in their communities, which may help in other areas of their lives. In this way, the research includes an action component to influence positive change.

The open question and answer session that followed included discussions on the longevity of Participatory Action Research projects and how the ‘ending’ of the research can be managed, as well as how peer research can produce richer data as co-researchers and participants have a more fluid conversation around their shared experience.

Further information about Maritta’s work can be found here. Please contact with any questions.

Author: annadadswell

As a Research Fellow in Social Work and Social Policy at Anglia Ruskin University, I manage the Participatory Research Blog. Please feel free to contact me with questions and suggestions at

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