Participatory Research Methods

The objective of participatory methods is to gain insights and information through engaging researchers and/or participants in activities, learning not only from talking to people but also from observing their actions or even participating in them. They are particularly important for ethnographic research and PAR.

Participatory workshops

Participatory workshops

Participatory workshops bring people together to seek their opinion or try to solve issues in collaborative and creative ways. Such workshops are used in a variety of different contexts, most often in the context of Participatory Action Research or design research.

Participatory workshop
Image courtesy of My Body | My Future

Farmer field schools

They are group-based learning processes used in agricultural settings to educate and empower workers. Participants are guided to take a leading role in changing their own practices and defining their own futures.

Co-creation workshop
Image courtesy of Cyber Rwanda

Co-creation workshops

Co-creation workshops are often used to bring designers and/or researchers together with potential users of a product or service to co-design or test out their features and processes.

Participatory visual methods

Visual mapping

This method asks participants to generate ideas in response to particular questions or prompts and to organize and connect them visually. The researcher and participant then map relationships between various ideas, images, and words to facilitate sharing ideas and attitudes toward a given topic. The techniques can involve participants creating their own maps or using pre-existing maps such as a city plan or architectural drawings and drawing on these.

Visual mapping
Courtesy of DxData Insights

Journey mapping
Courtesy of Birth Companion project

Body mapping

This method involves drawing the outline of a human body and then filling it out with words, colors, images etc that speak to particular experiences. It is well suited to talk about the experiences of illnesses (for example HIV/AIDS) and their treatments, or to explore how social processes such as power relations are manifested in physical bodies.

Life mapping

Also known as Life Course Mapping

This method is used to trace how research participants think about their life journey and how past experiences have influenced current events or might shape future possibilities. They often take the form of a timeline on which key life moments are noted.

Journey mapping

This method entails drawing diagrams or other visual representations of the process an individual goes through to complete a goal. It is often used to document health-seeking journeys.

Empathy mapping

This method is used especially by design-led researchers to articulate what is known about a particular type of user. It creates a shared understanding of user needs and can help inform design decisions.

Community mapping

This method is used to better understand how a community is organized and operates. It involves community members coming together with researchers to explore assets, key stakeholders and institutions, the presence or absence of infrastructures and community dynamics.

Participatory photography and video-making

Participatory photography

This method uses photography to help participants tell stories or share their experiences. It usually involves giving participants cameras and training and then asking them to take pictures in response to particular questions. Participants then explain their images and, through this, reflect on what they have captured and why. The photographs become research objects that can be analyzed. An example of this method is a proprietary technique called Photovoice.

Participatory photography

Participatory video-making

For this method, researchers ask participants to use hand-held video devices or phones to make short videos that document particular aspects of their lives. The process is similar to participatory photography.

Participatory video-making
Image courtesy of David Mowbray, CIMMYT

Mobile visual methods

This method involves participants being given the tools to visually record a particular journey (using photography, film, drawing, map making) they undertake, without the researcher being present. They are useful for understanding participants’ everyday lived experiences in an unbiased way.

Participant observation

Observation only

also known as Field Observation or Shadowing

This method involves researchers deriving understanding about a group or activities by watching them without actively engaging. This method can be limited because researchers do not have the opportunity to understand the perspective of the research participants themselves and is therefore best followed by some sort of interviewing.

Participant observation
Image courtesy of Cyber Rwanda

Online research


Also known as Online, Digital or Virtual Ethnography

This method is an online research method that adapts ethnographic methods to the study of communities created through computer-mediated interactions. It is useful when physical access to a field site is limited or when interactions among participants take place online only.

Social media research

This method includes the use of social media sites and their analytics to learn about people’s opinions and attitudes. Post and comment sections can be used to access pre-existing discussions. Researchers can also post their own questions or prompts to elicit more targeted responses to specific research topics. Using social media as a research tool raises new ethical questions that are still being explored.


Verbal research

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Reflective research

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Data analysis

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