Introduction and Definitions

Resource Overview 

This resource aims to provide an initial springboard to help researchers plan and develop more participatory processes and practices in their research. This is not a prescriptive set of instructions, but a collection of insights and advice from researchers, and suggestions for further reading about specific elements of participatory research. The resource was developed from in-depth interviews with researchers who have expertise in diverse participatory collaborations: the interviews sought to collate experiences and distil them into a resource to share key learnings. The resource is organised into ten sections:

Key principles underpinning participatory research

We wish to keep the conceptualisation broad whilst recognising key principles that underpin participatory research, therefore we used the following four key principles to underpin all research processes and practices:

  • Inclusivity: Those engaging in participatory research must reflect critically on who is included in (or excluded from) research processes, decisions and agenda-setting (see for example, Chalachanová et al., 2020; NIHR UK Standards for Public Involvement).
  • Respect: Meaningful participatory research must be based on a principle of respect for all those engaging in the research, as well as the communities involved in, leading or impacted through the research (see for example, Principle 6 in the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, 2018; den Houting et al., 2021, especially Figure 1 on p.148).
  • Reflexivity: Researchers engaging in participatory research have an ethical imperative to adopt reflexive practices considering the potential impacts of their own perspectives and experiences on research practice and processes (see for example, Lenette, 2022a). 
  • Responsibility: Participatory research must be underpinned by a sense of responsibility in terms of developing just, ethical and equitable research projects, where risk and responsibility are considered carefully and collaboratively (see for example, Atem et al., 2021; Lenette et al., 2019; and Principle 2 of the Singapore Statement of Research Integrity).

Defining Participatory Research 

Key Definitions

Vaughn and Jacquez (2020) develop a helpful definition that offers a starting point for reflection, highlighting that in participatory research, knowledge is co-created in collaboration with those with direct, lived- and living- experience of the topic in focus:

“Participatory research (PR) encompasses research designs, methods, and frameworks that use systematic inquiry in direct collaboration with those affected by an issue being studied for the purpose of action or change. PR engages those who are not necessarily trained in research but belong to or represent the interests of the people who are the focus of the research.” (p.1)

In their 2020 article in the Journal for Participatory Research Methods, Vaughn and Jacquez offer a framework explaining the ‘choice points’ and decisions that can be made collaboratively about which techniques, approaches  and methods will facilitate participation, co-production and meaningful engagement at different stages of the research processes. This is a helpful article for those new to participatory research, as well as a useful tool for more experienced in the field to reflect on their research design and grant writing decisions. Lenette and colleagues (2019) emphasise the ethical motivations and dimensions that shape participatory research:

“It involves people with direct experiences of, or interest in, the topic of study in all or some aspects of the research process, including research design, data collection, analysing findings, and reporting and dissemination. Participatory research begins from a social, ethical and moral commitment not to treat people as objects of research but, rather, to recognize and value the differing and diverse experiences and knowledge of all those involved (see, for instance, Southby, 2017).” (Lenette et al., 2019, pp. 161-162)

In relation to this final point, is important to emphasise that Participatory research is underpinned by developments relating to decolonising research methodologies and culturally respectful and safe practice.

Diverse approaches, methodologies and practices

These resources conceptualise participatory research as an umbrella term that covers many collaborative research approaches, including: 

  • Citizen science (see for example, Murray et al., 2022; Rubio et al., 2021)
  • Community-Based Participatory Research (see for example, Atem et al., 2021; Olusanya et al., 2022)
  • Co-production (see for example, Heath & Mormina, 2021; Osinski, 2021)
  • Peer research (see for example the Yang & Dibb, 2022; Aissatou, Prokopiou, Leon, Abdullayeva, Osman et al., 2021 – see references and authorship note in the article for full list of authors).
  • Participatory Action Research (see for example, Lenette 2022b)

Participatory practices and processes are also emerging in different ways across research disciplines such as Community-Based Conservation Research and Participatory Epidemiology; whilst we will try to highlight key learnings from different disciplines, we recognise the focus of these resources is limited in that we cannot integrate the discipline-specific methodological and ethical elements that must be considered in each context– but rather we hope to offer a springboard for reflection on how methodological findings from one discipline may be useful in guiding participatory planning and design in other disciplines or in cross-disciplinary collaborations.

Participatory Action Research

Participatory Action Research shares principles and practices with the broader range of participatory research, but it is key to emphasise that in PAR there is a strong focus throughout on social action and change:

“PAR can act as a tool to re-center lived experience as a source of knowledge, democratize research and academia by strengthening the capacity of individuals and communities, and engage in meaningful participation strategies to effect change.” (Lenette 2022a, p.7)

This focus on social action and change as the key driving force of the research is often what demarcates PAR from other participatory methods. Professor Caroline Lenette’s book published in 2022 (available here as an e-book) is a useful introduction to Participatory Action Research and explains the key principles underpinning PAR:

 “It involves disruption of traditional research approaches; reciprocal benefits; trust; deep engagement; social change; intersectionality; co-researchers’ agendas; and a challenge to power differentials.” (Lenette, 2022a, p.1)

Co-production: Meaningful collaboration and  respectful partnerships

Underpinning all participatory research is the importance of co-production and meaningful collaboration. Heath and Mormina (2021) argue:

“What distinguishes co-production from other forms of collaboration and engagement are the relationships that underpin the co-creation process, and the new social dynamics, values and knowledge that emerge from it. Co-production entails interactions between actors with different interests, perspectives, priorities, agendas and above all different values and expertise (scientific, experiential)… Co-production entails mutual respect, fluid and porous disciplinary and professional boundaries, absence of epistemic hierarchies, and a normative and action-oriented focus (Pohl et al. 2010).” (Heath & Mormina, 2021, p.1707)

Similarly, Turnhout and colleagues (2020) emphasise:

“A key premise of co-production is that to address complex problems, scientific expertise alone is not sufficient and that the contribution of stakeholders’ knowledge is vital to create knowledge that is not only of scientific high quality but also socially robust ... Underpinning these efforts is an ethic of mutuality, reciprocity, and equality between scientific and other experts, including practitioners, as well as citizens and civil society groups.” (Turnhout et al., 2020, p.16) 

Examples of coproduction online guides

There are many resources freely available online that explore the different ways that co-production can be developed among, with, and led by, different communities. These guides and reports can provide a helpful starting point to think through some of the ethical, practical and design decisions that need to be considered right from the outset: see for example Trauma Informed Co-production Guidance (Cherry, 2022); Common Cause Research: Building Research Collaborations between Universities and Black and Minority Ethnic communities (Facer et al., 2018). Some co-production guides have specific policy or practice goals in mind  (e.g., Student Minds’ Guidance on Co-producing Mental Health Strategies with Students): these can be very useful for learning about the kinds of engagement and practices might be meaningful for different communities.

For an example of co-production please see Case Study 1 - Co PACT:


UKRI offer guidance and resources on co-production, and signpost to external material such as: Community-based participatory research: A guide to ethical principles and practice (2nd edition) (Centre for Social Justice and Community Action, Durham University and National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement, November 2022)

 Key Literature


  •  Aissatou, Prokopiou, E., Leon, L., Abdullayeva, M., Osman, Lyambo, P., Rosen, R., Rebin, Meetoo, V., Mirfat, Zak & Brown, L.. (2022). Stories too big for a case file: Unaccompanied young people confront the hostile environment in pandemic times. Sociological Research Online, 27(3), 550-558.

  • Atem, A., Bajraktarevic, J., Nguyen, D., Al Kalmashi, R., Hanna, B., Higgins, M., Lenette, C., Milne, EJ, Nunn, C., & Gardner, J. (2021). Ethics and community-based participatory research with people from refugee backgrounds. UNSW Sydney, STARTTS NSW, Coventry University, Manchester Metropolitan University.

  • Chalachanová, A., Nind, M., Østby, M., Power, A., Tilley, L., Walmsley, J., Tilley, Westergård, B., Heia, T., Gerhardsen, A. M.; Oterhals, O. M. & King, M. (2020). Building Relationships in Inclusive Research in Diverse Contexts.Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, 22(1), p.147–157.DOI:

  • den Houting, J., Higgins, J., Isaacs, K., Mahony, J., & Pellicano, E. (2021). ‘I’m not just a guinea pig’: Academic and community perceptions of participatory autism research. Autism, 25(1), 148-163.

  • Heath, C., Mormina, M. (2022) Moving from Collaboration to Co-production in International Research. Eur J Dev Res 34, 1704–1715

  • Lenette, C., Stavropoulou, N., Nunn, C., Kong, S.T., Cook, T., Coddington, K., Banks, S. (2019) Brushed under the carpet: Examining the complexities of participatory research. Research for All , 3 (2) pp. 161-179.

  • Lenette, C. (2022a). Cultural Safety in Participatory Arts-Based Research: How Can We Do Better? Journal of Participatory Research Methods, 3(1).

  • Lenette, C. (2022b). Participatory action research: Ethics and decolonization. Online ISBN: 9780197512487. Print ISBN: 9780197512456. 

  • Murray, B., Kerfoot, E., Chen, L. et al. (2021) Accessible data curation and analytics for international-scale citizen science datasets. Sci Data 8, 297

  • Olusanya, O., Collier, W. G. A., Marshall, S., Knapp, V., & Baldwin, A. (2022). Enhancing Digitally-Mediated Human-Centred Design With Digitally-Mediated Community Based Participatory Research Approaches for the Development of a Digital Access-to-Justice Platform for Military Veterans and Their Families. Journal of Participatory Research Methods, 3(2).

  • Osinski, A. (2021). From Consultation to Coproduction: A Comparison of Participation in Poverty Research. Journal of Participatory Research Methods, 2(1).

  • Piper, R & Emmanuel, T. (2020) Student Minds’ Guidance on Co-producing Mental Health Strategies with Students

  • Pain, Whitman, & Milledge, 2019, Participatory Action Research Toolkit: An Introduction to Using PAR as an Approach to Learning, Research and Action: Practice Guide. Durham University.

  • Pohl, C., S. Rist, A. Zimmermann, P. Fry, G.S. Gurung, F. Schneider, C.I. Speranza, B. Kiteme, S. Boillat, and E. Serrano. 2010. Researchers’ roles in knowledge co-production: Experience from sustainability research in Kenya, Switzerland, Bolivia and Nepal. Science and Public Policy 37: 267–281.DOI: 10.3152/030234210X496628

  • Rubio, M. A., Triana, C., King, A. C., Rosas, L. G., Banchoff, A. W., Rubiano, O.,  Chrisinger, B.,  Sarmiento, O. L. (2021). Engaging citizen scientists to build healthy park environments in Colombia. Health Promotion International, 36(1), 223-234.

  • Southby, K. (2017) ‘Reflecting on (the challenge of) conducting participatory research as a research-degree student’. Research for All, 1 (1), 128–42 DOI 10.18546/RFA.01.1.10

  • Turnhout, E. & Metze, T. & Wyborn, C., Klenk, N. & Louder, E. (2020). The politics of co-production: participation, power, and transformation. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. 42. 15-21. 10.1016/j.cosust.2019.11.009.

  • Vaughn, L. M., & Jacquez, F. (2020). Participatory Research Methods – Choice Points in the Research Process. Journal of Participatory Research Methods, 1(1).

  • Yang, C. & Dibb, Z. (2020) Peer Research in the UK. Institute of Community Studies: The Young Foundation

 Key Links

Online resources

Creative Commons Licence This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Cite as: Scott-Barrett*, J., Marshall-Brown*, A., Livingstone-Banks, M., Chrisinger, B., Scher, B., Hickman, M. (2023) Participatory Research: Researcher Insights. University of Oxford *(joint first authorship)