Section 8: Navigating difference in participative collaborations

Key Insights  

Putting energy, resource and time into understanding different power structures and decision contexts.  

Djenontin and Meadow (2018) emphasise the importance of “possessing a working knowledge of the decision context of one’s partners in co-production”(p.890), as well as explaining that it is key to “learn each other’s language, disciplinary jargons, diversity, and differences” (p.896 see also Lach, 2014). Taking time to recognise the different pressures, boundaries and structures that influence other people’s decisions is really useful; if their decision processes are not explicit, it can be helpful to ask people to share the rationale and motivation that shapes each decision (if they feel comfortable to do so). Similarly, it is important to be careful to recognise where different understandings of words and phenomena may arise, and respecting the different ways that people use language, to facilitate finding productive communication strategies.

Employing inclusive mediation techniques

It is important to recognise, address and diffuse tensions as early as possible as described in the researcher insight below.

Researcher Insight:

Researcher 3 worked with three distinct groups to facilitate inclusive group discussions and develop iterative processes of discussing, listening and learning:
‘It was perfectly possible to function across the different countries, with the three different types of people in each group: we worked in countries, then we worked in groups, then we brought everybody together. So there was a process of learning, of building up to the high pressure points’.
However, the researcher noted that there were, at times, areas of friction and disagreement:
‘That fell apart at some points: that fell apart across professional lines, and I think across North/South and exploitation lines as well...It happened in the end of one session, and we spent the evening working out how we would diffuse that. And so the protagonists [of the disagreement] met and we found the way’.(Researcher 3)

 The steps and techniques used for facilitating inclusive mediation can be useful for resolving conflicts if they arise. Inclusive mediation is usually based on the following five phases: 

“a statement about the core values of mediation, (nonjudgment, confidentiality, and voluntariness); a description of the five-step mediation process (Explaining Mediation, Listening, Listing Topics, Developing Solutions, and Agreement Writing); a review of housekeeping details; and giving consent by signing a detailed consent form outlining the above.”(Harmon‐Darrow et al., 2020, p.311)

A helpful list of the techniques and skills that can be useful in inclusive facilitation can be found on pp.312-313 in Harmon-Darrow and colleagues (2020).

Listening carefully across languages, domains and experiences 

Respectful communication and active listening should underpin all interactions throughout the research process.

“Effective communication determines the quality of facilitation, mediation, and negotiation approaches. Effective communication includes addressing language gaps between and among the stakeholders and researchers, which required the use of interpreters, knowledge brokers, or boundary organizations” (Djenontin & Meadow, 2018, p.892)

Recommendations from the literature: 

“One approach to recognizing other ways of knowing is by utilizing cultural insiders or cultural brokers to promote understanding of alternative perspectives…This does not infer that individuals with the same cultural background necessarily possess identical lived experiences or identical ways of knowing the world.” (Thambinathan & Kinsella, 2021) 

Researcher Insight:
‘The translators were professionals or advanced students, and it was fascinating to learn with them …. you realise that there is nothing like a word-to-word translation, that a translation is a creative act in itself. And what you're trying to do is to do justice to the spirit and the phraseology of what people are saying into this new language.... listening to people within their own peer groups where one feels that they'll have more confidence, and that confidence was supported in that process.’ (Researcher 3)

It is really valuable to put time into developing active listening skills for all participants, advisors and co-researcher engaged in research process. There are many quick introductions to active listening online and for a helpful reflection and practical advice on the process of  learning and developing active listening alongside peer researchers see Eaton (2019).  

Key Literature


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  • Eaton, D. (2019), Filmed Simulation to Train Peer Researchers in Community-Based Participatory Research, Social Work Research, Volume 43, Issue 3, September 2019, Pages 195–199,
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  • Fischer, K., Schulz, K., & Chenais, E. (2020). “Can we agree on that”? Plurality, power and language in participatory research. Preventive veterinary medicine, 180, 104991. 
  • Harmon‐Darrow, C., Charkoudian, L., Ford, T., Ennis, M., & Bridgeford, E. (2020). Defining inclusive mediation: Theory, practice, and research. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 37(4), 305-324.
  • Heath, C., Mormina, M. (2022) Moving from Collaboration to Co-production in International Research. Eur J Dev Res 34, 1704–1715 
  • Henderson H, da Silva AM, da Silva M, et al. Participatory Qualitative Research in a Multilingual Context: The Use of Panel Translation to Better Understand and Improve Sexual and Reproductive Health in Timor-Leste. Qualitative Health Research. 2022;32(10):1498-1513. doi:10.1177/10497323221110800 
  • Lach D (2014) Challenges of interdisciplinary research: reconciling qualitative and quantitative methods for understanding human–landscape systems. Environ Manag 53(1):88–93
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  • 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 (PR).  Research for All, 3(2), 161–179.
  • Lepore, W., Hall, B. L., & Tandon, R. (2021). The Knowledge for Change Consortium: a decolonising approach to international collaboration in capacity-building in community-based participatory research. Canadian Journal of Development Studies/Revue Canadienne d'Etude's du Développement, 42(3), 347-370. 
  • MacDonald, C. (2012). Understanding Participatory Action Research: A qualitative research methodology option.  Canadian Journal of Action Research, 13(2), 34–50.
  • Mahn, C., Milne, E., Guzman, M., Ahmed, F., & Anonymous members of RX. (2021). Negotiating space for queer-identifying young people in a refugee organization: Viability, complexities and tensions. Journal of Refugee Studies, 34(2), 1477–1493. 
  • Marinkovic Chavez, K., Gibbs, L., Saracostti, M., Lafaurie, A., Campbell, R., Sweeney, D., ... & Alisic, E. (2022). Think Big: A multinational collaboration to promote children's role as coresearchers in participatory research. American Journal of Community Psychology, 69(3-4), 306-317. 
  • Mormina M and Istratii R. (2021) ‘Capacity for what? Capacity for whom?’ A decolonial deconstruction of research capacity development practices in the Global South and a proposal for a value-centred approach [version 1; peer review: 2 approved]. Wellcome Open Res 2021, 6:129
  • Nadeau, L., Gaulin, D., Johnson-Lafleur, J., Levesque, C., & Fraser, S. (2022). The challenges of decolonising participatory research in indigenous contexts: the Atautsikut community of practice experience in Nunavik. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 81(1), 2087846. DOI: 10.1080/22423982.2022.2087846
  • Parker, M., & Kingori, P. (2016). Good and Bad Research Collaborations: Researchers' Views on Science and Ethics in Global Health Research. PloS one11(10), e0163579.

Key Links

Online resources

These links are by no means exhaustive but offer a few insights into previous international collaborations and information relating to understanding different decision contexts and details recent progress international Open Science collaborations 

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)