PYGYRG Away weekend report, Reading, July 2017

On Saturday 1st July and Sunday 2nd July we held our annual participatory geographies away weekend. This year we were in Reading and we partnered with the Reading Participation Lab who ran a great workshop on Friday 30th June which explored how we could achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development goals using participatory approaches. This bought together a broad range of academics and practitioners and we explored a huge range of different forms of participation.

Our away weekend consisted of a number of group discussions and activities between the 15 participants. This included us sharing our experiences and lessons from undertaking a variety of participatory methods, discussing the complexity of ethical issues, how we can ‘give back’ to research participants and what sort of outputs we should be producing, the distinction between militant and participatory methods and we concluded by discussing the benefits of participatory research.

As usual we sought to balance discussion of the specific methods of participatory geographies and the broader questions of what it means to do academic work with a participatory ethos. We also created time to allow one-to-one conversations about our individual research projects and the challenges and opportunities we were facing.

Some suggestions emerging from the weekend:

  • Conduct ethics pilots in our research before we start the research ‘proper’.
  • Have a ‘closed-loop’ approach to ethics so that once research is complete we publically declare what worked and what didn’t and the ethical consequences of our research. This way we can begin to understand the ethical outcomes of our work.
  • Developing a participatory methodology as a research project is a good way to get grant funding.
  • It takes time to build long-term alliances with non-academic groups, but such relationships are often ultimately worth it, especially as you advance in your career you can become more useful to those groups.
  • Always expect the unexpected in participatory research. Always have a plan B.
  • Participatory ethos in academia is about acknowledging and ensuring that academic research and teaching are collective processes.
  • To do participatory work we need to continue to reflect on our roles, bias, positionality actions and identity.
  • Participatory research is problem driven.

We adopted the Chatham house rule that means participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.

By Jenny Pickerill, Chair of PYGYRG