The Problem with the Participatory Turn: Improving the Accountability of Research Practice in Communities of Solidarity
Taking a solutions-oriented approach, we reframe the problem of decolonizing participatory practices by explicitly defining participation through two categories; namely, procedural participation and substantive participation. We use these categories to evaluate both our primary empirical findings from interviews with members of Sweden’s Transition Network, and secondary data from a critical literature review of articles. Finally, we use these insights to suggest a framework to approach participatory processes using greater reflexivity and accountability. Communities inviting researchers to document environmental justice issues are practicing Activism Mobilising Science (AMS). We discuss the pros and cons of applying our framework to both AMS and non-AMS situations as part of the formulation, implementation and monitoring of both procedural and substantive criteria of participatory practice. We then conclude that an over-emphasis on procedural metrics of success over substantive ones has undermined researcher accountability. Applying more substantive success criteria for participatory processes could improve interactions with communities engaging with action researchers.