Building Adaptive Strategies for Environmental Change with Rural Land Managers

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Geography


Abstracts are not currently available in GtR for all funded research. This is normally because the abstract was not required at the time of proposal submission, but may be because it included sensitive information such as personal details.


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Lave R (2014) Intervention: Critical physical geography Critical physical geography in The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien

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Whitman G (2015) Going with the flow? Using participatory action research in physical geography in Progress in Physical Geography: Earth and Environment

Description The research demonstrates the value of PAR as a critical alternative framework for science, and in particular in catchment planning. It produced a PAR Toolkit which is transferable to other contexts. An innovative Farm Vulnerability Tool for assessing the local risks of slurry pollution also arose from the research.

The research makes a number of contributions to rethinking participation within this context:

• Participation in knowledge production and planning is not about 'including' relevant publics/stakeholders in what is being done, or about building trust in policy. It is about devolving the whole process of knowledge production to local groups, with external facilitators and specific expertise brought in from outside if needed. Such collaborations have the potential to enrich the learning and knowledge of all parties, and leave behind new tools, skills, and ways of working.

• Participation can not be reduced to data collection. Specific methods are not central to participatory processes. What defines real, productive participation is (i) a shift of control over research processes; and (ii) the 'feeling of participation'.

• There is no contradiction between adopting a more radical ground-up participatory research process and the questions and methods associated with traditional science. On this project, the coding of the model remained with the natural scientist, but other participants drove the research process and contributed to many other aspects of it, including generating the problem to focus on, the idea for FVT, adaptations to the model, and its eventual use for their purposes. Thus knowledge production was a shared and negotiated process between academic scientists and local people.

• Issues of power must be addressed explicitly in participatory processes. The origins of PAR are as an approach for people who are marginalised or excluded from sources of power to empower themselves through research, learning and action. The ways that participation has been co-opted (and institutionalised) mean it often falls short of these goals. Often participatory processes include only the already-empowered (see the issue of trust/confidence above).

• The research leads us to question the phrase 'redistributing expertise', because its underlying assumption is that the academic/scientist/policymaker is the active partner who is benevolent and able to 'empower' local knowledge. With the conditions in place for real collaboration, this can happen on both sides. Instead, our project illustrates a circulation of expertise - a more fluid, dynamic and equable exchange.

• A significant issue remains that successful local 'deep' participatory processes may produce knowledge to address specific issues in catchment management, yet be unable to access funding or support to resolve these. National regulatory frameworks remain a barrier. A genuinely participatory model of working with local groups for the Environment Agency and DEFRA would involve restructuring a greater proportion of funding so that local groups and organisations identify issues that need problem-focused research, and have access to funding to support this research and follow-up action. One role of academics, scientists and policy-makers should be to support these projects rather than decide or drive their priorities.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

Description Changing Rivers Trust practice
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact The farm vulnerability model produced by the research has been used by the Rivers Trust.
Title Farm vulnerability model 
Description A model for establishing vulnerability of waterways to farm slurry pollution 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Used by Lune Rivers Trust 
Title PAR Toolkit 
Description Participatory Action Research toolkit 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2012 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Unknown