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Some 13 years ago, Dr. Ann C. Macaulay began to fully realize the benefits of participatory research. That's when she became involved with the Kahnawake Schools Diabetes Prevention Project (KSDPP), a project based in the Mohawk community southwest of Montreal that studies ways to fight type 2 diabetes and promotes community capacity building and program ownership.
To those ends, the community brought some of its members together with researchers from McGill, Université de Montréal and Queen's in an effort to find solutions.
Participatory research is described as "a project in which the community and researchers are in partnership, each with their own expertise."
Dr. Macaulay's first-hand experiences with this approach became the impetus for launching Participatory Research at McGill (PRAM), a centre operating within the Department of Family Medicine since September 2006, with a mission to increase awareness and use of participatory research within the Faculty of Medicine and elsewhere at McGill.
Dr. Macaulay, not surprisingly, became its first director.
"It's a great approach," said Dr. Macaulay, "because researchers work in partnership with the intended users of the research: with patients, with organizations, or indeed with a whole community."
The expertise at the table, first of all, goes beyond that of the researchers. Giving members of the community, health organizations, and patients suffering from disease the opportunity to share their knowledge and needs with researchers from an early stage makes for better-defined research questions, clearer goals and more effective results.
"It's bidirectional learning—researchers learning from the community as well as the community learning from researchers—and it becomes a very rich way of doing research," said Dr. Macaulay.
Furthermore, participants interpret data together and collaborate on the dissemination of the findings.
This way, important information flows to the general public through classic means such as scientific conferences and publications, but can also have a direct and immediate impact more locally.
Thus, participatory research can help build and strengthen a particular community or organization, while also achieving broader scientific or even social applications. As Dr. Macaulay noted, "You may have decision-makers at the table, and may be able to influence policy faster."
One of PRAM's first initiatives has been to give those people an opportunity to come together for monthly discussions. On the second Friday of every month, PRAM hosts a brown bag lunch seminar, where a guest speaker discusses issues related to participatory research.
PRAM also hopes to establish a series of faculty development workshops, explained Dr. Macaulay, adding that they plan to "add to the literature on participatory research. We are about to hire someone to undertake a systematic review on the benefits of participatory research—which has not been done before."
As someone who has spent years spreading awareness about participatory research, Dr. Macaulay enthusiastically invites our community to be part of a "wonderful opportunity for McGill to provide leadership at a national level."
For more information, please visit http://pram.mcgill.ca/.