Combining participatory action research with developmental evaluation approaches: Do they align?

About the presentation


Participatory Action Research (PAR) has emerged as a common approach used in community-based research. It acknowledges the place of community in defining its own actions to improve population health and wellbeing. Developmental evaluation is a more recent concept, which focuses on applying complexity concepts to enhance innovation and use. We explore the alignment between these two approaches by using a remote Indigenous case-study.


Charles Darwin University recently embarked on the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program – Whole of Community Engagement (HEPPP-WCE) initiative. This involves working with six remote Indigenous communities across the Northern Territory to build aspiration, expectation and capacity to participate in higher education using a ‘whole of community engagement’ approach. This is a multi-site PAR project involving a combination of interviews, observational techniques, photography, critical reflections and case studies.


Our PAR approach has indicated the importance of valuing local context and acknowledging complexity. The explorative and community-focused nature of HEPPP-WCE means that linear and phased research and evaluation approaches, such as the use of program logic, are not well suited to the contexts in which we are working. This instigated a need to find an evaluation model that would cater for complexity, contextual and cultural factors. Developmental evaluation fills this niche, and is emerging as a new and innovative approach in health promotion evaluation practice. We argue that there are synergies between developmental evaluation and PAR, which include acknowledging complexity and uncertainty; appreciating change and improvement; valuing new or alternative knowledge systems (such as Indigenous knowledges); and listening to and respecting community viewpoints.


We argue that there is theoretical, conceptual and practical congruence between PAR and developmental evaluation approaches.

Key message

PAR and developmental evaluation are closely aligned. Combined, they have a high degree of utility in research, policy and practice contexts which favour bottom-up community engagement approaches.

29 November 2017

Team Member Reflection: Terry Moore

Team Member Reflection: Terry Moore

​I joined the team in April 2016, just in time for the team meeting at Tennant Creek, where it was realised that the team needed someone to analyse the data that was being generated across the different communities.

Charles Darwin UniversityAustralian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges & EducationBatchelor InstituteNAILSMANTG

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