Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Budd Hall coordinates a special issue of Convergence on Participatory Research, sparking international network

This year, a young and talented adult educator named Budd Hall, at that time temporarily based in Sussex, U.K., compiled a special issue of the journal Convergence on the topic of Participatory Research. Beyond Hall's expectations, this issue sparked an international network of educators, academics and activists interested in this area, the 'International Participatory Research Network', which would go stronger and larger over the next decades.

The beginning of this story can be traced to Tanzania, where Hall worked from 1970 to 1974. At that time, under the leadership of President Julius Nyerere, Tanzania had launched an experiment in what is known as 'ujamaa socialism'. In Tanzania, Hall (who would later become Chair of Adult Education and Community Development at OISE/University of Toronto and Dean of Education at the University of Victoria) had the fortune of learning from many inspiring adult educators. Among them were Marja Liisa Swantz, Robby Kidd, Paulo Freire, and Julius Nyerere, probably the only adult educator in the world who became president of a country. Through these experiences, Hall became acquainted with approaches to education based on the principles of self-reliance, active participation, and dialogue. He also became interested in the potential of research to promote transformative learning, local development and progressive social change, and in research models that departed from the traditional positivist approach to social research based on the natural sciences. In 1974-1975 Budd Hall was a visiting fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, where he met people from many other countries who were thinking along similar lines to him and his Tanzanian colleagues, seeking connection between education, research, politics and action. Among them were Francisco Vio Grossi from Chile and Rajesh Tandon form India.

From his experiences in Tanzania and England, Hall noticed that many educators, researchers and activists from different countries were exploring similar paths through independent avenues, in most cases without being aware of related work done by others. At that time they did not constitute yet a community or even a loose network. Moreover, their approaches did not have yet an encompassing name that would capture its essence. The major impetus for the development of a network (and later an international community) came from that special journal of Convergence edited by Hall in 1975 (vol III, no. 2). In naming the theme of the issue, Hall labelled this approach 'participatory research'. In a paper written in 1997, he recalled that decision made two decades before:

That term [participatory research] was used because it seemed to be the best common description of the various approaches that were described within the issue. While I had begun to learn about the long traditions in Europe of action research, and Maria Liisa Swantz had been using 'participant research' to describe this approach for several years, the choice of the term 'participatory research' was simply made as a descriptive term for a collection of varied approaches which shared a participatory ethos. (Hall 1997:4)

The leading article (entitled 'Participatory research: an approach for change') was prepared by Hall. In another article, Michael Pilsworth and Ralph Ruddock (University of Manchester) formulated a critique to survey research methods in adult education. Marja Liisa Swantz (Helsinki University) argued that research can be an educational tool for development. Paul Fordham, Geoff Poulton and Lawrence Randle (University of Southampton) analyzed the linkages between participation, action and research by examining a community project. Francisco Vio Grossi (Chile) wrote an article in Spanish on agrarian reform, popular participation and adult education in rural Chile. John Ohliger, (independent scholar) and John Niemi (Northern Illinois University) contributed with an annotated bibliography on participatory research.

The Book Review section of that issue included four reviews on the topic. The first was by John Fox (UK), who commented a book on adult education and community development. The second was by John Oxenham (Sussex), who discussed a document on action research and the production of communication media. The third review, by Arthur Gillette (UNESCO), discussed a book on community education as a strategy for development. Finally, Yusuf O. Kassam (University of Dar es Salaam) reviewed a book on non-formal education in African development.

The topic of participatory research struck a cord among adult educators and community development practitioners around the world, and soon after its publication, all the copies of the issue were sold out, a first in the history of Convergence. Moreover, requests for copies were sent from all regions of the world, and a comment by passing in Hall's article inviting people to exchange information on the topic provided the needed driving force to create a community of practice. This massive response made Hall realize that many people in the world were actively pursuing alternative research avenues that were ignored by most universities, and that these people needed some spaces to establish connections among them in order to share their experiences. That issue of Convergence, and the active networking of Hall, helped to generate those spaces, which in turn helped to consolidate a vibrant tradition in the field of adult education that would grow year after year for the decades to come. It seems that the time was ripe for an international network on participatory research, but a catalyst was needed. The special issue of Convergence in 1975 happened to be that catalyst.

A few months later, another important catalyst for the development of an international participatory research network came forth when the First World Assembly of the International Council for Adult Education, was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1976. Again, Hall played a key role, acting as Conference Secretary. One of the recommendations of the Dar es Salaam conference was that "adult educators should be given the opportunity to learn about and share their experiences in participatory research."

The following year, a conference on 'Action Research' took place in Cartagena, Colombia. Interestingly enough, the coordinator of this conference, Colombian sociologist Orlando Fals Borda, was working on the same alternative approach to social research but without being aware of the international initiatives that took place in the previous years. Thanks to Paz Buttedahl, the Latin American programme officer for the International Council of Adult Education (ICAE), a connection was made between the Colombian group and the international network spearheaded by Hall during the planning stages of the conference. Hence, the April 1977 Cartagena Conference provided a third key moment for the expansion the participatory research network, building on the 1975 issue of Convergence and the 1976 Conference in Dar Es Salaam.

Orlando Fals Borda and his colleagues were using the term 'action research', a concept that had been used in the 1940s by Kurt Lewin, a progressive German social psychologist who had emigrated to the USA during Hitler's regime. Lewin argued that research that produces nothing but books was not sufficient, and that a new type of research for social practice was needed. Thus, he called for "a type of action-research on the conditions and effects of various forms of social action, and research leading to social action" (Lewin 1948: 202-3).

At the 1977 Cartagena conference the concept of 'action research' used by Fals Borda met the concept of 'participatory research' coined by Hall, and the concept of 'participatory action research' was later born. The term was used for the first time by Orlando Fals Borda to name a new paradigm in social research. Several decades later, the concept became popularized and known by its initials PAR. In the literature on the topic, the concepts of 'participatory research' and 'participatory action research' are often used interchangeably.

Immediately after the Cartagena Conference, which took place in April of 1977, Hall worked very hard and very fast to organize a foundational meeting for an international network on participatory research in the same year. His efforts were rewarded, and the first meeting of the international network took place in Aurora, a small rural community near Toronto, during the second week of September, 1977. Participants in that meeting produced a seven-point definitional statement of participatory research:

1. Participatory research involves a whole range of powerless groups of people--exploited, the poor, the oppressed, the marginal.

2. It involves the full and active participation of the community in the entire research process.

3. The subject of the research originates in the community itself and the problem is defined, analyzed and solved by the community.

4. The ultimate goal is the radical transformation of social reality and the improvement of the lives of the people themselves. The beneficiaries of the research are the members of the community.

5. The process of participatory research can create a greater awareness in the people of their own resources and mobilize them for self-reliant development.

6. It is a more scientific method or research in that the participation of the community in the research process facilitates a more accurate and authentic analysis of social reality.

7. The researcher is a committed participant and learner in the process of research, i.e. a militant rather than a detached observer (Hall and Kidd 1978:5)

At the Aurora Conference, Hall was asked to be the first coordinator of the international network. One year later (1978) there were five nodes in the network already established, based in distinct regions of the world: Canada (coordinated by Budd Hall), India (coordinated by Rajesh Tandon), Tanzania (coordinated by Yusuf Kassam), Netherlands (coordinated by Jan de Vries) and Venezuela (coordinated by Francisco Vio Grossi).

In summary, this rapid sequence of events that took place in a very short interval of time (between 1975 and 1978) provided the necessary and sufficient conditions for the consolidation of an important field in adult education and community development. The hard work, the talent, the proactiveness and the enthusiastic personality of Budd Hall constituted a key factor in this process. It started with the publication of a special of Convergence in 1975, which was followed by the ICAE conference in Dar Es Salaam in 1976, the Cartagena Conference in 1977, the Aurora meeting in 1977, and the establishment of a regional network --the culminating point of that period-- in 1978. As the saying goes, the rest is history.


(1975). Convergence 3 (2). Special issue on Participatory Research.

Hall, Budd (1997). Looking Back, Looking Forward: Reflections on the Origins of the International Participatory Research Network and the Participatory Research Group in Toronto, Canada. Paper Prepared for the Midwest Research to Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing and Community Education. Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan. Available online at 

Hall, Budd & Kidd Roby J. (Eds.) (1978) Adult Learning: A Design for Action. Pergamon Oxford.

Lewin, Kurt (1948). Resolving social conflicts; selected papers on group dynamics. New York: Harper & Row.

Prepared by Daniel Schugurensky, 2004.

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