The complexities of participatory action research: a community development project in Bangladesh

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In this chapter, we examine a complex PAR project about mobile phones and remote village women that took place in Bangladesh via a major International NGO (Oxfam), but was developed and managed with international university partners. Consequently, we came to the project from very different perspectives, cultures, and educational backgrounds, including that of Western university academics, local project staff in an international NGO, local staff in a remote NGO, and the villagers themselves in a hierarchical, gendered, and traditional environment. Lack of access to villages involved in the project and communication problems also affected the implementation of PAR. While we had hoped for a project that was strongly driven from the bottom, what resulted was more modest. Village women demonstrated changes in skills and attitudes towards mobile communications, but changes in social relations and information production were much more modest. As foreigners, we were greatly constrained in what we could do to change traditional community attitudes. Despite such constraints, the idea of PAR has influenced Oxfam's thinking about its work, including how it uses information technology for community development. The project also taught us much, as foreigners, about the sensitivities of working in a culture with its own ways of doing and being, as well as the difficulties of matching project desires to the real challenges of environmental disasters or political emergencies such as a refugee crisis.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook on Participatory Action Research and Community Development
EditorsRandy Stoecker, Adrienne Falcon
Place of PublicationCheltenham UK
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781839100963
ISBN (Print)9781839100963
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Participatory action research (PAR)
  • literacies
  • International development
  • ictd
  • Bangladesh
  • Feminist hci
  • community development

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