A Social Network Perspective on Ownership and Self-Determination in Participatory Research
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Participatory research (PR) is the co-creation of new knowledge by researchers working in equitable partnerships with those affected by the issue under study or those who will benefit from or ultimately act on its results. A core driver of PR is the self-determination of stakeholders who intend to improve their lives, health or practice through active involvement in creating the evidence they need for action. In order to foster self-determination, PR utilises strategies intended to create community ownership over the research process, particularly when the research idea originates from outside the community. However, little is understood about the range of strategies employed or how community stakeholders perceive their utility in fostering ownership. This dissertation asks the question, what processes and strategies foster engagement within a participatory project, and how have these contributed to community ownership and self-determination over the research process? First, a systematic review was undertaken to synthesise best-practice participatory engagement strategies as employed by leading PR practitioners (manuscript 1). Then using social network techniques, we examined an active community-based participatory research project to ask, how do influence and decision-making evolve over the course of a participatory project as the project is developed and matures (manuscript 2)? A further set of network measures was applied in a longitudinal analysis to reveal changes in network structure, significance of change in actor roles, and demonstrate sustainability of change in ownership once the original non-community champion stepped aside (manuscript 3). Finally, through a qualitative case study using the participants from the same study, we explored what strategies were employed within the partnership to assure ownership and control by the community partners; and from the point of view of these participants, how responsible were these strategies for fostering the change in influence observed in the network analysis (manuscript 4)? Results show the dynamics of how community ownership emerged over the course of the PR project, and how stakeholders perceived engagement strategies to have fostered this change. Findings have implications for building community ownership and self-determination, while at the same time advancing methodological understanding of social network analysis for studying community partnerships.