R2. Be aware of your local institutional support and recognition
Researchers work within a variety of institutional environments which may or may not support participatory research projects. Such institutional settings include the organisation they work for (universities, research institutes, etc.), their evaluating agencies, and the global research context of their research area. For instance in environment and health fields there seems to exist an open-minded turn toward CSOs' participation in research projects, whilst in other fields this is less common.
Some researchers therefore receive positive institutional recognition when they work with CSOs, while others are disadvantaged. Importantly, participative research may require more time to set up and drive the projects than traditional science-led research (that is, research that is defined, designed and executed solely by researchers). If the institutional setting does not easily support or appreciate the additional challenges involved it may create further difficulties for such researchers to cooperate with CSOs.
Useful questions to consider when setting up a new participatory collaboration include:
Is participatory research a standard approach within this research field? Is it worth including a partner that has previous experience of such processes rather than 'reinvent the wheel' in learning how best to conduct such work?
What support and/or familiarity are there within the local institution for participatory research? For example are administrative staff available and/or skilled in managing such processes?
Will the advantages of a participatory approach outweigh the challenges that arise in conducting such research?
Are there wider career implications relating to the choice of whether or not to take a participatory research approach?
Example: Conflict between individual and institutional priorities
One researcher we spoke to specialises in organic food at a national public research institute. Though participatory research is recognised within the wider discipline, it is not regarded as the 'best way' to conduct such research by her own research institute. She manages to progress and gain recognition within the discipline due to her success in securing external funding such as FP7. Without such financial support she could not gain any funds from her own research institute. Her perception is that even though she receives strong academic reviews, publishes in high-ranking journals and obtains excellent evaluation of her projects, the lack of recognition of participatory research at local level has prevented her from being promoted, nor does she receive other forms of support such as administrative assistance.