Eighth ALARA World Congress 2010
Participatory Action Research and Action Learning
Appreciating our Pasts, Comprehending our Presents
Prefiguring our Futures


Key Themes of the World Congress                                                            To WC Home Page

In addition to and in support of the reflective ‘genealogical’ look at our philosophical foundations and an appreciative look at present and future practices in their real-life contexts, we propose the following four themes as conceptual guides for delegates who intend to present at the Congress and for all participants to start contemplating their choices of workshops. They may also serve to create a degree of coherence across time and fields of practice. Each theme will be introduced by an internationally renowned key note speaker.

Theme 1. Philosophical Foundations. This theme will guide the exploration of the philosophical foundations of action-based, social change oriented and participatory approaches to research and learning: is there a common and united philosophical basis across the various applied fields? Are variety and hybridity necessary characteristics of the work we do in its several rather distinctive practical and organisational contexts? What have been the (latest) developments in the philosophical underpinnings of our approaches? Ontology, epistemology, the value-base in which we ground our knowledge and the recognition of the spiritual and relational dimension of our work: how can we reflectively and practically deepen and extend our understanding of the influence of these on our practice? How do other-than-western world epistemologies and trans- and cross-cultural relationships influence our practice?

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Alan Rayner.  Alan Rayner is a naturalist who uses art, poetry and a new form of mathematics, as well as rigorous science to enquire and communicate about our natural human neighbourhood. He has published over 150 scientific articles, 6 formal scientific books (including Degrees of Freedom: Living in Dynamic Boundaries) and six e-books. He was President of the British Mycological Society in 1998 and has been a Miller Visiting Research Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He has been using a participatory and co-creative approach to introduce and develop his evolutionary understanding of natural inclusion since 2001.

Theme 2. Power. Power and its uses, misuses and abuses in the learning and research relationship has over time been receiving waxing and waning degrees of attention, even if the ‘action’ and ‘participatory’ references would suggest a greater centrality in our work. How is the theme of power, latently or openly relevant in our practical work and how does it manifest in our working relationships? Some authors now suggest the re-emergence of ‘class’ in industrialised societies and many see the persistence of other divisions in societies along gender, race, ability, state of ‘development’ and other lines; how may we take account of this reality in our approaches to AL, AR and PAR? How does participatory practice link up with our democratic ideals? How does the politics of resource allocation, of money and of bureaucracies – state, NGO and corporate – influence our work… for better or worse?

Keynote Speaker: Professor Budd Hall. Budd Hall is the Director of the Office of Community-Based Research at the University of Victoria in British Columbia Canada. He is also the Secretary of Community-based Research Canada and the Global Alliance for Community Engaged Research. He may be considered an Elder in the field of action research having pioneered work in Tanzania in the early 1970s, later founding the International Participatory Research Network. He served as Secretary-General of the International Council for Adult Education for 11 years where he worked with Paulo Freire.  Budd participated in the 1976 Cartagena Conference organized by the late Orlando Fals Borda as well as the ALARA event in the same city in 1996.  His research and writing are in areas of participatory research, social movement learning, community-university research partnerships and the role of poetry in social change.  

Theme 3. Methodology. The perennial issues of methodology will remain central to our deliberations; how relevant are questions about quantitative and qualitative approaches, their associated techniques and methods within the context of AR and PAR? What is the nature of the research / learning /consulting relationship in AL, AR and PAR? How do we evolve an appropriate process in terms of overall timing, ethics agreements, agreements about steps? What issues surround our use of language, our metaphors, especially in contexts characterised by deep divisions as mentioned above? What are we to do with the results of our work? How can we negotiate ownership of outcomes and the paradoxes between the commercial and political/personal dimensions of our practice?

Keynote Speaker: Professor Linda TuhiwaiSmith. Professor Smith is Pro-Vice-Chancellor Māori at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. Her research interests are wide-ranging and collaborative. She is known internationally for her work on research methodology and Māori and indigenous education. Her popular books are ‘Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies’ and ‘Decolonizing Methodologies’.

Theme 4. Practice/praxis.  Practice/praxis issues and stories about concrete experiences and examples of our ongoing work should remain central considerations. What are the pragmatics of process in participants’ AL, AR, PAR work? What stories, ‘living theories’ and novel/innovative moments can we share for further consideration? What are present contradictions-in-practice and how do we deal with them—also ethically? Many projects continuously touch upon issues of politics and policy; how are the connections being made, what are the emerging issues and the energetic new theories?

Keynote Speaker: Yoland Wadsworth.  Yoland Wadsworth has been involved in PAR since the early 1970s and has written Australia's two best-selling social research and evaluation books based on a PAR approach. The final in the trilogy “Building in Research and Evaluation for Living Human Systems” is to be published in 2010. She is an Adjunct Professor at RMIT University and Principal Fellow at the University of Melbourne and has worked for 38 years with NGOs, government and community organisations, primarily in health and human services. Yoland is a life member and former president of ALARA, founder in 1986 of the Action Research Issues Association (ARIA) and its current convener.

Streams of Praxis

Assuring that our conversations remain anchored in real-life contexts and reflect the existing potentials as well as barriers in our fields of practice, workshops, formal paper and catalytic paper presentations and discussions as well as the poster sessions (see below) will be organised in designated ‘streams of praxis’. We hope that our denomination and delineation of the various fields-of-engagement we have selected ones strike a chord with participants.

Day two and three of the Congress are more specifically dedicated to examining and reflecting on contemporary PAR, AR and AL praxis across the several streams. ‘Stream coordinating groups’ with a designated Chairperson will connect with the international networks operating in the respective fields to assist in organising a program for the third day and in their specific stream, including assisting in organising an appropriate venue. Everyone is invited to contribute to the conceptual development of the ‘streams’ via" In subsequent announcements, participants and presenters will be kept informed of the final ‘shape’ the ‘streams of praxis’ will adopt during Congress proceedings.

The streams we have identified are at various stages of development (including the development of coordinating groups and the appointment of Stream Chairs) are listed below with an indication as to the aspects which may become topical in their ‘conversations’ at the Congress.

Social Ecology and its several areas of engagement, including deep-ecological approaches and projects; agriculture and sustainability; landcare, environment, wilderness and conservation; ecology-community-economy; the social ecology of (dis)ability, ageing and their (dis)contents. Chair: Dr Christine King, School of Integrative Systems, University of Queensland

International Community Development and its various aspects and levels of involvement, including community development and cooperation, fair trade, volunteering and technical assistance, aid, solidarity and awareness projects, alternative development ‘models’ and practices. Dr Rob Nabben, Deakin University and Daniel Salinger,Director for Latin America, International Institute of Rural reconstruction.

Health and Wellbeing (including the various ‘welfare’ fields of engagement); work and involvement across the curative/preventative/self help spectrums; health, individuals and social contexts; health and environment; health and work; welfare institutional contexts and PAR, AR and AL: political, economics and pragmatics. Chair: Dr Ian Hughes, Honorary Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney.

Systems: this stream will include the members of ANZsys, a regional network of AR and AL practitioners interested in ‘whole systems’ approaches and who will use the Congress as their ‘annual conference’, therewith opening up their experiences to everyone and ready to learn—in turn—from everyone. Chair: Dr Danny Burns, Director, SOLAR Centre, Univ. of West England

Education and Learning, from pre-school to post-graduate; one of the historical entry-points for AR, AL and PAR; ‘living theory’ approaches to (P)AR/AL; narrative and deconstructionist influences on education and AR and AL; new fields opening up: life-long learning, technical education, university of the third age, pre-school and parent groups. Chair: Prof Jack Whitehead, Professor at Liverpool Hope University. Join discussion in this stream now at Jack's Practitioner-Researcher listserve.Look for the WC2010 thread.

Decolonising Practice with Indigenous peoples: epistemological and ontological challenges to positivist and post-positivist approaches to PAR, AR and AL; are we post-colonial yet? Reflecting on and reframing the research and learning relationships and learning from insider voices; empire, research and learning: how far have we come? Co-Chairs: Dr. Karen Adams, Research Fellow, Australian Community  Centre for Diabetes, Victoria University and Dr. Bronwyn Fredericks, Senior Research Fellow, Faculty of Health, Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

Feminist AR. Feminist reconstructions of action research have brought the questions of power and emancipation into many new dimensions of praxis around the world. In the first decade of twenty-first century feminist action research, what has been found, what lost, what innovated?