Community–University Partnerships: Using Participatory Action Learning and Action Research (PALAR)

Judith Kearney
Lesley Wood
Ortrun Zuber-Skerritt


This article positions participatory action learning and action research (PALAR) as a preferred methodology for community-university partnerships to achieve a holistic outcome that benefits the common interest. Evidence for this claim is illustrated through case studies of two community engagement programs, one in South Africa and the other in Australia. The South African study explains how relationships, reflection and recognition (the three R’s of PALAR) are important elements that promote a truly participatory approach to knowledge creation and practical improvement in social circumstances. The Australian study then highlights what can be achieved. It does this by showing the potential for PALAR participants to learn how to design and implement a community engagement program, and how to cascade their own learning into their community to improve educational opportunities. Both studies demonstrate PALAR’s potential to disrupt traditional understandings of the research process, particularly in terms of researcher–participant relationships. At the same time, both studies identify the challenges arising from the theoretical and practical implications of PALAR as an approach to community development. This article is therefore significant for universities and funding organisations engaging in community-based research and development through partnerships, specifically in contexts of disadvantage.

Keywords: Participatory action learning and action research, PALAR, community development, community engagement, community partnerships, disadvantaged communities, higher education.

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