Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Participatory research maximises community and lay involvement

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 18 September 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:774
  1. Ann C Macaulay, associate professor (,
  2. Laura E Commanda, policy adviser2,
  3. William L Freeman, directorc,
  4. Nancy Gibson, chairwomand,
  5. Melvina L McCabe, associate professore,
  6. Carolyn M Robbins, community advocatef,
  7. Peter L Twohig, research associate, for the North American Primary Care Research Groupg
  1. a Department of Family Medicine, McGill University, Herzl Family Practice Centre, SMBD Jewish General Hospital, 3755 Cote Ste Catherine, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3T 1E2
  2. b PO Box 37, Serpent River First Nation, Cutler, Ontario, Canada P0P 1BO
  3. c Research Program, Indian Health Service, Public Health Service, 5300 Homestead Road NE, Albuquerque, NM 87110-1293, USA
  4. d Department of Human Ecology, 3-02 Human Ecology Building, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2N1, Canada
  5. e University of New Mexico, Department of Family and Community Medicine, 2400 Tucker Ave NE, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA
  6. f 2400 Rio Grande Blvd NW PMB#1-138, Albuquerque, NM 87104-3243, USA
  7. g Department of Family Medicine, Dalhousie University, 8th Floor, Abbie J Lane Building, 5909 Jubilee Road, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 2E2
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Macaulay
  • Accepted 19 August 1999

Participatory research attempts to negotiate a balance between developing valid generalisable knowledge and benefiting the community that is being researched and to improve research protocols by incorporating the knowledge and expertise of community members. For many types of research in specific communities, these goals can best be met by the community and researcher collaborating in the research as equals.

Summary points

The knowledge, expertise, and resources of the involved community are often key to successful research

Three primary features of participatory research include collaboration, mutual education, and acting on results developed from research questions that are relevant to the community

Participatory research is based on a mutually respectful partnership between researchers and communities

Partnerships are strengthened by joint development of research agreements for the design, implementation, analysis, and dissemination of results

Results of participatory research both have local applicability and are transferable to other communities


This integrative review is based on a search of medical, nursing, and social science databases and ethical research codes. The material selected had to be significant theoretical works, source documents, or concrete examples of participatory research. We assessed the texts on the basis of our own experiences as members of Native communities (LEC, MLMcC, CMR) and researchers (WLF, NG, ACM, MLMcC, PLT) in participatory research projects. The preliminary draft was reviewed by a wide range of researchers and community members. The members of the North American Primary Care Research Group reviewed and accepted the final draft as a ploicy statement for participatory research This article summarises that document (the full document can be found at

Why participatory research?

Participatory research began as a movement for social justice in international development settings.1 It was developed to help improve social and economic conditions, to effect change, and to reduce the distrust of the people being studied.2 Although different …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription