The terms are often used interchangeably as well as signifying two different types of research. There are various explanations and definitions depending on which country you are in and which discipline your research takes place in.
I settled on two well-known texts written by my favourite authors on the topic of community based participatory research in health.
- Israel, B. A., Eng, E., Schulz, A. J., & Parker, E. A. (2013). Methods for Community-Based Participatory Research for Health (2nd ed.). San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass.
- Minkler, M., & Wallerstein, N. (Eds.). (2008). Community-based participatory research for health: from process to outcomes. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
A third text set out nicely the main features to be found in action research.
- Koshy, E., Waterman, H., & Koshy, V. (2011). Action research in healthcare. London: SAGE.
This is what I think these texts are telling us.
- is also known as PAR, community-based study, co-operative enquiry, action science and action learning (Koshy et al. (2011)
- is mostly conducted in collaborative teams, a community of enquiry, that includes service users who are not researched on, but collaborate within the research team.
- is participatory and collaborative
- “no one set of CBPR principles is applicable to all partnerships” (Israel et al., 2013 p. 7)
- key concepts of CBPR are participation, emancipatory knowledge and power relations
- CBPR involves the interconnected goals of research, action and education
Israel et al. (2013) list PAR as one of several collaborative research approaches which have progressively been termed CBPR, particularly in health related fields. PAR grew from social movements and emphasized the importance of voice (Minkler & Wallerstein, 2008).
Minkler & Wallerstein (2008) describe CBPR as a continuum of approaches ranging from action research which is based in the practical problem-solving work of Kurt Lewin and the ‘more revolutionary’ Freirian tradition based on emancipatory education. They use the term CBPR as an umbrella term for an orientation to research and practice which stresses respectful engagement with communities in combining research with education and action for change.
Action research, to varying degrees, involves people affected by a problem, in practical problem solving through a cyclical process of fact finding, action, and evaluation, and sits at the starting point of the continuum. The common thread seems to be that participatory approaches such as action research and CBPR are committed to engagement and power-sharing with community partners in the research process so that communities benefit from the research (Israel et al., 2013) .
Minkler and Wallerstein (2008) suggest that CBPR is a term being used to signify collaborative research approaches, ranging from action research to PAR, with the gold standard for ending health disparities being at the emancipatory end of the continuum.
Elena Wilson 2015