Action research is a well documented method of community engagement. It is not immediately quantifiable which may explain the relatively slow uptake of such techniques in the UK. In essence it is the use of participative tools and methods to facilitate an exploration of a specific issue or community enabling those involved to express the reality as it appears to them. This is contrary to the more usually adopted western approaches of an external consultant being appointed to report on the situation as it appears to him or her.
Not only does this allow the inclusion of the subtleties that no doubt have an important role to play in understanding and working towards the development of the scenario in question, it also promotes inclusion, leading to a willingness towards ownership and responsibility and equips both sides with a structure or terminology that is both meaningful and accessible.
How is it done?
A number of tools have been developed specifically to collect information from the participating community while careful to not bias the findings by suggestion or pre-conceptions. These can be broken down into assessment tools and analysis tools. With the former containing tools that gather information from the target group and the latter those used to analyse this information. Both sets of tools are designed so that these activities are done publicly in conjunction with either the entire community in question or repeatedly with various sub-sections of the community.
The tools in themselves are simple, necessarily so. It is the attitude and experience of the facilitating partners that is of paramount importance for action research to work successfully, that is generate a high level of inclusion and produce meaningful outcomes. Kamoto and The Green Living Movement have been working for many years with such techniques in very difficult situations with great success. This can be tackling very serious issues like child prostitution in deprived townships in Lusaka, head-on; or explaining the benefit of changing towards sustainable agricultural practices to a traditional rural community that has been using their own methods for many generations.
It is often said that people don't like change but perhaps it is more true to say that people don't like to be told to change. Through a genuine process of inclusion solutions can be developed together so that positive change appears as the route towards the benefit that has been discussed and agreed.
In a society that tends towards individual isolation and seclusion, conflict can often be thought of as something that must be avoided. Tikambilanie has a different view, through the processes described above; conflict is noted as it occurs. This can then be used as topics for further discussion, as conflict often highlights the precise areas of importance. So rather than shying away from conflict, Tikambilanie encourages the admittance of its existence and then faces it head-on using a number of Conflict Resolution techniques.