Abstract: Participatory Action Research (PAR) has emerged as a common approach used in community-based research, including education research. It acknowledges the place of community in defining its own educational trajectory and can be particularly useful in Indigenous research contexts. Developmental evaluation is a more recent concept, which focuses on applying complexity concepts to enhance innovation and use. It has seldom been applied in Indigenous education contexts. We explore the linkages between these two approaches by using a remote Indigenous case-study from the Northern Territory. Charles Darwin University recently embarked on the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) – Whole of Community Engagement (WCE) initiative. This involves adopting a bottom-up community engagement approach with six remote Indigenous communities across the Northern Territory. The primary aim is to build a deeper understanding of the aspirations and opportunities of Indigenous learners, in concert with identifying the potential levers for system improvement, to promote Indigenous participation and achievement in higher education. This is a multi-site PAR project involving a combination of interviews, observational techniques, photography, critical reflections and case studies. Priority actions are community-identified and community-driven. Our PAR approach has indicated the importance of valuing local context and acknowledging complexity. The explorative and community-focused nature of the WCE initiative means that linear and phased research and evaluation approaches, such as the use of program logic, are not well suited to the contexts in which we are working. This instigated a need to find an evaluation model that would cater for complexity, contextual and cultural factors. Developmental evaluation fills this niche, and is emerging as a new and innovative approach that may suit Indigenous education research contexts. We argue that there are synergies between developmental evaluation and PAR, which include acknowledging complexity and uncertainty; appreciating change and improvement; valuing new or alternative knowledge systems (such as Indigenous knowledges); and listening to and respecting community viewpoints. We will draw on the research and evaluation data collected and analysed through the WCE initiative to illustrate these points. We argue that there is theoretical, conceptual and practical congruence between PAR and developmental evaluation approaches. We also suggest that this has significant utility for Indigenous education research contexts, particularly those that favour bottom-up community engagement approaches.
Smith, James, Lowell, Annette, 2015, Linking participatory action research and developmental evaluation in Indigenous higher education research: What are the possibilities?, Conference Paper, viewed 30 November 2023, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=10777.