The Use of Participatory Techniques inthe Communication of Information forCommunities: Information Literacy andCollaborative Work for CitizenshipDevelopment
Rosemeire Barbosa Tavares, Sely Maria de Souza Costaand Mark HepworthAbstract
This qualitative study was carried out in Candangolandia, in Brasiliassurroundings, Brazil. It comprised procedures that aimed to test theuse of participatory research and action (PRA) in interactive andmultidirectional communication amongst community members, inorder to enable them to work together in the identification, access anduse of information to solve social problems. The assumption behindthis proposal was that as doing so, citizens develop abilities ofinformation literacy and capabilities of collaborative work. Theresearch tested the efficacy of PRA specifically in information science,using principles of critical thinking and participatory techniqueswithin an epistemological interpretative approach in the identificationof community information needs, access and use. Specific techniquessuch as oral presentation, people introduction, cards, games, brain-storm, workgroups, discussion, and question and answer were appliedin 24 activities performed during six meetings with an intentionallyselected group of citizens. The set of activities in each meeting wasDeveloping Peoples Information Capabilities: Fostering Information Literacy in Educational,
Workplace and Community Contexts
Library and Information Science, Volume 8, 241265
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242 Rosemeire Barbosa Tavares et al.related to the meeting objective. Data analysis was based on groundedtheory principles, particularly the coding process. Findings confirmedthat PRA is a suitable methodology to explore abilities of informationliteracy and attitudes of collaborative work as a result of an interactiveand multidirectional communication. In fact, community participantswere able to identify, classify and prioritise information needs, as wellas use information solutions for a selected social problem. Ultimately,these actions have proved to be helpful for participants to develop aheightened sense of citizenship.
Keywords: Information literacy; collaborative work; participatoryresearch and action (PRA); critical enquire; interpretativismepistemological approach; Brazil; citizenship15.1. Introduction
The main aim of this research was to demonstrate that multidirectional andinteractive communication that uses participatory techniques contributes toenable people to develop information literacy abilities and work collabora-tively. Moreover, both information literacy and collaborative work, whenput together, are of particular importance to help people to develop aheightened sense of citizenship.
The chapter begins by presenting a discussion about information literacyand collaborative work within a multidirectional and interactive commu-nication process as an option to help people heighten the sense ofcitizenship. It follows by presenting a participative methodology used toenable people to work collaboratively in handling information in order tomake decisions and solve social problems. Results are then analysed andfindings are discussed, followed by conclusions met.15.2. Communication of Information for Citizenship
Citizens are free members of any society, integrated in it through either birthor adoption. They are also political beings who have potential to make theirown individual and social history. Through learning and understandingprocess, as well as through accessing information, citizens are able tointerfere in their destiny, improving their quality of life (Demo, 2002).
It is important to note that citizens have civil, political and social rights.While civil rights are connected with birth recognition, political rights are
Use of Participatory Techniques in the Communication 243linked with the right to vote and to be voted. Both of them are easily assuredfor all citizens equally. On the other hand, social rights are not given in anequal and fair way for all citizens, since they are connected with education,housing and employment that are difficult to share uniformly in any society(Demo, 2002; Marshall, 1964).
In the analysis about who is responsible to guarantee social rights for allcitizens, history has shown that the State has not always assumed this dutyproperly, since it requires building a wide structure, which is hard to beefficiently managed and controlled. On the other hand, many researchers andexperts have pointed to the possibility of having citizens assuming thisresponsibility, therefore indicating the end of the Welfare State. Societiesare seeking a minimal social pattern in which all citizens may be included(Dean, 2004). It means that all people could have available high-qualityeducation, adequate public health systems and necessary technologicalresources, from which they could themselves have a chance to achieveautonomy, emancipation and dignity.
With this idea in mind, it is possible to re-establish citizens social rightsthrough information access (Calabrese & Burgelman, 1999). In reality, in aninformation era, information literacy is fundamental to help people to beinserted into the labour market. It is because information literacy is anability that helps people to conquer better jobs and, as a result, reach anappropriated quality of life for themselves and their family, meaning healthand social welfare (Freire, 2007).
More recently, the enquiry-based learning has presented an approach inwhich people are encouraged to become active learners rather than passiverecipients of information. It is to encourage people to make critical andsystematic use of information, helping them to deal with new and complexsituation (Hepworth & Walton, 2009, p. 7). As a consequence, particularattention has been paid to peoples information capabilities, that is theirinformation literacy, which can be defined as
A complex set of abilities, which enable individuals to engage critically with
and make sense of the world and its knowledge, to participate effectively in
learning and to make use of and contribute to the information landscape.
(2009, p. 10)
Additionally, for developing citizenship it is also necessary to enablepeople to work together in a collaborative way. If the proposition is to getcommunities growth, collaborative work has shown to be a helpfulalternative to make people become engaged and committed with theirsocial problems. It actually promotes personal and communities empower-ment, as well as develops a heightened sense of citizenship throughintensification of critical awareness. Interactions obtained by collaborativework support the duty of involving, besides encouraging people to get
244 Rosemeire Barbosa Tavares et al.consensus. Through these interactions, individuals assume equal responsi-bility for both their successes and failures (Duvall, 1999, p. 204), and it is,in thesis, engagement and commitment. The author adds that when anorganisation (public, private or nongovernmental)
creates an environment in which its members choose empowerment as a way of
being, the probability success is increased because the efforts of individuals are
focused toward the same goals. There is personal commitment to and
ownership of outcomes. (1999, p. 208)
Multidirectionality and interactiveness are important requirements forcommunication in communities. Communication is multidirectional when itallows a number of possibilities for representing message exchange frommany to many (Gomes, Rodrigues, Gamez, & Barcia, 2007). Likewise, it isinteractive when it involves mutual action and reaction between communitymembers. It is not important to know who begins the communicationprocess, but it is significant to understand that in the communicationprocess, when a person speaks, others listen and observe behaviour andreactions. As Tubbs and Moss (2003) assert, this is interaction.
Using participatory techniques in this kind of communication, abilities ofinformation literacy and attitudes for collaborative work can certainly bedeveloped. As a result, community members will become more confident toact. In other words, techniques can be applied in the development of bothindividual freedom and collective awareness, with the objective ofpromoting citizenship. These concepts have shaped the theoretical back-ground used in the present study. It consequently guided the researchconceptual model depicted in Figure 15.1.
The intrinsic theory of this model recognises that effective communica-tion of information between community members contributes to citizenshipdevelopment. Whenever people use participatory techniques to handleinformation, they will be able to develop information literacy abilities andcollaborative work capabilities. A combination of abilities and capabilitiescan help people to commit with social issues within communities as wellas contribute for peoples autonomy, emancipation and dignity throughenhanced capabilities to be inserted in an information era as well as engagedwith their community causes.15.3. Research Epistemological Background
According to Bryman (1996), there are three epistemological approachespresented in all sciences, yet more especially in social approaches, namedobjectivism, constructivism and interpretativism. While reality is unique and
Enable people tohandle information
Repository of information
Applying participatory techniques
Result in better working conditions
and commitmentwith social issues
Inside the multidirectionaland interactive
Meeting with members of a
communityEnable people to
work together(collaborative work)
Figure 15.1: Research conceptual model.
Use of Participatory Techniques in the Communication 245singular for the objectivism, it is multiple in the subjectivism approach.Objectivism rejects or confirms hypothesis while subjectivism providessupport to illustrate different visions and interpretations. On the other hand,in the interpretativism approach, reality is political and it is understood bydiscussion and negotiation.
The objectivist researchers keep themselves far from the studied object,while constructivists stay close to their object, discussing, listening andprinting different interpretations. In the interpretativism approach,researcher and participants work together. There are not hypotheses orperspective, but a problem to be understood and analysed. The positivism isan epistemology of response, the constructivism is an epistemology of builtand the interpretativism is an epistemology of negotiation and learning.
The research described here adopts the interpretativism approach.Interpretativism emerged as a revolutionary approach to mix research withpolitical and social issues in order to contemplate values like justice andinclusion. As observed by Creswell (2007) researchers are concerned withrescuing marginalised people through participation, letting researcher andparticipants work together and negotiate knowledge.
Postmodernism, realism and critical thinking are some of theoreticalperspectives of the interpretativism epistemological approach. Critical
246 Rosemeire Barbosa Tavares et al.enquiry has been adopted as the theoretical perspective of this study, withthe aim of establishing its basis, particularly because:
The study is focused on the development of critical awareness ofparticipants and researcher, as well as is concerned with problemsolutions that also represent characteristics of the critical enquireperspective. Situations, phenomena, problems or issues constitute only amotivation for research, with participants working together to analyseproblems (Brookfield, 1987). The study is concerned with learning issues and knowledge exchange andsharing, which are the two most important issues of the critical enquireperspective. Therefore, involvement, engagement and participation aretaken as useful instruments to develop critical thinking and awareness(Chambers, 2005). The research is carried out in discussion forums or other environmentswhere people can teach, learn and present their ideas simultaneously.Critical enquiry is a set of strategies of action-report that allow people torespond and to begin a new discussion upon those answers (Hawkins,2003, p. 27).
The interpretativism epistemology seems to be adequate to ascertain thatmultidirectional and interactive communication should adopt participativetechniques, as it follows the way to learn and develop critical awareness,which is important for citizenship development.15.4. The Use of Participatory Research and Action (PRA)
van der Riet (2008) defined participatory research (PR) as an umbrella termfor different methods of participatory enquiry that emerged out ofdisenchantment with the positivist research paradigm, and a critique of therole of the researcher in the developing world (p. 550). According to him,participatory research keeps a deep concern with transformation and socialjustice, which, as a result, has the objective to create an environment oftransformation, where the living condition of people can be changed.
PRA is one of these approaches. On the other hand, critical enquiryshares many characteristics with PRA, providing the methodologicalframework and influencing the design of the intervention. According toChambers (2005) PRA is a family of approaches, behaviour and methodsfor enabling people to do their own appraisal, analysis and planning, taketheir own action, and do their own monitoring and evaluation (p. 3). PRAshowed to be the adequate methodological approach.
Use of Participatory Techniques in the Communication 247According to Freire (2007), competences, skills and attitudes can bedeveloped through participatory work and it tends to promote both inter-action between community members and engagement in activities towardscommunity welfare. Recognising this, the use of PRA appeared to beadequate to allow people to participate in investigative processes and developcritical ways of approaching information, an ingredient shared withinformation literacy and problem solving. The research design was, therefore,entirely guided by critical enquiry and PRA, as described in the next section.15.5. The Research Design: Sampling, Environment andProcedures
Key concepts of this investigation are information literacy and collaborativework. With these concepts in mind, activities were planned as shown inFigure 15.2.
About information literacy, activities were planned in order to achievespecific outcomes, such as a social problem selected, information needsidentified, information behaviour patterns surveyed, information accessedand understood, social problem...