Participatory Inquiry in Practice [PIP]: NGO Accountability, Action Research and Urban Youth in Kampala




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


Globally Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) wield a tremendous amount of political and resource power. The nature and underlying values of these organisations often lead them to work with marginalised and vulnerable individuals, in some of the world’s most challenging environments. Yet, increasingly their work is contested and disputed by multiple actors. Accountability is a term which broadly refers to how these organisations ensure and demonstrate responsible action.

Informed by the concepts of social action and Deweyan pragmatism, this study utilised a unique multi-dimensional approach to action research to explore the subject of NGO accountability. Utilising cycles of action and reflection, three separate dimensions of action research were run concurrently. The first-dimension of the inquiry captures the experience of a researcher-practitioner attempting to address the subject of accountability within their work in Uganda. The second-dimension of the action research facilitated a weekly group process of action and reflection. The third, youth-led, dimension of the action research refers to 96 group session held with 20 young women from the slums of Kampala.

A practice model known as Participatory Inquiry in Practice (PIP) was designed, piloted and evaluated throughout this inquiry. Over the period of a year, urban youth from Kampala, known as PIP group members, selected a subject of inquiry and subsequently designed, implemented and analysed their own research. Three separate surveys with over 500 participants were undertaken. By utilising collective power, the groups were able to acquire new insights into their selected issues, whilst working in exceptionally challenging environments. The PIP group members' youth-led research led to an advocacy campaign on urban crime and the establishment of a youth-led business. The self-reflective and collaborative practitioner-based action research led to the development of a theoretically informed practice model, designed to enhance NGO accountability.

The inquiry contributes to evident gaps in knowledge by providing a rare account of the experience of NGO practitioners trying to manage accountability in an authentic practice-based setting. From this experience, the complexity of accountability was highlighted. The inquiry identifies functional ways to enhance NGO accountability and evidences the importance of the human dimension of accountability. The study concludes by recognising the potential for complexity theory to enhance NGO accountability. A methodological contribution to knowledge is also offered, by detailing the action research process and by highlighting the significance of Dewey's pragmatic approach as a means to address complex practical problems.





Research Institute