Impact through participatory research approaches: an archetype analysis

Tribaldos, Theresa M.; Oberlack, Christoph; Schneider, Flurina (2020). Impact through participatory research approaches: an archetype analysis. Ecology and Society, 25(3) Resilience Alliance Publications 10.5751/ES-11517-250315

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Participatory research approaches are often assumed to be effective for addressing sustainability problems that involve a substantial amount of complexity, uncertainty, and conflicting values. The adaptive and integrative character of these approaches engages various scientific and nonscientific actors in collective knowledge production processes. An increasing number of case studies documents pathways to impact triggered by participatory research approaches. However, cumulative learning across cases about the impacts of participatory research projects remains limited to date. One question is of particular interest, namely how and when different intensities of actor interactions in participatory research effectively contribute to advancing sustainable development.In this paper we address this knowledge gap by presenting a meta-analysis of 29 case studies of participatory research projects in agricultural settings. The study protocol follows systematic case retrieval and selection, coding, and data analysis through formal concept analysis. We introduce and utilize a new diagnostic framework to analyze the links between the intensity of actor interactions,sustainability impact goals, context conditions, and sustainability impacts. The results show that three archetypical patterns describe how the 29 case studies report that participatory research projects generate sustainability impacts: learning, knowledge products, and real-world transformations. Impact in all three patterns is consistently associated with higher intensities of interactions, i.e., coproduction and less consultation but not mere information. The most frequently reported impact is learning in a context of resources and environment problems. In this configuration, coproduction of knowledge is mainly used during the second research phase. However,the results also show that coproduction in the final phase of a participatory research project is more often used to achieve the impact of real-world transformations, which presumably involves more complexity and contestation than other impacts. We conclude that participatory research projects, which aim at transformative impacts in complex settings beyond knowledge products and learning,need to sustain high intensities of actor interactions in knowledge coproduction throughout all research phases to achieve their sustainability impact goals.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Geographies of Sustainability > Unit Critical Sustainability Studies (CSS)
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Geographies of Sustainability
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
10 Strategic Research Centers > Centre for Development and Environment (CDE)

UniBE Contributor:

Tribaldos, Theresa Margarete, Oberlack, Christoph, Schneider, Flurina


900 History > 910 Geography & travel




Resilience Alliance Publications


[913] Enhancing transformative research for sustainable development: mutual learning within research networks
[805] Sustainability Governance




Stephan Schmidt

Date Deposited:

02 Sep 2020 10:07

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:40

Publisher DOI:


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Uncontrolled Keywords:

archetype analysis, archetypical configurations, diagnostic framework, participatory research approaches, sustainability problems




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