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Participatory research and the SDGs: what is Sightsavers doing?

Margo Greenwood, March 2017
A girl holds a sign saying 'Sustainable Development Goals'.

“The 2030 Agenda states that no one must be left behind”

Sightsavers’ Margo Greenwood explains how community-based participatory research in our programmes is working towards implementing the 2030 Agenda.

Inclusion of disability in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a cause for hope that people with disabilities will feel the impact of development progress. Within the SDGs are seven targets that refer to people with disabilities; and the wider 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, of which the SDGs are a part, states that no one must be left behind. It also pledges to reach the furthest behind first. But what does it say about how to approach implementing the SDGs?

Here are some of the key recommendations:

  • foster shared responsibility (para 36)
  • recognise that all cultures and civilisations can contribute to, and are crucial enablers of, sustainable development (para 36)
  • mobilise all available resources (para 39)
  • commit to multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilise and share knowledge and expertise (Goal 17.16)
  • be open, inclusive, participatory and transparent for all people in follow-up and review of the SDGs (para 74)
  • support reporting by all relevant stakeholders (para 74)
  • make follow-up and review be people-centred, gender sensitive, and respectful of human rights
  • make follow-up and review have a particular focus on the poorest, most vulnerable people and those furthest behind (para 74)

Research is needed to explore how best to achieve the SDGs in the global South, including in relation to disability. It’s important that community members, especially people with disabilities, are part of the process. So what does this look like in practice?

Here’s one way that Sightsavers is doing disability-focused research that fits well with approaches called for in the 2030 Agenda.

Community-based participatory research

Community-based participatory research (CBPR) involves respectful collaboration with the community. It’s about shared decision-making and ownership, and members of the community are involved in planning, gathering evidence, analysing it and sharing what is found. We all contribute and respect the unique strengths that each person brings.

As well as asking specific research questions, the design of this kind of research seeks to break down social injustice and helps everyone to rethink power structures and issues. The overall aim of CBPR is to increase knowledge and understanding of the situation being studied together, to construct meaning together and integrate this with interventions and policy change to improve the quality of life for the community.

How does it work?

With partners we seek out people who live in the local area where the research is taking place, who care about the topic we are researching, but aren’t professional researchers. A small group of about ten men and women then train briefly with a Sightsavers researcher, before interviewing community members and observing professional situations. They also help us to understand what the evidence is saying, and help share the findings. We actively encourage people with disabilities to be part of the team.

A few examples of our CBPR research

  • Pamoja project research in Kenya: Our community researchers are finding out how boys and girls with disabilities, their parents and their teachers are experiencing school inclusion, and what they suggest should be key goals of the Sightsavers project starting there. Read about the Pamoja project
  • Let’s Grow Together research in Malawi: Community researchers are asking caregivers in childcare centres and parents of infants with disabilities how they are experiencing inclusive early childhood development education and following those experiences as caregivers go through inclusion training.
  • Connecting the dots research in Uganda: Young people with disabilities are asking other young people with disabilities how they perceive their development of skills and chances of sustainable livelihood as they undergo training. The research is bridging the end of one project and the beginning of another.
  • Education for All project research in Sierra Leone: Community researchers are finding out how children with disabilities, teachers, carers and community members experience or perceive disability in primary schools in the Bombali region of Sierra Leone. They are also helping to identify the implications of these perceptions on the participation and quality of learning of boys and girls with disabilities.
  • Hear My Voice research in Tanzania: people with disabilities and older people led CBPR research to provide evidence on the specific nature and experiences of people with disabilities and older people in rural and urban settings. The findings helped efforts to provide services for and improve the lives of people living in those regions. The research was published in an academic journal

How our research is contributing towards achieving the Goals

The projects connected to the research are mainly linked with these Sustainable Development Goals (though are interlinked with others):

Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunity

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive   employment and decent work for all

Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries

The research questions being asked strengthen specific projects; they also help us to understand priorities and challenges for people with disabilities across the whole 2030 Agenda. There is an alignment between the aims of the 2030 Agenda and the nature of CBPR. This ‘good fit’ holds real potential in the contribution to leaving no one behind.

What’s next?

Sightsavers is teaming up with University College London (UCL) to develop a Community of Practice on the subject – a group of people who share a concern or passion for something they do and learn to do it better as they interact regularly. As more participatory researchers come together, we can inspire each other, collaborate and work out how to overcome tensions and dilemmas involved in carrying out CBPR.

The 2030 Agenda objective of leaving no one behind will be better achieved if children, young people and adults with disabilities are participating in local, national and global research and policy making. CBPR can be a catalyst for real disability-related policy change. Watch this space!

By Margo Greenwood, Research Associate at Sightsavers

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