Participatory Research Methodology Assignment
Anthropology 320 - Dr. Susan Vincent
Raymond Nattress, 200309971
Role Playing - Accessibility on Campus for the Disabled
Throughout this paper I will discuss the conclusions derived from our opportunity
to explore and experiment with the participatory research methodologies of Slocum 2003,
elected by the group of four with whom I worked. The methodology approaches that we
selected to facilitate our study were Relevance Trees and Role Playing. Using these two
aforementioned methods and their corresponding techniques, I will establish and discuss
the pros and cons of these particular approaches and explain how both research methods
work within a small system; as well as providing supporting evidence gathered over the
course of our study.
The dilemma to which we applied these methods, in regards to our campus, was
the accessibility, for disabled peoples, of the St. Francis Xavier University campus.
Although this particular dilemma does not personally affect every individual of the St.
Francis Xavier student population, it is still something that needs to be explored and
talked about. The rationale for this is that we feel there is a lack of knowledge and
awareness within our campus, and a better understanding of the challenges that other
people face would help us to grow as individuals and as an institution, to help improve
the overall quality of student life here at St. FX.
The first method which assisted us in our study of this dilemma was role playing.
Dr. Nikki Slocum defines the process of this methodology in her Participatory methods
toolkit: a practitioner's manual.
“Role-playing enables people to creatively remove themselves from their usual
roles and from the perspectives that go along with those roles. These activities
open imaginations to allow people to understand the choices that another person
might face and to make decisions and plans as if they had different
This seemed to be an appropriate method because it would allow our subjects or
participants to remove themselves from their roles as capable, non-disabled bodies and
into their prescribed roles of blind, deaf, assisted walking, paralyzed and able bodied.
We assigned these disabilities to our participating individuals and had them
consider and reflect on how they would go about an average day at St. FX. Throughout
this methodology many strengths and weaknesses of role playing became evident, and
throughout this next section I will discuss them. Role playing eventually stood out as an
effective form of learning, through this prescribed process of simulation. Through this
process you come to identify the other strengths which role playing offers and they
appear to be that it is helpful to expand information into a reaction, essentially you see
and experience facial expressions, body language and language that reflects how the
participants understand their assigned disabilities. This process is helpful for encouraging
participants to determine outcomes rather than being given answers, it seems to be great
for examining and clarifying current values and beliefs and it can increase participants’
motivation to be involved, outside of their ordinary state of mind. Role playing also
offers an openly controlled environment, where the facilitators can lead discussion but do
not dominate it and in our situation of no hierarchy it allowed the participants to be open
with the facilitators because we are all in the same current situation as students and we
were all around the same age. It created a comfortable setting for answers and discussion,
everyone seemed able to participate freely and there did not appear to be any hesitation or
awkwardness coming from the participants.
However, I think the fact that we were all fairly close in age and were friends
could affect the outcome of such a study. In our particular case I do not think it had a
negative effect because we all gave our input based on our individual experiences and we
were able to choose a method that would best gain evidence from people who are able
bodied. On the contrary, if the study had been on the entire student body I think the
outcome would be affected if organized and conducted by friends or people of similar
ages because participants’ answers may seem geared toward what is socially acceptable
within that group, versus what their accurate opinions and/or outlooks are.
Another aspect of the role playing methodology that shows weakness is the
representatives of the group of participants. If you do not have participants who offer a
diverse group of individuals, not all aspects will be covered such as age, sex, gender and
all other important and concerning differences within society. Finally the last aspect of
role playing that creates a problem is its ability to affect those people who can actually
make a change; unless your participants are people of political power or hold some type
of hierarchy regarding your problem, it seems some problems may be too great to be
dealt with based on this one methodology alone.
Once we achieved the procedures in which different disabilities would function,
we related the conclusions to the methodology of relevance trees. As previously
mentioned these are Dr. Slocum’s methods, she defines the relevance tree as “an analytic
technique that subdivides a broad topic into increasingly smaller subtopics, presenting
this in terms of a tree-like diagram” (Slocum, 2003). This methodology of the relevance
“A normative forecasting method, which starts with future needs or objectives and
then seeks to identify the circumstances, actions and technologies required to
meet those needs. It therefore sets out various aspects of a system, problem or
even a proposed solution so as to facilitate a more complete understanding of the
topic and a deduction of requirements to reach a particular outcome. It may be
used to determine the relative importance of efforts to implement policies or
increase technological performance” (Slocum, 2003).
This method as any other has strengths and weaknesses, but there is one fundamental
aspect of each side. The strength of the relevance tree is that “material is often presented
in a manner that creates a greater understanding of a concept. Relevance trees can break
down topics in new and insightful ways” (Relevance, 1994). This helps to generate the
most productive ways of problem solving and creates a good outline and plan for doing
so. On the other hand the negative aspect of the relevance tree is that it leaves room for
human error. “The development of relevance trees requires critical judgments. If the
underlying thought processes are not insightful, the outcomes of these methods will be
weak” (Relevance, 1994). Therefore weak methods and insightful thought processes are
or can be the cause of failure in any working project, due to faulty purposes or
Overall, upon reflection of this assignment of Participatory Research
Methodology, the experience was a high-quality demonstration and allowed for
outstanding perception of how different methods can be applied and the achievements
and breakdowns of them. Therefore, if given the opportunity to facilitate research using
these methodologies in an authentic life situation, role playing and the relevance tree may
not be the finest solution or my first choice of research methodology; however
throughout this research study it has emerged as a technique that provides a great position
or starting point to initiate further research and gain a more accurate understanding of
unknown specific positions.
Slocum, Nikki. "Participatory Methods Toolkit: a Practitioner's Manual." United Nations
University. 2003. United Nations University. 02 Feb. 2007
"Relevance Tree and Methodological Analysis." Futures Research Methodology. 1994.
AC/UNU Millennium Project. 03 Feb. 2007
Vincent, Susan. "Participatory Methodology Assignment." Dr. Susan Vincent. 31 Jan.
2007. St. Francis Xavier University. 02 Feb. 2007