Contributing to Civic Innovation through Participatory Action Research

Kees Biekart


Civic innovation is about focusing on what is positive, creative and imaginative in the face of a world that seems beset by crisis narratives. In exploring the term civic innovation, we are not looking for a new theory and practice that will lead to a grand transformation of neoliberal capitalism but rather at how to build a mosaic of responses by looking at what is happening on the ground where people are living the contradictions of development. It is argued that we need to question pre-determined ideas of what measures to take and go beyond universal policy solutions, in order to look with openness at the actions on the ground. In that sense, civic innovation can be perceived as the ‘political sister’ of social innovation as it directly assesses dominant power relations. The paper explores a different and trans-disciplinary approach to researching change: by descending from the academic ivory tower, respecting and deploying multiple knowledges for civic innovation, as well as approaching change with the ideas and tools of Participatory Action Research. Examples from knowledge dialogues with Central American social movements are used to explore this methodology further, including the downsides and the dilemmas. The paper concludes that patient dialogue, reflexivity, and experimentation are probably key features of knowledge production that may embody progressive social change.


Key words: Civic Innovation, reflexivity, Participatory Action Research (PAR), knowledge dialogues,  transdisciplinarity, Central America.

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