Political and ethical dilemmas in multi-agency participatory research: The role of the buffer zone

Hayley Bennett*, Richard Brunner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The ‘buffer zone’ frames the contested space that university researchers must persistently animate and mediate to successfully pursue participatory research with public and third sector partners. This article explores this conceptualisation through a consideration of political and ethical dilemmas in participatory research practice. We contend that participatory researchers must identify, respond to and reflect on everyday and momentous dilemmas by combining technical, relational and political skills. We illustrate this by drawing on extensive collaborative action research conducted with public service partners as part of the What Works Scotland programme (2014–2019). By critically reflecting on university research realities, this article shares insights into complex multi-agency participatory research dilemmas; offers methodological, conceptual, ethical and political evidence to help university researchers navigate such contexts, notably by engaging the buffer zone and finally, considers how universities and research funders should better support participatory research practices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-399
Number of pages13
JournalMethodological Innovations
Issue number3
Early online date11 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • multi-agency participatory research
  • buffer zone
  • collaborative action research
  • public services


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