The primary aim of this study was to explore the feasibility of using a participatory research approach as a method for determining information needs. Participatory research is a qualitative research methodology that challenges the principles and practices of objective, detached, quantitative research approaches in the social sciences. Three main trends converged to contribute to the emergence of the practice of participatory research namely: dissatisfaction in the development arena with the planning of projects without the involvement of the people themselves; the work of adult educators from which evolved a methodology in which learners gained control over their own learning processes; and the disenchantment of social scientists with traditional positivist research methods that distance researchers from the realities and social environment of the subjects of their research. Dissatisfaction with the use of quantitative methods and techniques, similar to that in the social sciences, occurred in information needs research, which resulted in a call for the development of an alternative set of premises and assumptions. This effected a move away from a view of information use from a system-oriented perspective, towards the use of qualitative methods focusing on the users themselves in determining their information needs. Both Coloureds and women in South Africa have been exposed to hardship and discrimination over many years. A literature review indicated that the planned participatory research project with Coloured women from Eersterust would be feasible. It became apparent that no studies on the information needs of Coloureds in South Africa had been done, and very little research was done dealing with the information needs of women. The literature on participatory research furthermore clearly indicated that the concept had become familiar in a diversity of settings and disciplines outside that of development. For the purposes of this study with women, it was also of significant interest to note the many similarities between participatory research and feminist research. With the practical implementation of the project, the pre-requisites and underlying principles of participatory research were strictly adhered to. Information needs that were identified during the course of the project were compared to needs identified in other similar South African studies. The active involvement of the women in the research project resulted in the identification of reliable and relevant information needs. These results can serve as an example for the increasing use of qualitative techniques in determining information needs, and affirm that participatory research methods can be a valuable alternative in the area of information needs research.
Dissertation (MIS (Information Science))--University of Pretoria, 2007.