Empowering Change Agents in Hierarchical Organizations: Participatory Action Research in Prisons

Janice Penrod, Susan J. Loeb, Robert A. Ladonne, Lea M. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Participatory action research (PAR) approaches harness collaborative partnerships to stimulate change in defined communities. The purpose of this article is to illustrate key methodological strategies used in the application of PAR methods in the particularly challenging environment of a hierarchical organization. A study designed to promote sustainable, insider-generated system-level changes in the provision of end-of-life (EOL) care in the restrictive setting of six state prisons is used as an exemplar of the application of three cardinal principles of PAR. First, development of a collaborative network with active partnership between outsider academic researchers and insider co-researchers began with careful attention to understanding the culture and processes of prisons and gaining the support of organizational leadership, using qualitative data gathering and trust-building. During the implementation phase, promoting co-ownership of change in EOL care through the co-construction of knowledge and systems to enhance sustainable change required carefully-orchestrated strategies to maximize the collaborative spirit of the project. Co-researchers were empowered to examine their worlds and capture opportunities for change using new leadership skills role-modeled by the research team. Third, their local knowledge of the barriers inherent in the contextual reality of prisons was translated into achievable system change by production of a toolkit of formalized and well-rehearsed change strategies that collaborative teams were empowered to enact within their hierarchical prison environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-153
Number of pages12
JournalResearch in Nursing and Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Nursing


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