Youth Participatory Action Research is a similar but broader methodological approach to the Creative Action Research framework. Our projects centring around Youth Participatory Action (Y-PAR) encourage the development of resilience, agency, and adaptive capacity among youth participants. This is accomplished by facilitating meaningful adaptation projects and research questions that uplift youth into active, contributive roles within RbD adaptation research contexts. We believe in the potential of young people as resilient leaders and change makers. We aim to develop and implement strategies, practices, and policies that improve local, national and international disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. The integration of youth perspectives can support us in achieving this.

Participatory action research (PAR) can broadly be defined as a collaborative and integrative research methodology. In PAR, participants and researchers work together within collective power contexts to generate, inspire, and assess prospective research pathways and actionable outcomes. When applying participatory action research methods within Resilience by Design projects, we encourage creative, arts-based thinking and solutions exploration, which may go beyond the confines of ‘conventional’ PAR methods. For example, we promote research contributions which may take the form of multimedia content and creative arts. Participatory action research encourages community and individual resilience, capacity building, and personal agency. PAR also enables the amplification of underrepresented voices and perspectives within adaptation research.

The decision to utilize PAR methodologies in our research projects with youth is particularly relevant as calls for youth engagement and recognition grow in strength. Emerging literature continues to observe an intense desire among youth to act as agents of social change, with youth seeking opportunities for engagement, education, and decision-making within climate action. Successful participatory research and engagement opportunities have been observed to create positive psychosocial and emotional experiences among youth, especially in response to disaster contexts (RbD, 2018). Specifically, youth vocalize a desire to integrate their voices and perspectives into political decision-making.

The 2017-2019 RbD project, Youth Voices Rising: Recovery and Resilience in Wood Buffalo, demonstrates Y-PAR. In response to the devastation caused within the region by the 2016 Fort McMurray, youth expressed a desire to engage in disaster recovery efforts. This RbD project involved local youth in a one-day ‘incubator’ format. The incubator collected youth-directed inputs to devise a social media campaign for community disaster relief, to escalate youth concerns to the attention of local decision-makers. The development of positive youth-adult relationships emerges, as a result, further amplifying youth voices and concerns. 

Positive affect was observed by youth who engaged in the participatory process. Youth engaged in multiple capacities, ranging from highly involved (i.e. Research Assistants) to low commitment (i.e. social media contributors). Active participation was observed to foster feelings of interpersonal connection, accomplishment, the development of social capital, and personal resilience.

Y-PAR also emphasizes the importance of recognizing the autonomy and agency of youth voices in adaptation and resilience research. Many youths expressed discontent, frustration, and other negative emotional affective responses in facing patronizing remarks made by older community members. Y-PAR structures highlight the individual needs and challenges incurred by youth within (disaster) contexts, which adult changemakers may overlook in the community (i.e. public transit). This is of particular concern as youth are also at a greater risk for negative emotional symptoms and mental health challenges following natural disaster events. Y-PAR initiatives may help mitigate some of this risk.