Participatory approaches are characterised by allowing study respondents to become more active participants in the research process. Through such approaches it is hoped that respondents/research participants can influence and guide the direction the research will take through, for instance, suggesting what topics require further investigation, who would be useful key informants or other respondents, and which areas to focus on. As such, by using participatory approaches, researchers hand over the power to people who otherwise are mere passive respondents, thus allowing them to be more active, engaged and, in turn, enhancing ownership and commitment to processes and outcomes.
Participatory methods are mostly carried out with groups of people (often divided by gender and/or age) and usually make use of visual techniques. Respondents may be asked to draw maps of the areas identifying key resources; they may be asked to identify and rank certain aspects of their lives using tables, matrices and drawings; and they may be asked to identify key institutions and other people of importance in their communities through the use of circles and other diagrams. A vast array of participatory techniques and approaches exist; researchers can also develop and adjust these approaches as they go along, tailoring them to their specific studies and contexts in which they are working.