Keynote address prepared for the Community-Based Research
Network Symposium, Carleton University. Ottowa, Canada
excerpt....So why do we call it the new
Well, a bunch of
us academics needed to write about something, and we liked this stuff, so we
needed to make it seem new. But, seriously, there is more to it than that.
For the first time in its history, the process of doing action- and
participation-oriented research with communities is being institutionalized.
You can see it everywhere—in federal funding priorities in the U.S. and
Canada—and in the development of official college and university programs to
engage in a wide variety of “civic engagement” activities. Now, I’m not sure
that is necessarily a good thing, even though I and many others have been
fighting for it. But despite ourselves we are beginning to institutionalize
There are two dimensions
to the model—one focusing on who is involved in a CBR process and the other on
what those people do in a CBR process. The “who” dimension can include
community residents, community workers, researchers, students and, sometimes, funders.
The goal is for
community residents, whether they are the members of a place-based community
such as a neighborhood or a race-, ethnicity-, sexuality-, or other-based
identity community, to be integrally involved in the process. Most of us
believe that the research question should be generated primarily from community
residents, and that they should play a decisive role throughout such a process.
What we often find
in CBR projects, however (and this includes mine) is that community workers are
often more involved than community residents. Social workers, community
development workers, community organizers, and ministers, often have the
capacity and time to attend the many meetings required of a good CBR project.
This process of “working from the middle” rather than from the grass roots is
especially important in disorganized communities. In the best cases, however,
those community workers will find ways of building increasing resident
involvement into the project.
The researcher can
also take a variety of different roles in the new CBR, which can roughly be
divided up into the initiator, the consultant, and the collaborator.
In many cases, for good or bad, researchers find themselves in the position of
being an Initiator, approaching the community with a project. As we will see,
there are many potential challenges with this. In other cases, the community
approaches the researcher, looking for consulting on specific research
services. Rare, but in some ways the most enriching, are those situations
where community members and researchers combine their talents in a truly
Because CBR has
become so higher education centered lately, and so connected to service
learning, students have also become important to the process. Their
involvement ranges from providing basic labor, to sometimes even taking
leadership on projects.
Finally, we must
not forget funders, who may seem an unlikely group of people to include in a
CBR project. And yet, I have worked with two CBR projects where funders were
integrally involved, and the project was better for it as the funders became better
informed of the challenges facing the project and project organizers were able
to more directly negotiate the funders’ expectations.
The CBR Research Process
When you think
of all the possible ways that these five categories of people can be involved
in a CBR project, you quickly realize that there is no single best combination
of roles and actors. I regularly do training workshops where I ask people to
try and determine which of the five categories of actors should be involved at
each stage of the research process: Choosing the question, designing the
method, gathering the data, analyzing the data, and reporting or acting on the
research. Every time I do such a workshop people find new combinations and new
justifications. So let me just discuss a few of the possible combinations