A report to the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation and Campus Compact:

Community-Based Research:

The Next New Thing 1

Randy Stoecker

University of Toledo

January, 2001

Contact Randy Stoecker at rstoecker@wisc.edu with comments.


The Roots of CBR
CBR Across Academica
Institutional Models for CBR
The almost volunteer center
The student-based center
The department-based center
The relatively autonomous center
The full service center
CBR from Start to Finish
Choosing the question
Choosing the method
Doing the research
Analyzing the Data
Reporting the Results
The Challenges of CBR
Career, curricular, and community interests--Whose needs are met?
Teacher or facilitator, researcher or activist?
Rhythms of life across the great divide
Administration and Alienation
Community, What Community, Which Community?
Pro bono or pro-rated?
CBR, Service Learning, Student Services and Academic Affairs?
Why do CBR?
For Students
For Faculty
For Community


A community college. A top 10 research university. A prestigious historically Black college. An Ivy League school. A private women's college. A public liberal arts college. What could these and many other institutions possibly have in common? All are entering the next millennium, and the next era in higher education, with a commitment that moves beyond focusing on only the institution's needs, or even only on the students' needs. All are making a new and exciting commitment to the communities that border them, often host them, and in the past sometimes have suffered because of them.

What are these diverse institutions doing? They are all re-embracing a nearly forgotten practice in higher education that integrates the teaching, research, and service missions of institutions of higher education. This practice is currently called "community-based research" or CBR. In brief, CBR is a partnership of students, faculty, and community members who collaboratively engage in research projects for the purpose of solving a social problem or creating social change. A CBR project might document the extent of an identified problem, such as neighborhood crime. It might attempt to identify the cause of a problem, such as tracing the causes of a cancer cluster. It might evaluate the outcomes of a program or the needs for a program.  Whatever it does, it's most important characteristic is that the impetus for and influence over the research comes from the community, not the academic.

This paper reports on the progress of an extraordinarily diverse core group of eleven institutions of higher education that have embarked on an experimental journey to develop centers of CBR on their campuses. Sponsored through the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation and funded through a three-year Corporation for National Service (CNS) grant, their goals have been to both do CBR and establish an infrastructure to support the expansion of CBR. It was a wise investment. With an average per-institution grant of only about $11,000 per year, the participating institutions were able to fund small grants to faculty developing CBR courses, bring in trainers to develop the CBR spirit on campus, support stipends for students doing CBR, and fund community-university meetings. The centers involved in this project have ranged from the $5 million endowed Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning at the University of Michigan, to small colleges that have been able to identify a faculty volunteer and offer a vacant office. A few of the centers existed prior to the Bonner program, but most either began as a result of the program or expanded dramatically because of it.

The research findings presented here are based in a participatory research process where community and institution representatives met to outline research questions. Randy Stoecker was funded by Campus Compact (2001) to conduct focus groups and individual interviews with faculty, administrators, students, and community organization representatives at many of the schools.2 The Bonner Foundation CNS grant also supported student interviewers at three of the campuses.

The Roots of CBR

CBR is regularly presented as both a new practice and an academic invention. It is in fact neither. It is a practice that dates back to many sources, some inside academia but many outside.

Perhaps the most important and unrecognized influence on CBR in the United States is the Highlander Research and Education Center (1998), in the hills of Tennessee. Highlander was where the Congress of Industrial Organizations developed its philosophy of racially integrated labor organizing and where Rosa Parks studied how to implement the Brown v. Board school integration decision. Highlander built a model of adult education focused on community-generated needs that becomes more famous with the passage of time. And one of the most famous pieces of work that set the standard for community-based research was the Appalachian land ownership study. Academics, lawyers, and community activists worked hand in hand mapping land ownership patterns across Appalachia and comparing those patterns to quality of life measures, long before there was anything called Geographic Information Systems. Out of the data they built community mobilizations, demands on local and state governments and mining companies, and lawsuits (Adams, 1975; Bledsoe, 1969; Glen, 1988; Horton, 1989; Horton, 1993).

U.S. CBR has also been influenced by the 1950s industrial psychology research of Kurt Lewin and colleagues. They worked with industry, conducting applied research to increase worker productivity and satisfaction. Seen by many as the most conservative influence on CBR because it did not challenge the existing power relationships, it was nonetheless influential because of its emphasis on mixing theory and practice, such as union-management collaboration in research to save jobs and improve worker satisfaction facilitated by William F. Whyte (1991).

On the left, CBR is probably most influenced by the third world development movement of the 1960s.  Academics and activists of the time were appalled by already global corporations trying to replace indigenous agriculture with "banana plantations" that caused third world farmers to lose their land and go hungry while they fed the world. These academics and activists got together with community residents to research, educate, and plan for development projects that would be sustainable, community-controlled, and resistant to corporate exploitation. The practice of "participatory research" that came out of India, Africa, and South America and such participatory research and popular education practitioners as Rajesh Tandon and Paulo Freire have had the most influence on CBR around the globe (Brown and Tandon, 1983; Freire, 1970; Paulo Freire Institute, n.d.).

The roots of CBR are also in the United States social movements of the 1960s.  Activist researchers exposed the corporate-military connections promoting the Viet Nam war for less than noble purposes, researched the poverty conditions of poor neighborhoods, studied voting rights laws, and organized women to study for themselves their own bodies outside of the influence of sexist male physicians. These CBR projects informed the arguments of those seeking an end to the war. They achieved voting rights for all. They produced pressure to support poor neighborhoods. They produced the famous "Our Bodies Ourselves" (Boston Women's Health Book Collective, 2001) that forever changed the medical profession's treatment of women.

Finally, the roots of CBR are in service learning. As academics who were involved in third world development and the activism of the 1960s reached middle age, they became distressed at how many of their students were voting for Ronald Reagan and George Bush, thought poor people were stupid and lazy, and believed African Americans got jobs only because of affirmative action. And they began to develop programs, and a philosophy, to reinstall a sense of civic engagement in their students that would counter the shockingly uninformed politics they saw in them. So they started encouraging students to do volunteer work in poor neighborhoods to better understand the realities of poverty, race, and other oppressions. As these community service programs grew, the faculty began to incorporate service activities into courses. The influence also came from students looking for more meaning in their education, through Ralph Nader's Public Interest Research Group (National Association of State PIRGs, 2000) and through the Campus Outreach Opportunity League (n.d.) who were influencing universities and colleges from the bottom up.  But this new service learning movement, formed within the institutional confines of academia, did not yet have a social change emphasis.

CBR Across Academia

Out of these influences a uniquely academic version of CBR has taken root in the early moments of the new millennium. And it is this uniquely academic version of CBR that allows it to be practiced in settings that range from the most prestigious research universities to the least recognized community colleges:

This model flows from a redefined service mission of higher education attempting to re-establish its legitimacy by appealing to community needs.  But it goes well beyond service learning, which began and to a large extent remains an institution-centered, student-focused practice. CBR is social change-centered and community-focused, changing the way institutions must not only act, but think about themselves. And because CBR is about doing research, and involving students in the research, it dissolves the historical division of labor and status between research megaversities and small teaching and community colleges. In some cases, it can even build partnerships between different kinds of institutions that have complementary resources. Finally, CBR values the experiential knowledge of community people who have historically been treated as ignorant and knowledge-less.

Institutional Models for CBR

Of course, local circumstances and individual influences require wide-ranging adaptations and make the assertion of any single CBR model a myth.  But there are some identifiable variations emerging.

The almost volunteer center
This is the most difficult model to sustain. At a number of small colleges and community colleges, both coordinating the entire CBR effort, and managing individual projects, falls on the shoulders of one or two individuals working overtime. When they go on sabbatical, take a new job, or just burn out, the entire program falters. Those committed individuals are also often  too busy just managing existing CBR projects to make really strong inroads into the institution, which is one of the most important and most challenging aspects of CBR given its revolutionary emphasis. Yet, any brand new effort is often the result of one or two people making enormous sacrifices. Ultimately, they don't do it all alone, but they are the fulcrum upon which success balances. And the advantage of such a center is that it can practice a fair amount of autonomy because of the low resource ties to its host institution.

The Center for Community Research at Hood College, a private women's liberal arts college in Frederick Maryland, is managed primarily on the shoulders of Kerry Strand, a sociology professor. The Center itself formalized in the second year of the program. In the summer Kerry sends out a request for proposals to area organizations, and then recruits students and faculty to fill as many of the proposals as possible. Partly because of resource constraints and partly because of the Center's emphasis on empowering women students, as many of the projects as possible are student-managed. They have worked on assessments of services for the homeless and for incarcerated women, a study of discrimination against gays and lesbians, research on the use of breast cancer screening programs, and other projects. The influence of these efforts has begun to move throughout the college as faculty in Environmental Science and Policy have become involved in a project to help preserve an historic Civil War battlefield site.

At Guilford College, a Quaker institution in North Carolina, community-based research is wedged into a combined volunteer coordination and career development office.  Judy Harvey and Jessica Justice, a former student, manage the paperwork and correspondence involved in the College's service learning and CBR projects.  They have done projects with community groups, including a home ownership mapping project in the Old Ashboro neighborhood.  But at a small institution with a heavy teaching load and a commitment to time-devouring consensus decision-making, there has been little to no extra faculty time and energy available to take on and develop new programs.  Consequently, much of the CBR work has rested on the shoulders of two faculty who have been on leave or sabbatical during much of the program. Guilford also, separately, manages a study abroad program in conjunction with the University of Guadalajara that emphasizes community-based research and service learning that is helping students learn CBR lessons in other places that they can transplant back home.

The student-based center
Students are often ahead of faculty on the road to CBR.  They are adept at seeking out their own opportunities, and sometimes recruiting faculty to join in with them. At Princeton University, the impetus for CBR initially came from current and former students.  Before service learning had even gained national popularity, Princeton students had formed the Student Volunteers Council to identify volunteer opportunities in the community and recruit students to them.  Former students from the class of 1955, including Ralph Nader, came to support these student-generated efforts through "Project 55."  Project 55, building on their support for an internship program and experiential learning at Princeton, donated the first staff to help found the Community-Based Learning Initiative (CBLI). After two years the University raised the funds to take over the project.  Today, the CBLI coordinator, with the community partners and faculty member teaching a course, develops a set of possible CBLI projects that students can opt into. Students doing junior or senior research projects will also work with the CBLI coordinator to develop those research projects as CBR with a community-based organization or effort. The energy generated by students for this work has gradually been infecting more and more faculty.  In the early days some faculty would only grade a final paper and have no other contact with the project. Now nearly all faculty are involved in the projects, and the research they have helped students generate is having an increasing public impact (Dobin, 2001). CBLI also helps faculty develop CBR courses, and is up to nine courses offered in fall of 2000.  Courses have included research on the State of the African Community in Trenton with the Trenton Urban League, research on handgun locking devices with the Coalition for Peace Action, and other projects.
The department-based center
In many institutions where CBR is just beginning to take hold, a core group often forms within a single department. This is the case at Concord College, a small public liberal arts school in southern West Virginia. There the Social Work department, through the leadership of John David Smith, is the center for CBR on campus. It is an interesting case, as Social Work has been doing service learning for as long as they have been an academic profession and find the current fervor for that model to be both long overdue and somewhat amusing. Their advantage, of course, is that they have a curriculum and a practice where community connections are already established and the challenge has been to turn the service activities of their students into research and action opportunities.  The transition they had to make was incorporating community-based research into their curriculum, which they did through the creation of an advanced research class. Located in a department, their challenges have been in expanding outside of the department.  The "natural fit" of CBR in the Social Work department, which has long and tight connections with area organizations, does not extend to other departments where "it's totally academic and there are no natural connections to the community."  Consequently, building a program seen as more than just an expected department activity has been difficult.
The relatively autonomous center
Relatively autonomous centers are an interesting hybrid of challenges and strengths.  These centers are typically funded heavily by external grants and contract projects rather than by hard budget lines within the institutions themselves.  Consequently, they have a lot of autonomy from the institution to work collaboratively for the benefit of their community partners.  Of course, being dependent on short term external funds also looms as a constant distraction and requires constant fundraising work.

The Brisbane Institute is housed at Morehouse College, in Atlanta, an historically Black College whose most famous graduate was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  The Institute, named after the founder of Political Science at Morehouse, is located in a house just off of campus in one of Atlanta's most historic, and most disinvested neighborhoods.  The Institute has grown over the years, under the directorship of Hasan Crockett, now including the Southern Center for Labor Education and Organizing and the DuBois-King Center which began as a result of the Bonner project.  Together, these programs support faculty research on public health issues in the surrounding community, research on union concerns, student internships with a small business incubator project and a computer training program in senior citizen housing.  The Institute is one of the few service learning/community-based research programs to engage Business faculty, especially from accounting, in the service of African-American small business development.

The Community Research Center at Middlesex County College, a community college in New Jersey, is coordinated by faculty Pat Donohue and Marge Cullen. With two rooms, a phone, a couple of computers and access to students for only two years, some might be skeptical that such a center could accomplish anything.  Yet this center maintains substantial service learning programs and coordinates sophisticated CBR projects on a long-term basis, having worked with some community organizations for six years and counting. First and second year community college students are expected to learn, and succeed at, gathering data through everything from in-depth government document research to personal interviewing, inputting data, and analyzing it through statistical software such as SPSS.  The CRC is one of the few CBR centers to also coordinate student community service programs, through the Community Scholars Corps, which makes it easier to recruit students for CBR projects. In some cases, CBR is even used to develop programs that can be staffed by community service students and the Center maintains both a CBR and a student community service connection with its community partners.  The center is also able to keep some of its students beyond two years by hiring them back from the next college or university they attend.  The center has supported research and services with public housing residents, AIDS organizations, and others and has been successful enough that now the director and other faculty intensively involved in CBR projects are able to get a one course release.  In addition, two of the long-term community organization partners each contribute $6,000 annually to support the center's work, providing for both the center's autonomy from the university and its accountability to the community.

The Center for Assessment and Research Alliances (CARA) at Mars Hill College in western North Carolina is rooted in a long tradition of CBR.  Mars Hill College, a liberal arts college with Christian roots that still influence its sense of service, was recently named the first "College of Promise" in North Carolina in conjunction with Colin Powell's America's Promise program.  Directed by Thomas Plaut, CARA is one of the means Mars Hill College uses to express their culture of engagement, in addition to the Lifeworks center which coordinates service learning activities. Research alliances between community groups and agencies began at Mars Hill with its Community Development Institute in the 1970s. The agencies needed research and the college had the expertise and equipment to help them meet those needs. The college faculty needed to educate students and fund computer hardware and software for teaching and research. CARA grew through the "win-win" collaborative ventures that this complementarity produced and now has an innovative and sophisticated data analysis center geared toward both community and student development. Through the 1990s they have been providing assessment and evaluation services for a 911-installation project and other health initiatives, schools, the Red Cross, a sustainable farming project, and the Bonner Foundation.  Students are recruited from research classes as "apprentices" to CARA for basic data gathering, entry and cleaning work. A few become intrigued are trained as CARA staff "sojourners," who help design projects and carry them through to completion. Each year two or three students are named CARA Fellows, who are responsible for running the center, helping organize projects and training and supervising apprentices and sojourners.  Apprentices are paid $6 an hour, sojourners $8, and Fellows $10. Faculty are recruited project-by-project and often they already are involved with an agency or community group. If the project is big enough, CARA can buy faculty time to reduce their course load.

The Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement (CSLCE) at the University of Denver, directed by David Lisman, is a newly emergent center in an institution without a strong history of community engagement.  The center began, in some ways, as a department-based service learning center through the work of Nick Cutforth in the College of Education and their early partnerships were with education-based programs.  But out of those early service learning activities arose a model whose most unique characteristic was its use of graduate students as CBR researchers.  The Center has completed a half dozen or so CBR projects, mostly centering on community education and community mental health issues. Based on their successes, the CSLCE has within the last year been the recipient of five major grants, including one of the coveted federal Community Outreach Partnership Center (COPC) awards.

The full service center:
Imagine you had enough money to have the center of your dreams. "Yeah, in your dreams" you say. Yet, the University of Michigan's Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning, with its $5 million endowment, perhaps comes closer than any other. This center has been able to sponsor major speaking events, faculty colloquia, student projects, and major programs all with a CBR focus. With eight staff, the Center is a serious presence on campus that is quite exceptional for a major research university. This center has a size and mass that can survive faculty and staff turnover, have an influence throughout the university, and serve as an important bridge with the community.  They house the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, maintain an extensive web site with training materials and a searchable database for partnership development, and sponsor a graduate-level course in CBR.  Perhaps most importantly, the Center helps connect a wide-ranging and diverse group of faculty from 20 departments across the university who are doing CBR.  The University of Michigan is one of the places where service learning and CBR has become integrated across the campus units and throughout the curriculum.

Georgetown University also has been developing a full service center under the auspices of the Volunteer and Public Service Center, directed by Sam Marullo during the project period.  Housed in student services, their efforts have expanded on the academic side to develop the Center for Urban Research and Teaching (CURT) and the Partners in Urban Research and Service-learning (PURS) to enhance the research focus of their work and cement the linkages between the university and the community. The culmination of these projects has resulted in the creation of the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service, an academic unit combining all of the other programs and housing seven staff.  On the service learning side, the VPS Center sponsors tutoring programs for elementary students, immigrant students, and juvenile offenders. In addition they have helped build support from up to one-quarter of the faculty who allow students to integrate service learning into their course work, and 30 service learning courses (including five with community-based research projects.  On the CBR side, the Center has sponsored asset mapping projects in area neighborhoods and public housing communities and a wide variety of other projects. In addition, they have formed the Youth Action Research Group to help area high school students learn and do CBR projects.

Such efforts are not exclusive to large research universities.  The Appalachian Center for Community Service at Emory and Henry College, in the Western corner of Virginia, has a smaller funding base and less secure staff, but is also an example of a full service center.  While emphasizing service learning more than CBR, their practice is expanding and their example is important.  Through the leadership of 1999 Carnegie Baccalaureate Professor of the year Steve Fisher, the center provides all of the staff support for managing CBR and service learning projects, including recruiting faculty, identifying placements, placing students and managing the accounting of their hours, managing correspondence with community organizations, and doing follow-up.  They so far work with up to 400 students annually. It also manages the Public Policy and Community Service major and minor.  Currently Steve Fisher receives a one-course release and a small stipend to direct the Center, though it can take up more than half of his time. Tal Stanley, who holds a full-time position coordinating the SL/CBR activities of the Center, was originally hired by grant money.  Now the College is funding his position,  and the Center is building an endowment to make his position secure well into the future.

CBR from Start to Finish

Within all of these variations are actual CBR projects that have common elements. Doing CBR means doing research. But it is far more than just doing research. It is organizing planning meetings, building relationships, managing conflicts, empowering students and community members, and making change. It is a lot to do, and for academics it is often also a lot to learn. And where does one start in trying to learn how to do CBR? Well, there are lots of resources. If you want a quick introduction, browse the brochures provided by the University of Michigan's Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning at http://www.umich.edu/~mserve/ucomm/brochures.html. If you want to engage in deep study, try the links on the COMM-ORG Action Research page at http://comm-org.wisc.edu/research.htm.

In many ways, though, CBR can look just like a normal traditional research project. And to those of us who do it, that is both reassuring and scary. For those of us in academia, seeing CBR as a regular research project is reassuring because it offers something familiar to grasp onto. Just like we were taught, we define a question, organize a methodology, collect data, analyze, and report the results. Seeing CBR as a regular research project is scary, however, because it's not primarily a research project. It's a social change project. And when we begin working with community organizations we begin to see that our research role in their social change project is small in comparison to the many other tasks that must be accomplished to make the social change happen. If you want to stop the upstream factory from poisoning your water you need to do research on the water quality. But you also need to organize the residents, fund raise to pay lawyers, lobby elected officials, get the attention of the press, pressure the factory's corporation, and a myriad of other activities.

When you think about doing research in a CBR framework, the research steps change in important ways.

Choosing the question:
It's not just choosing the question. It's about building a relationship with a community or community group, understanding how the research will fit in with their social change goals, and combining the academic's research expertise with the community group's situational expertise. At Mars Hill College, all CBR projects start by sending faculty out first, not students. In this way, community members can develop personal relationships with individual faculty for the long term, and get any expert assistance on the technical aspects of the research that they may request. The Appalachian Center for Community Service at Emory and Henry College held focus groups that involved over 100 people from area community organizations to identify research and service opportunities and support relationship-building between the organizations themselves in the hopes of doing mutually beneficial projects. A number of CBR centers also send a request for proposals to area community organizations to identify possible research questions, and to make an initial contact that can lead to lasting relationships. The Community-Based Learning Initiative at Princeton University, where students are the source of many connections between the university and the community, has created a 70 page book profiling area community organizations and the research questions they would like to address to enhance the ability of those student ambassadors to find community-based research opportunities.
Choosing the method:
Contrary to academic tradition, choosing a research method is not a purely technical task. It may also include considerations of how involved the community group wants to be in the actual research, perhaps to build members' skills, to facilitate community education, or even to build community relationships. Surveys might get good information, but face to face interviews might also build relationships. When Professor Thomas Plaut started working with a local physician to improve health care in the communities around Mars Hill College, they started by doing surveys of people's health care needs. But community people who had been surveyed before and stereotyped as poor and dumb based on those surveys were very reluctant to participate. Instead, the researchers began an 18 month natural focus group process that ultimately led to a regional  emergency  system.  Social scientists, who are the bulk of the academic CBR users out there, tend to see the methodological choices in terms of surveys, interviews, etc. But research methods can involve intensive water, soil, air, and other testing procedures when health and environmental factors are involved.  Helping community folks assess the relative uses of highly technical research methods becomes paramount in such cases.
Doing the research:
Here again combining the need to get good information with broader goals of involving community constituency members is important. Students also enter into this equation. Students are a cheap and eager labor force who can learn a great deal from the hands-on experience. Community members may also gain a great deal from collecting the data themselves. Faculty members may need to be closely involved when the stakes are high and measurement accuracy is paramount. When the Red Cross office in Asheville needed to do a survey of its area communities as a funding requirement, they contacted a professor at Mars Hill College. Together, they designed a survey with a research methods class at the college. Students form the class did phone interviews, wrote up the results, and presented the findings to the Red Cross board. This was not shelf research, as the Red Cross official involved noted "I've been able to quote from it time and time again." The Denver University CSLCE completed a project evaluating area after-school programs, done in partnership with the Piton Foundation, the school administrations, and a graduate seminar involving four graduate students and taught by Professor Nick Cutforth. The graduate students designed an evaluation instrument, and recruited 15 high school students who interviewed middle-school students participating in the after school program.
Analyzing the data:
Academics used to data analysis being a quiet solitary process may find this step to in fact be quite boisterous. For the academic might only do a first swipe at analysis, categorizing information for community meetings where the meaty interpretation is done. Students and community members might sit around a table going over rough drafts to collaboratively shape a report. When Guilford College announced a plan to outsource its bookstore, a group of students on campus did their own CBR project. Students researched the history of activism on campus to inform their strategy. They researched the college's plan and its costs, even getting parents involved in analyzing the situation and developing a counter plan (Pryor and Roose interviews). In another case the Georgetown University-sponsored Youth Action Research Group gave a workshop, based on their research, on tenant issues in the Mt Pleasant/Columbia Heights neighborhood. As residents thought about and worked with the information they decided to form a tenant's association and start focusing on the problem of absentee landlords.
Reporting the results:
Not first a journal article. In fact an increasing number of community organizations make academics sign agreements to not write about the research without community permission (which, when the academic is sensitive, they readily give). The report could be an oral report at a community meeting, it could be testimony at city council, it could be a glossy brochure, it could be a web site, it could even be (gasp!) a protest. One result of the Old Ashboro mapping project, done with Guilford College students, was a mailing to all the absentee landlords owning property in the neighborhood reminding them of the importance of maintaining their properties. In the spring of 2000 a group of women students at Mars Hill College and Helpmate, an area organization serving abused women, participated in the national "Clothesline Project." The Clothesline Project is a national project presenting T-shirts hung on a clothesline, with different color shirts symbolizing different forms of discrimination and violence against women, and decorated by and in honor of women survivors and victims. As part of the event, through a Women Writers class offered by a professor in the English department, up to 25 students researched regional, national, and global statistics on violence against women. Night and day for weeks they poured through the brutal statistics on rape, murder, and discrimination against women. They held a decorating day on campus producing their own T-shirts to be included with those of local women. On the day of the event, held on campus but inviting the whole community, the T-shirts were presented.  Throughout the day, cut into an audio tape of music and poetry, were the statistics the students had uncovered (Smialowicz interview).

The Challenges of CBR

As clean and organized as this research process may seem, doing CBR still involves many challenges within and outside of academic culture and the higher education institutional structure. Here are just a few.

Career, curricular, and community interests--Whose needs are met?
Academics leave PhD school, with depressingly few exceptions, much better trained to do research than either teaching or service. But, after research, most of us see our job as teaching, and "service" has historically meant enduring endless academic debate on institutionally assigned committees. So our career training propels us to do research and publish journal articles. Many of us are constantly fighting for space to write, sequestering ourselves from our students, colleagues, and even families trying to eek out an hour here or there with hopes of producing a good insightful pithy paragraph. And we have been told for as many years as we endured PhD school that we really only know anything about one very narrow subtopic of one very narrow discipline. When Hood College professor Lori Wollerman took the plunge into CBR, her training was in animal behavior. But she was asked to lead a needs assessment for the Monocacy Battlefield. Getting help from other faculty, the project succeeded, but required her to dramatically redefine herself as an academic.

When we teach, most of us still feel compelled to "cover the material" as defined by our academic discipline, and require our students to interpret it just the way we were taught. Hood College professor Kerry Strand, tries "to get students to see us as in this together and to be very forthright that I won't always know what to do. I say to them 'If I'm being a buttinsky tell me, or if you need my help tell me'...More of my teaching since starting this is working independently with students." Her colleague Lori Wollerman, says "It's not predictable like your nice lecture courses are.  I tell my students 'This schedule is an idea of how it's going to work.'"

So we often approach communities looking for projects that fit our exceedingly narrow definitions of our own skills and interests, and the discipline-defined goals of our courses. But communities don't have concerns that fit either disciplinary boundaries or course objectives. They often need multi-disciplinary resources and research methods, such as evaluations or needs assessments, that do not fit in the average research methods course. So, does the community become the laboratory, in which case, as one activist notes "what does that make us, the dead frogs"? (Beckwith, 1996) Or does the press for effective practice of CBR begin to change the institution so that faculty are willing to broaden their own skill and knowledge base, and classes are organized around community projects rather than community projects organized classes? This in fact happened at Denver University where Professor Nick Cutforth designed a graduate seminar around an evaluation of after-school programs.  Funding from the Piton Foundation, that was sponsoring the program, allowed him to buy out his time from a course he was scheduled to teach and put together the evaluation seminar.

Of course, it is also important to not get carried away with trying to meet the community needs. When the Denver University CSLCE initially went looking for community partners, eight different organizations got excited about the possibilities. But the center staff knew it was far more than they could handle at such an early stage of their development and that to try and do them all would not have met anyone's needs.

Teacher or facilitator, researcher or activist?
  You know how we were taught to teach. We got lectured at. Some of us hard-core academics loved it. Many of us who love academia, though, have become more and more troubled by the lecture method. The explosion of popularity in experiential education, service learning, popular education, and other non-lecture methods of teaching signals that something is afoot. And once you see a really good community organizer out there in the field doing a training with community folks who are there volunteering their time and would never return if they got lectured at, you begin to realize how ill-fitting the academic environment is for CBR. Many academics, perhaps for the better, watch those community-based educators, however, and never return to CBR. For being an educator in a CBR project requires not primarily knowing, but knowing how. It requires knowing how to facilitate a discussion, do conflict resolution, support participation, build knowledge from people's experiences, and a variety of ground-up as opposed to ivory tower-down education tactics.

This means adopting a wholly different style of teaching as a facilitator. Professor Steve Fisher, director of the Appalachian Center for Community Service at Emory and Henry College, emphasizes the importance of reflective learning, facilitating students to develop a deep and integrated understanding of their field experience, their own emotions and biases, and more abstract academic concepts.

"If you do it right you lose total control of the classroom. There has to be structured reflection. That's really time consuming. Students need to be growing. If you don't devote class time to reflection than students see [CBR/SL] as peripheral. It goes against what people have been taught to believe about teaching."
A Georgetown University professor emphasizes the importance of "Social stuff--having students over for dinner and closing events--that's important. And I wouldn't say that in a faculty meeting, but I think students need bonding experiences to make this work."

Of course, you don't have to make the switch all at once. One professor says "there's about two to three lectures I haven't been able to do because of this but the amount of learning students get [from the CBR project] more than compensates for that." Emory & Henry professor Ronald Diss was observing school children doing projects and the variation in outcomes:

I spoke with the teachers and said it must be hard for kids without parental help on projects. I thought I should send some of my students down here to work with them, but I was reluctant to give up a few lectures to send students there. Then I was reading my course evaluations, and reading that the number one positive thing of the class was working with children and I thought duh!... I had to get over the fact that my students can learn without my lecturing at them. And that's really hard."
In one research project done through Denver University, a graduate student researcher found herself in the midst of a community organization whose board and staff were undergoing dramatic turnover. As a consequence, communication paths were lost, new leadership was unaware of the research plan established by the previous leadership, and the faculty liaison was not positioned well enough to understand the extent of organizational change and the need to develop ties with the new leaders and renegotiate the project. In another project managed through the Brisbane Institute at Morehouse College, student interns were placed with a small business incubator project. The faculty coordinators soon discovered, however, that many of the small businesses didn't have the capacity to handle more than a few students at a time, and in some cases were asking students to do work outside of the internship job description. In this case, faculty were able to intervene quickly, reduce the number of interns placed in the site at any one time, and renegotiate the program with the community participants.

Those of us who can make the shift to valuing the people's knowledge and their desire for knowledge that knows no disciplinary boundaries are often faced with another dilemma in CBR. So much of our academic training has been about doing research as a disinterested observer. But CBR, done in partnership with a community, is about being committed to the resolution of a social problem or the pursuit of a social change. And in the worst case our colleagues begin to call us activists and dismiss our research as political trash. Even those colleagues out there who agree with the critique of objectivity draw a line between admitting your biases and acting them out.  Many academics have yet to be convinced that there is no negative connection between the degree of one's involvement in an issue and the accuracy of one's research. The opposite is just as easily the case because being committed to an issue means being committed to accomplishing something. Faulty information not only leads to bad strategy, but is also easily undermined by those on the other side of any controversial issue.  Accuracy, not objectivity, is what's important and there is no relationship between the two.

Some community organizations understand the connection between research and action, and are very good at figuring out how to get the most from a CBR project because they see students not just as researchers but also as potential recruits. When Church Women United, a service and advocacy organization in Frederick, Maryland, requested students for their project studying the service needs of recently incarcerated women, they were thinking long-term: "We were getting old and we need younger women involved. And those women [from Hood College] are now getting involved."

This has important pedagogical implications for students. Some institutions go to great lengths to help students not only get engaged in CBR, but also go through an intensive reflection process to connect their experience to social justice issues. Mars Hill College attracts a large number of students from rural Appalachian communities historically disenfranchised by and thus suspicious of formal education. Too often, in such situations, higher education pressures students to separate wholly from those roots. But as Stan Dotson, director of the Lifeworks Center at the college explains:

"Wendell Berry said there's only one major in higher ed--upward mobility. There should be another major-homecoming. I have a student who is now thinking about Buddhism and feminism, but I want her to be able to go home again and learn from that too. ...We do a lot of prep work on helping students to respect the communities they work with. Our chaplain brings missionaries in to talk about mutuality-we're not carrying the truth, we're sharing out truths with theirs."
CBR appears to be a good fit for such an approach.
Rhythms of life across the great divide
We've seen that CBR isn't like an academic research project and academia isn't like the real world. Most of us already recognize the different schedule rhythms of academic life and community life, and understand that CBR projects often take longer than one term.  Students at Princeton University worked with the local public housing authority to develop a summer program plan for youth involving web training and community history activities. But they graduated and had jobs out of the area before funding for the program was in place. Students can become frustrated with how long the action phase of a CBR project may take. They want to see something happen from all their hard work. One Denver University student involved with a mental health center needs assessment was hoping she might still be around to see something come of it: "I expected it would happen faster. I expected to be part of the implementation."  Those on the community side may also have expectations that aren't met.  When Denver University Professor Nick Cutforth worked with the Piton Foundation on the after-school program evaluation, the Piton Foundation research officer was surprised when the project stopped before she had a full report and a detailed analysis, and had to do that herself (Bailey, 2001).

Both academics and students need to make provisions to actually produce a finished product, even if it takes longer than the term. The students at Hood College met with homelessness service providers in the area during the fall of 2000 to develop a survey of service recipients. When the service providers said they would like the survey by "winter" the students' shoulders sagged. But after some discussion the students discovered that "winter" meant February to the service providers, not December, and their relief was audible. They were quite happy to work into the next term for the cause rather than rush to meet an artificial academic schedule.  Students at Princeton worked for two months past the end of the term to complete the State of the African Community report in Trenton, with the Trenton Urban League.  And it was worth the extra work, as the Mayor of Trenton called a press conference to receive the report.

Bridging the divide often requires planning ahead, as one of the difficulties many course-based service learning and CBR programs face is planning a project when the course has already begun. The Appalachian Center at Emory & Henry College begins months ahead to make sure everything is ready on both the community and the classroom side well before the class begins.  Some colleges and universities are offering faculty stipends to develop courses ahead of time and have everything in place by the time the term begins.

Just as challenging as maintaining a commitment past the end of term is meeting a an externally set deadline that may fall in the middle of a term. In contrast to "shelf research" that gets printed on paper and put on shelves, CBR is research designed to be used, usually in a particular social change project. If it is research for a grant proposal that has to be in the foundation office on November 1, all the work is wasted if the proposal arrives on November 2. This is in stark contrast to academia, where deadlines are usually self-imposed and even when they are imposed by the outside world, being weeks late rarely incurs any penalty. At Georgetown University, a group of ten faculty members and ten community organization members met bi-weekly as a study group on issues determined by the community partners. As they built a relationship, they held a retreat and decided to go in together and write a grant proposal to the federal Community Outreach Partnership Center (COPC) program, which they eventually received. The regular meeting schedule forced the academics to get out of semester mode and the COPC deadline forced everyone to meet an iron-fisted deadline.

It is possible that this divide varies geographically, and may be less intense in rural areas where, "faculty [and community members] live on the same street, have kids in the same schools, are involved together in the PTA." (Stanley field notes) At Concord College many of the Social Work graduates take jobs in the area organizations, helping to maintain strong relationships.  In urban areas the degree of educational, health care, and housing segregation between academics and the communities they work with can be much greater.  Community colleges also may have some advantage here, as their students are more likely to come from local communities and return to them after graduation. At Middlesex County College, for example, "Our students are bi-lingual--and they had no problems going door to door at a housing authority." And there is far less pressure on faculty to publish in obscure academic journals, making them more available to build and maintain community relationships (Donohue interview)

A final important consideration about the divide between academia and community is the question of culture. As the two sides come into more and more contact, helping students (and in some cases faculty too) learn and respect the local cultures with which they are working, and even dressing and speaking respectfully, becomes important. One student, having gone through a CBR experience, notes that "  I tend to be more professional and cautious in my dress, speech, and mannerisms now." Barry Checkoway, director of the University of Michigan Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning said:

"We had a lot of discussion about what the 'learning' meant in our name.  Did it mean students learning from the faculty?  Did it mean faculty learning from the students?  Did it mean community members learning from the university?  Did it mean the university learning from the community?  Now we are using the phrase 'learning from the community'."
One of the most innovative preparation programs comes from Guilford College's Fall Semester in Guadalajara program. There students are working with poor communities so different in language and culture that the students are forced to make adjustments. And while they are working they are also studying, reading things like Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. When Guilford College student Scott Pryor came back from Guadalajara and began working with the Old Ashboro mapping project "it was a local-based project that fit perfectly with what I learned in Guadalajara."
Administration and Alienation
One of the most important concerns among those in higher education at the dawning of this new millennium is the degree of disenchantment so many academics feel with our institutions and our disciplines. The gulf between the way universities are administered and the work they are supposed to do seems to grow ever wider. And the alienation that faculty feel from their home institutions grows ever greater. Those faculty who aren't grousing about the latest administrative foolishness are often so far gone they show up only for office hours and classes.

On the one hand, that may be a good thing. Not worrying about how something may look for the institution, especially if it happens to be a controversial CBR project, can be very freeing. At the same time, it means that the institution doesn't change. And if the institution is not actively supporting CBR, it is often one of the reasons we need to do CBR.

Many of the small faculty-led programs in this study report being either ignored by their administrations, or being recognized only when the administration found it to their own funding advantage. Hard budget lines are virtually nonexistent. Adequate release time for faculty directors to actually manage a serious program is the exception rather than the rule. And of course, these attitudes are reflected in the institution's reputation for community engagement where they have either historically ignored their host communities or only given lip service to engaging with them.

Administrative turnover creates other problems. The problem does not appear to be with individual administrators. In fact, it is intriguing how welcoming individual administrators are of this new CBR emphasis. And when the CBR projects are relatively non-controversial, it makes it even easier for them to support it. Non-controversial CBR looks good in the papers, and it sits well with the students. Many of the programs in this study have very supportive administrators.  And it's very hard to find administrators who actually oppose CBR.

The problem, instead, appears to be with the accountability of administrative structures.  The more top-down the administrative structure is, the more programs are created and uncreated by the whim and fancy of those at the top. A number of the programs reported in this paper were seeing important administration allies leaving their institutions, and were quite concerned about what the the loss of the ally might mean for their program.

How do we take back our institutions from top-down administrative structures? Well, much of the task seems to be establishing a foothold before an administrative ally leaves, or before the budget gets reviewed.  Once given official sanction in the university, the bottom-up emphasis of CBR can become infectious and begin to have wider ranging institutional impact. Over the year of this study, one school created a hard budget line for a position to manage the College's CBR projects.  Another created a release time program.  Having highly placed administration advocates helps. At the University of Michigan, the Vice President for Academic Affairs has provided solid support for CBR. Mars Hill College has a long history of community engagement dating back to the 1960s when Academic Dean Dick Hoffman built a culture of community engagement on campus. Stan Dotson recalls, "They read [Paulo] Friere, went to see Freire, and Myles Horton [of the Highlander Folk School] came over here. The Deans and Chancellor now were part of that Hoffman group." When Emory & Henry College professor Steve Fisher was offered a job at another institution a few years back, the College president asked what it would take to keep him. He negotiated support to build the Appalachian Center for Community Service and create a major in Public Policy and Community Service.

Community, What Community, Which Community?
One of the most confusing things about CBR is trying to figure out what "the community" means. The ideal type CBR project organizes grass roots community members, or organization members, to create change that transforms not just the structure of knowledge creation and distribution so that voices previously ignored are better heard, but also transforms the structure of power relations so that those without power gain power. Much of the CBR that we do, however, works with mid-range organizations--social service organizations, community development corporations, government agencies. There are many critiques of how those helping organizations ultimately are disempowering because they preserve inequality while passifying those at the bottom of the heap. When we do CBR from the middle, working with such organizations as our partners rather than with grass roots community members, some might question whether we are really doing CBR?

The test, ultimately, is whether the partnering organizations themselves are trying to become more community-based--bringing their constituencies onto their boards to make policy decisions, organizing relatively independent constituency groups, or working with already organized grass-roots groups. In organizing the research, will the organization/agency actively recruit constituency members to be involved in planning and carrying out the research? Will the organization/agency make an active effort to educate the constituency about the research results? Will the organization/agency bring constituency members together to do planning? Many mid-range organizations, when asked, are quite willing to involve constituency members in the project once they have a model that shows them how it can be done and a CBR project done with such an organization can not only empower the constituency but can transform the organization.

Following a rigid CBR model that emphasizes working with grass-roots social change organizations is also extremely difficult  in some rural areas. While there may be as many such groups per capita as in urban centers, they are spread over greater distances.  In one case, a partnership between a college research center and a social action group is separated by a two hour drive.  As a consequence, the CBR model developed in rural areas expands to include partnerships with social service agencies, schools, health care providers, churches, and even organizations such as volunteer fire departments not normally included in the ideal type CBR model.  And even these organizations can be spread over great distances.  In some impoverished rural areas the organizations themselves can also be resource poor.  This is no different than the case for many organizations in poor urban areas, but in rural areas a lack of organizational resources can make the challenges imposed by distance extra difficult to overcome.  Consequently, some CBR projects in these settings focus as much on building new community institutions as on doing the research.  Such was the case when Mars Hill College Professor Thomas Plaut partnered with local officials and community members to assess health and emergency services in Madison County, North Carolina.  The research with residents showed 13 different emergency telephone numbers in the county, and led to a grant for a 911 system, they discovered they needed to also involve residents in naming some of the area roads so the system could accurately direct emergency vehicles.

There are inter-community power issues involved here as well, and understanding how community members define their community boundaries is extremely important.  As Guilford College was developing its program, they were unaware of one organization working behind the scenes to get exclusive access to College resources and deny other groups access. Even "natural" community units such as neighborhoods can contain multiple community identifications.  When Thomas Plaut started working with the Madison County health and emergency services research, the unit of analysis was the county.  But discussions with residents showed a complicated array of 72 distinct communities, and these communities formed the basis for the Madison Community Health Consortium that led the 911 system effort.

Pro bono or pro-rated?
Who pays? Or, just as important, who receives? One of the increasingly controversial aspects of CBR is when it is used to get the institution grants to pay for faculty time while community groups are expected to volunteer their time. Programs like the U.S. federal Community Outreach Partnership Center (COPC) grant program are set up with an anti-CBR bias in requiring the bulk of the funds to go to institutions rather than community groups. What happens in these circumstances is that community groups find it very difficult to add to their workload and often have difficulty maintaining their participation, supervising students, providing needed information for the research, and doing anything useful with the research once it is done. As one community organization representative laments "Because we don't have time to do it [research] ourselves, we don't' have time to supervise students."

There are a number of strategies for dealing with this inequality. First, many projects are managed on the university or college side, with faculty or staff arranging meetings, documenting student hours, etc. Second, some CBR projects are actually designed around helping community groups get their own grants, and writing in a more fair amount of support for them to hire university expertise. Perhaps the most progressive has come from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2000), the  academic funding arm of the Canadian government, which is piloting a program to fund CBR partnerships between community groups and institutions of higher education that can be run by universities, community groups, or an independent combined organization. The two community facilitators and one faculty facilitator of the Georgetown University bi-weekly study group each got a 20% workload buyout paid for by the University. And when they actually got the COPC grant, which by law had to be weighted heavily in the University's favor, only the strength of relationships formed by the study group controlled the infighting over that unequal distribution. Guilford College tried to maintain equity by giving stipends to faculty the first year of the program, and to community members the second year.

CBR, Service Learning, Student Services and Academic Affairs?
Critiques of service learning have been building recently (Barber, 1992; Kahne and Westheimer, 1996). To some, service learning, because it focused on students doing charity work, maintains the perspective that poor communities are helpless. To others, because service learning is centered in the university rather than the community, it maintains the unequal power relationship between the campus and the community. But perhaps more importantly, service learning has been historically limited to the teaching mission of higher education, meaning that research faculty have not been given a path to join in.

Service learning has a longer history and more institutional support than CBR across the country. Consequently, faculty and students interested in doing CBR, and whose institutions have an already established service learning mission, must figure out how to leverage resources without creating competition and conflict.

Service learning can be a starting point. For Patrick Donohue at Middlesex County College, "When you just start with a research project, you need trust. We started with service and then built a relationship to do a research project." In addition, "direct service addresses urgent needs while research helps the agency think more strategically." Denver University also started with a service learning project in three neighborhood schools as a way to build a partnership, and then started to discuss possible research questions.

As CBR programs develop in institutions with an administrative structure divided into student affairs and academic affairs, an increasing number of them find a more effective home on the academic affairs side, where support for research is stronger. Indeed, on many campuses there is even a split, with a service learning program coming out of one office, and a CBR program coming out of another. In some cases, service learning and CBR aren't even seen as the same kind of learning.

But this is beginning to change. At Middlesex County College community-based research and service learning are integral.  In one particularly illustrative case, a class of sociology students conducted a client needs survey for a local soup kitchen.  As a result of the survey, the soup kitchen director came back to the Community Research Center and asked the Community Scholars Corps--the student community service group that also operates out of the Center--to design and staff a bag lunch program. Service learning at Hood College began under the student affairs division. But when it became clear that the program was not gaining legitimacy with faculty it was moved over to academic affairs. The administrative placement of the Georgetown University Volunteer and Public Service Center on the student services side reinforced the notion that service learning and CBR is service rather than research, and hindered its efforts to help the faculty involved with it gain legitimacy among their peers . Consequently, a group of faculty, including those affiliated with Volunteer and Public Service Center, helped form the Center for Urban Research and Teaching and then the Partners in Urban Research and Service-learning with ten community organization partners. The climax of this transition has been the creation of the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service, an academic center combining all of the other efforts (Marullo, 2000).

Why do CBR?

Engaging in practice as revolutionary as CBR, which tips the unequal but historical balances between campus and community, professor and student, large institution and small, is extremely threatening. It is threatening to research universities whose traditional research model excludes community concerns and denies community knowledge. It is threatening to faculty everywhere who are used to deciding for themselves what knowledge is and who stand aloof from the questions they research. It is threatening to administrators who must welcome official institutional involvement in potentially controversial community issues. It is threatening to students--particularly those students who have been taught to fear and scorn the very communities that CBR most focuses on. Finally, it is threatening to communities, who must risk their time and staff on projects that may not work and may not benefit them.

So why do it, when the threat and risks are so great? Because the potential benefits are also great.

For Students
For students, CBR is hard work, as much as twice as much work compared to a regular course. It's weekend work. It's unpredictable work. Many report feeling overwhelmed, intimidated, and scared by venturing off campus and shouldering important responsibilities. As one student notes, "I was very stressed that semester about the project...if you do a bad project it reflects poorly on [the program] and the...dept, not just you."

But for the brave student, CBR offers a chance to learn through the best combination of experiential and intellectual learning strategies. When asked how they would advise other students considering enrolling a CBR course, to a person they said "do it." One student says: "You can learn about poverty in classes, but when you go out there, it makes it real. I looked into this woman's eyes who can't feed her family-it's a life-changing experience." Middlesex County College student Lisa Mizrahi-Kaado wouldn't discourage anyone from doing CBR "Even if they come in with the wrong intentions-'I'm just doing this for a grade'-they will leave with so much more." Emily Makinson, a Mars Hill College student said, "When I first started entering data it was just a money thing. But Dr. Plaut really wants everyone to understand what they're doing...It's not like you're a waitress at Chili's."

At some point in the conversation with almost any student about CBR, they mention the value of "hands-on" learning. It is a different way of learning that tapped into a long-held student wish that their education be relevant:  "I'd rather do [CBR] than write papers. It's hands on experience. You know what's going on in the real world." For those skeptical that the hands-on learning of CBR can have the same impact as book learning, there is some initial evidence to allay those fears. Many students say "I think the reason I learned so much was I applied it." Mars Hill College student Amy Smialowicz gives one example of how that process occurs:

"I really like that we were going outside of the college and into the community. When you read the textbook you just internalize the information and we were actually applying it. I think I learned a lot more because our findings didn't fit the textbook and we had to go beyond the text."
Other students say things like "Doing the research project before the midterm helped me learn the material." A number of faculty and students suggested that this pedagogy helped students directly, because they excelled at hands-on learning, and even suggested it helped their grades on traditional measures of learning such as tests and papers. It may be especially effective for students who do not excel at book learning. Faculty report that  "Some of my C students have been the most successful and take this the most seriously." More evidence showing the lengths to which students will go with CBR comes from a faculty member running an environmental research CBR project who remarks that "some students will boost their grade because they like the hands-on work. We go out at 5:30am. We went out in the rain every day for six weeks and no one complained."

The most wonderful, and perhaps scariest thing about student involvement in CBR is that it really can be a life altering experience. On the wonderful side, two Morehouse College accounting students whose grades would never have allowed them a chance at a top five accounting firm job, because they had been interns for the business incubator project, got hired and are doing well. Also on the wonderful but also scary side, a number of students enter CBR heading down path, but then begin to rethink everything: For Mars Hill College student Angela Dolezal, "Ever since junior year in high school I was set on being an accounting major. Then I took a Spanish class and started tutoring ESL and loved that. Then I started CARA and loved that. Now I'm really confused." This even happens for graduate students who encounter CBR. Michael Portney, a graduate student at Denver University, describes that:

"I did community psychology research before. I always tried to give back. But I thought I wanted to take a more individual [psychology] route. But this really put me in touch with communities. As a result of this I totally changed career paths into community psychology."
But to the extent that involvement in CBR may shift students career paths, the fear such uncertainty can breed is counterbalanced by the other benefits of their involvement. A number of students noted how much more comfortable they are with public speaking, conversing with people not like them, and just developing greater overall self-confidence: "I'm less shy, I don't stutter so much." A high school student participant in the Georgetown-sponsored Youth Action Research Group (YARG) says: "I discovered things I never knew I could do. I could be independent and confident." A professor notes of one student:
"Some students don't think of themselves as scholars. This kind of work is their baby. It allows them that freedom, even the most timid and most shy. I have one student who couldn't believe that we all wanted to hear his opinions in the classroom and that the YARG students wanted his advice. His self-esteem went through the roof. I don't care what he does--he's going to be a lovely person walking on the planet."
Students come away with sophisticated critical thinking skills, statistical analysis skills, and a variety of computer skills. Many students also mentioned the sense of community they developed with other students. Even the high school students in YARG noted an increased sense of community they developed working with each other. Emory & Henry College student Benita Johnson humorously recalls that "You develop such close friends in this major [Public Policy and Community Service]. If their fish dies, you know it."
For Faculty
Like for students, CBR often means a lot of extra work for the professor. You have to go to community meetings. You have to shift gears at the last minute when something goes wrong. You have to take responsibility for your research as actually mattering, perhaps for the first time in your career. Those without tenure also face the uncertainty that their work will be treated as "service" rather than as teaching or research, and consequently discounted.

But for the brave professor, CBR offers the chance to do something that matters, and to develop true education skills that invite rather than force learning. There are increasing publication opportunities. The results do show up on positive student evaluations. And for many faculty, who are near brain dead from a lifetime of reading and hearing lectures from themselves and their colleagues that long ago lost any sense of urgency or relevance, CBR recharges their career. It particularly helps us faculty reconnect with our students--even those of us who are good in the classroom. And for those of us long paralyzed by the inability to learn our students' names, CBR offers an antidote. One faculty member admits that, like many of us, "It takes me a long time to learn students' names. Those on the [CBR] projects I learn right away." For another,

"The experience last semester kept me excited and inspired. It's so wonderful to feel like you can use the classroom as an instrument of social change. Your idealism about becoming a professor is supposedly about combining scholarship with advocacy and that the university is supposed to embrace that and you're supposed to have time to do that. This is ideally how you envision your life as a professor when you're a graduate student. I have all intentions of continuing that..."
While CBR may be maligned by those academics who erroneously see it as "applied" rather than "intellectual," it in fact appeals to the most intellectual among us who entered academia searching for meaning. Tal Stanley graduated from seminary at Emory University, and became a pastor serving four churches in the area. Increasingly aware of a different calling, he entered a graduate program in American Studies back at Emory. While going through old boxes at his grandmother's house he found photos, letters, clippings, receipts, and other stuff going back five generations. It became his dissertation and led him to explore the economic struggles and political activism of the people of the region around coal. When the Appalachian Center job opened at Emory & Henry it seemed the perfect opportunity to become part of the tradition he'd studied and return to the career of service he had before graduate school.

Many faculty come to CBR through circuitous career paths that take them through the real world for significant stretches of time. A psychologist had grown a mental health clinic from 2,500 to 10,000 patients when he decided to take a faculty job at an institution with a strong CBR program. Patrick Donohue, the Director of the Middlesex County College Community Research Center, spent years in the government social service sector before he decided to take a non-tenure track teaching job at the college. He gradually not only turned it into a tenured position for himself, but also built a CBR program through it.

A strong CBR program can even be a way to attract quality faculty. Another psychologist was in clinical practice for a decade before taking a faculty position emphasizing CBR. Liz Altieri, at Emory & Henry College, worked for several years during the early stages of her career with the Center on Human Policy at Syracuse University, a policy and research center devoted to the community integration of people with disabilities. This experience "shaped me into believing my work should be for social change." When she moved to southwest Virginia, she took a job as director of a children's museum where she had service learning students from Radford University and served on the service learning advisory board. When she applied for a faculty opening at Emory & Henry, it was partly because of the college's commitment to service learning and the growing presence of the Appalachian Center for Community Service.

Faculty without this intensive real world background can also excel at this kind of work. But many of them also feel very challenged to give up control over both their classroom and their research. They still want to define the questions for the community, outline the research for them, and often even do it for them. It is for these faculty that CBR centers become so important--bringing in speakers, offering training, doing troubleshooting when things go awry. Emory & Henry College has a regular lunch meeting for its CBR and service learning faculty. Their conversations are quite spirited, covering everything from how to help students get the most out of the experience to deeply intellectual questions of the long term political consequences of employing different research models.

Perhaps most importantly, as faculty become involved in CBR, we begin to combat the anti-intellectualism of our age, and the deserved reputation that we see ourselves above "normal people." When we get out there, talk like regular people, and respect the intellectual skills of those working on the ground in oppressed communities everywhere, we create a new impression of ourselves.  And it is a much more favorable impression than we are used to. At a 1999 conference, listening to academics discuss the challenges and rewards of CBR, one community organization representative noted "It's great to be among a group of professors this excited about volunteering. It's like you're students."

For Community
Perhaps the most neglected challenge of community-based research is the burden it places on community organizations and community members. Faculty do it as part of their job, students do is for course credit. Community members do it out of the goodness of their hearts and their commitment to the cause. But they are often doing it above and beyond their normal work, with no extra resources to support it. Yes, it would seem like all that research help would be welcomed with open arms. But often what we offer are things the community group would have done without if we hadn't been there. For them to get involved in a research project, especially one where their participation is required, requires that they find extra time, extra energy, and sometimes even extra office space. They are justifiably skeptical of us. Many organizations directors know that "When you run a community agency, everyone wants to give you everything but what you need."

As such, an increasing number of community organizations have become pretty savvy to the ways of local higher education institutions, and their employed faculty. Those groups have a bottom line standard that all approaching academics must meet: Paula Toynton, of the Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, says:

"We've turned down research because of the way they [academics] want to do it...Our first responsibility is to our service population. Our rules are that one, if it will help, do it; two, if it will neither help nor hurt, do it only if we have time; three, if it will harm, don't do it."
Others test academics. The first time I offered to help a community group, back in the mid-1980s, they made me clean a storeroom. And I must admit, it was only because the storeroom was filled with great "data" that I followed through. There are yet others who jump in with both feet and learn lessons that they and the rest of us can benefit from.  After working with Denver University on the after-school evaluation project, Piton Foundation Research Officer Terri Bailey (2001) reflected to her academic partner that:
"I thought your work was outstanding in the following ways: 1) designing and commiting an entire graduate level course to this joint venture, 2) recruiting and training high school students, 3) managing the data collection process, 4) producing high quality data that was exactly what I needed. Where you fell down was at seeing the project through the analysis and report writing.... Were we to work together again, I would want to make sure you had the resources and commitment to see the project through to a mutually agreed upon conclusion but I wouldn't hesitate a moment about trusting you with the data collection."
There are still many organizations, however, who shy away from such partnerships because they do not yet have a way of evaluating the potential costs and benefits. These organizations are often looking for entry level assistance in thinking through a potential project, and clear concrete information on what the institution can provide: "We need something like a form to fill out and help clarify what we are thinking and what is possible. If the classes could provide agencies with a research outline that would help." For those organizations, the University of Michigan Center website (http://www.umich.edu/%7Emserve/ucomm/brochures8b.html) lists a set of questions that community organizations should ask before entering into a partnership, including issues of who plays what roles in the partnership, how grant money is divided, who controls the information, how the project is scheduled, and many others.

For the brave community, CBR offers a chance to finally have a strong information base from which to plan and act. Because it's risky business, however, community groups everywhere are trying to find ways of evaluating the potential of a partnership. For many, it's personal, as Fleeta Bulle of Amandla Crossing Transitional Housing program describes how she got involved with Middlesex County College. "What connected me with Pat Donohue was his passion for what he was doing....I connected with him before I connected with the idea [of CBR]." And sensitive faculty such as Patrick Donohue, who understand the community perspective, can help build trust by helping community organization members understand the institution's role, as Paula Toynton of the Hyacinth AIDS Foundation illustrates:

"Pat [Donohue] was able to help us see how these projects serve the learning needs of the student and the goals of the agency. Pat gets that. If they don't get what the community needs are it won't work."
Of course, the major question, and the one for which we have the poorest answers, is whether CBR really helps. Those concerns came originally from the service learning model, a teacher-driven, student-focused model where "the community" was seen as a needy recipient rather than a true partner. Those practicing CBR have attempted to develop a model emphasizing the community's role in project development and an action component as an outcome. We are still desperately lacking in research on the long-term consequences of CBR projects for community action, community empowerment, and real social change. But we do have some anecdotal information from these projects. One of the most interesting reports comes from the Georgetown University Youth Action Research Group project, partnering college students with high school students doing research in their neighborhood. Not only has the community been impacted through the development of a tenant's association whose development and impact can be followed, but the youth themselves have been seriously impacted:
"The impact of participating in YARG has been powerful on the youths, as evidenced by their testimony, their active engagement in community action, their improved academic and social skills, and their commitment to higher education and future community involvement. Of the six graduating seniors this past year in YARG, all six will be attending college next year. All six have pledged to start up or get involved in YARG-like groups at their college and two will be Bonner Scholars at Antioch College." (Marullo, 2000)
In the end, it is very easy to do this wrong, and our community members know it. But when we do it right, they also recognize it. One community teacher that the local university approached about doing a CBR project at first:
"...dreaded it. I thought, here's another program from outside coming in to get our kids to do something on their agenda. I've had so many annoying experiences with groups who aren't interested in the kids but in their own needs. I didn't want to get involved and didn't intentionally get involved. I'm here because I'm seeing there's such a great payoff. It's been great. I had really low expectations, but now I'm glad I'm involved."
And when we speak about community outcomes, we are really invoking a complicated set of questions. There are the outcomes of the action that the research supports--changing a law, getting a toxic stream cleaned up, reviving a neighborhood economy. There are also the outcomes for community relationships--the organizations and relationships that are built through the research process. And there are the outcomes for individual community members who may become more confident public speakers, more strategic activists, more skilled writers, more informed thinkers. The most effective CBR programs understand the importance of those diverse goals.
"At CARA, we work with local partners to determine what they want to know and design the research instruments. We train local people to moderate listening sessions and conduct interviews. After the data are gathered, we meet with the researchers to pull their findings together. Finally, we work with people to create slide presentations (PowerPoint) which contain data from both the listening sessions and secondary sources. We have local people (not academics or other professionals) present the information in meetings, where community groups use the data to decide what actions to take. In this manner we empower local people to do more and more of their own research. They rely upon us less and less, but trust us more and more as colleagues and equal partners." (Plaut interview)
In the end, however, as we focus on community concerns, community goals, and community outcomes, there may be a larger long term goal. For the purpose of CBR is not to "help" poor communities, but to change the balance of power both politically and in terms of knowledge production. CBR is about building a new culture around new more inclusive answers to the questions of who has knowledge, whose knowledge counts, and how to use knowledge in building a just society.


1This title is suggested to me through a conversation with Bobby Hackett, Vice President of the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation, who is always on the lookout for the next new thing, but always sees it as a development and extension of the previous thing. Sincere thanks to Hank Dobin, Patrick Donohue, Steve Fisher, Thomas Plaut and Chris Roose for detailed comments on earlier drafts.

2This research was conducted using a participatory process. The main research questions were developed at a meeting of the participating schools in Atlanta in 1999. Participants reviewed all descriptions and quotes used in this paper. Directors and staff of the centers studied in this project reviewed and revised the descriptions of their centers. Only those giving permission to publish their identify, after reviewing earlier drafts, are listed in the Interviews section.


Liz Altieri, Emory & Henry College Professor.

Fleeta Bulle, Amandla Crossing Transitional Housing Services staffperson.

Barry Checkoway, University of Michigan Professor and Director of Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning

Nick Cutforth, Denver University professor.

Ron Diss, Emory & Henry College Professor.

Hank Dobin, Associate Dean of the College, Princeton University.

Angela Dolezal, Mars Hill College student.

Patrick Donohue, Middlesex County College Professor and director of Community Research Center.

Stan Dotson, Mars Hill College professor and director of Lifeworks Center.

Steve Fisher, Emory & Henry College Professor and director of the Appalachian Center for Community Service.

Benita Johnson, Emory & Henry College student.

Emily Makinson, Mars Hill College student.

Lisa Mizrahi-Kaado, Middlesex County College student.

Thomas Plaut, Mars Hill College professor and director of Center for Assessment and Research Alliances.

Michael Portney, Denver University student.

Paula Toynton, Hyacinth AIDS Foundation.

Scott Pryor, Guilford College student.

Chris Roose, Guilford College student.

Amy Smialowicz, Mars Hill College student.

Tal Stanley, Volunteer Service Coordinator and Director of the Bonner Scholars Program the the Appalachian Center for Community Service.

Kerry Strand, Hood College professor and director of Center for Community Research.

Kim Verini, Middlesex County College student.

Lori Wollerman, Hood College professor.


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