Tinkler:  Establishing a Conceptual Model      COMM-ORG Papers 2004 http://comm-org.wisc.edu/papers.htm

Contents | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Notes & References | Appendices

Chapter 1: Introduction

Traditionally, there has been a divide between academic research and the needs of communities beset by poverty.  Researchers generally carry out research agendas that are influenced by academic disciplines (Ansley & Gaventa, 1997; Greenwood & Levin, 2000) or established within university departments (Checkoway, 2001).  Researchers who pursue an agenda that is determined by academic disciplines seek to fill in gaps in the knowledge base to further that particular field of research.  As a result, much of the research that is produced is only of interest to a select few within a discipline and rarely of interest to those outside of higher education and the academic arena (Sclove, Scammell, & Holland, 1998).  As Robinson (2000) points out, "Too much academic research is focused on advancing knowledge within the discipline itself, and too little is focused on advancing 'social knowledge,' or on how to find practical solutions to social problems" (Introduction section, para. 2).  Nyden, Figert, Shibley, and Burrows (1997) introduce the idea of "opposing orientations to research" (p. 3), specifically research that is designed for empowerment versus research that is created to further an academic discipline. These opposing orientations have created a gap between academics and community leaders who otherwise may work together. 

In 1988, faculty and students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign took on a project that involved architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning working together to revitalize East St. Louis (Reardon, 1995). Two years later, the project team conducted 40 interviews with community leaders in East St. Louis to determine the impact of the project.  Responses to the interviews include: "The last damn thing we need is another academic study telling us what any sixth grader in town already knows.  Hell, just send us the money and we will take care of our own problems"; "There's not a single improvement that has been made in East St. Louis that came from the efforts of one of these university consultants" (Reardon, 1995, p. 49).  These attitudes were partially a response to past experiences that community leaders had with researchers who ignored the knowledge of local residents and business people in relation to the community.  Community members also questioned the researchers' commitment to working with the community to carry out proposals the researchers recommended.  Finally, the community viewed the researchers as "carpetbaggers" using the community's problems to justify research grants that did not in turn help the community.  Based on the insights gleaned from these interviews, the faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reorganized their efforts into a participatory research process in which the community became a partner in research, planning, and decision making.  The project has since received numerous awards for its achievements in grassroots community development efforts (Reardon, 1995).  This effort is an example of how the gap between university researchers and communities can be overcome to affect change.

Though some researchers conducting traditional academic research believe that the information they produce will lead to change, generally change is only incremental (Greenwood & Levin, 2000), and it may not be change that benefits underserved communities.  As Stoecker (2002a) says, "Being truly useful, and part of real social change, is something too few of us academics get to experience on a regular basis" (p. 2).  The resulting disconnect occurs when researchers write studies in inaccessible "academic" language, publish these studies in obscure journals (Sclove, Scammell, & Holland, 1998), and then expect those who need the information to find the information and utilize it.  Porpora (1999) calls this "trickle down academics" (p. 123); the idea that knowledge and research will eventually make its way down to the people who need it.  Porpora argues that higher education needs to move away from the "production of knowledge that serves society's elites and more toward the production of knowledge that might serve the downtrodden" (p. 122).  Nyden et al. (1997) see collaborative, community-based research as a way to "provide a bridge between the more obscure parts of academic research and the practical questions under study" (p. 7), otherwise the research that academics create, which in fact can be relevant to dealing with social problems, may never be utilized and will "continue to gather dust on library shelves, read only by a few graduate students collecting more references for their dissertation bibliographies" (Nyden et al., 1997, p. 7).

Some researchers make the assumption that good research will lead to enhanced practice for everyone, including the underserved and disenfranchised; yet, it is up to those who need to improve their practice to seek out research findings and determine how to apply these findings (Whyte, 1991).  Though researchers generally have good intentions, the reality is that traditional academic research brings about change slowly, if at all.  In order for research to affect change within communities, there needs to be a mechanism to connect research to action (Whyte, 1991).  By creating a closer link between research and action, research can have a greater impact on local communities.

Community-based research establishes this link between research and action, since the purpose of community-based research focuses not on developing knowledge within a discipline but on creating knowledge that "contributes to making a concrete and constructive difference in the world" (Sclove, 1997, p. 542).  In order for community-based research to truly become part of the agenda of higher education, particularly the research agenda, academics need to broaden traditional ideas of research and knowledge (Willms, 1997).  As Willms says, "Research should be understood as a process of rediscovering and recreating personal and social realities" (p. 7).  Therefore, research is not just about creating knowledge for the purpose of expanding academic disciplines but also about allowing individuals to understand their own realities.  Though traditional academic research may allow for academicians to pursue this kind of intellectual endeavor, community-based research creates opportunities for marginalized individuals to better understand their own realities and seek to recreate those realities in ways that will benefit them. 

The Response of Higher Education

In order to address the disconnect that exists between academic institutions and the communities in which they reside, many institutions of higher education are gradually becoming more involved with their communities (Maurrasse, 2001; Stoecker, 2001; Strand, Marullo, Cutforth, Stoecker, & Donohue, 2003a; Ward, 2003).  As Maurrasse (2001) says, "A movement is emerging" (p. 1).  This movement is primarily driven by three factors (Strand, Marullo, Cutforth, Stoecker, & Donohue, 2003b): criticism of higher education in relation to insensitivity to solving social problems in surrounding communities, the "perception that the intellectual work of the professorate is unnecessarily narrow and largely irrelevant to societal concerns" (p. 5), and the concern that students are not prepared to participate in civic life because they are not engaged with the community or with learning. 

A number of universities have begun implementing service-learning programs or other service related activities to address these concerns (Chopyak & Levesque, 2002; Stanton, Giles, & Cruz, 1999).  Though service-learning has the potential to provide resources to the community, its goal is typically service, not change (Stoecker, 2001; Strand et al., 2003a).  In fact, some critical theorists have expressed concern that the service-learning paradigm can be oppressive to those being served and may actually reify the status quo (Maybach, 1996).  Robinson (2000) has gone as far as describing service-learning as "a glorified welfare system" (Service Learning as Charity section, para. 2).  Though this seems a harsh criticism of service-learning, the reality is that service-learning programs, though they may impact students in positive ways, generally do not provide sustainable change for communities (Maybach, 1996).

Marullo and Edwards (2000) have delineated two strands of service-learning: charity service-learning and service-learning for social justice.  They point out that some service-learning activities are really charity, which can be helpful, but they are "moral rather than political acts" (p. 900) that are not change oriented.  While Marullo and Edwards do not wish to belittle the value of charity work, they do feel that service-learning should move from a focus on charity to a focus on social justice and social change.

One way that institutions of higher education can provide assistance to communities in ways that have the potential to create sustainable change is through community-based research.  Strand et al. (2003a) have defined community-based research, or CBR, as "a partnership of students, faculty, and community members who collaboratively engage in research with the purpose of solving a pressing community problem or effecting social change" (p. 3).  According to Stoecker (2003), CBR combines the strategies of action research and service-learning.  Stoecker says, "CBR is designed to combine community empowerment with student development, to integrate teaching with research and service, and to combine social change with civic engagement" (p. 35).  Community-based research, which has its roots in other forms of participatory research (Stoecker, 2001), may provide the opportunity for academic institutions to become true partners with communities in creating and sustaining change.  Chopyak and Levesque (2002) point out that community-based collaborative efforts have increased within the last thirty years.  And, as Stoecker (2003) indicates, there is growing interest for the newly emerging model of community-based research that is described by Strand, Marullo, Cutforth, Stoecker, and Donohue (2003a) in Community-Based Research and Higher Education: Principles and Practices.

Strand et al. (2003a) have outlined three guiding principles for community-based research: 1) collaboration, 2) validation of the knowledge of community members and the multiple ways of collecting and distributing information, and 3) "social action and social change for the purpose of achieving social justice" (p. 8).  Since community-based research is a collaborative process that validates the knowledge that community members bring (Strand et al., 2003a), the process allows community members to assist in defining problems and determining solutions that are acceptable to them (Stringer, 1999).  This process is inherently democratic and allows for the co-creation of knowledge (Greenwood & Levin, 1998).  Unlike other kinds of research, with community-based research, the researcher continues to be a part of the process as solutions are enacted in order to assist in facilitating change (Greenwood & Levin, 1998).  As Sclove et al. (1998) point out, "Community-based research is not only usable, it is generally used and, more than that, used to good effect" (p. 67). 

When considering the three principles of community-based research, Stoecker (2003) sees some variation in the ways these three constructs can be defined, either conservatively or radically.  In relation to the construct of collaboration, Stoecker says, "In its most basic sense, 'collaboration' means that researchers and community members should jointly define the research question, choose the research methods, do the research, analyze the data, construct the report, and use the research for social action"  (p. 36).  Strand et al. (2003a) agree that "ideally, CBR is fully collaborative, with those in the community working with academics-professors and students-at every stage of the research process" (p. 10).  Looking at collaboration more conservatively, at the minimum collaboration means "obtaining approval for a researcher-defined project" (Stoecker, 2003, p. 36).  Stoecker points out that defining collaboration in a radical way means "placing researcher resources in the hands of grass-roots community members to control, thereby reversing the usual power relationship between the researcher and the researched" (p. 36).  Thus this radical construct of collaboration challenges existing power structures in which the community (most often an underserved and disenfranchised entity) is usually the object of others' research, rather than controlling the research from the inception of the research topic to the action that results from the findings. 

When considering validation of knowledge, a conservative characterization of this construct would be limited to incorporating community members' knowledge as data (Stoecker, 2003).  Viewed more radically it would mean "using community understandings of social issues to define the project and the theories used in it, undermining the power structure that currently places control of knowledge production in the hands of credentialized experts" (Stoecker, 2003, p. 36).  Finally, Stoecker also distinguishes both conservative and radical constructs in relation to social change-conservatively change could mean "restructuring an organization or creating a new program" (p. 36) while radically change would mean "massive structural changes in the distribution of power and resources through far-reaching changes in governmental policy, economic practices, or cultural norms" (p. 36).  Though Stoecker positions CBR practices as conservative or radical, he is reluctant to create a narrow definition of CBR, as "[a] definition too narrow would exclude too many" (p. 36).

Though there is increasing interest in community-based research, there has been some criticism of these types of research methodologies from members of the academic community.  Kemmis and McTaggart (2000) point out that some critics have made the charge that community-based or participatory research confuses "social activism and community development with research" (p. 568).  These critics believe that the traditional academic status quo should be maintained.  Creswell (2002) mentions that other critics argue that community-based or participatory research is too informal; as a result, the research design may be altered according to the wishes of community partners.  There is concern that because of these fluctuations the method is not scientific or rigorous enough.  However, as Greenwood and Levin (1998) point out, the fact that community partners play such an integral role in the decision making process leads to more applicable research results for the community. 

Some of the criticism of community-based and participatory research may stem from the fact that many researchers in academic settings have not had experience with this kind of research.  Since community-based research has been used across disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, communications, and education, the methodology is not specific to one discipline (Greenwood & Levin, 1998).  Though community-based research can be useful in many academic fields, the goals and ideals of community-based research could have a significant impact on the field of educational research in helping to seek solutions to the problems plaguing schools today.  In fact, Verbeke and Richards (2001) believe that "[c]ollaboration between schools and universities may be the best hope for education reform" (Conclusion section, para. 5), as many educational reform movements are typically unsuccessful. 

Educational researchers should collaborate with K-12 schools and with other youth and educationally oriented institutions.  As academics become more knowledgeable about and comfortable with community-based research, they will be more willing to embrace it in their own work.  Studies that elucidate the process of working on community-based research projects will be useful in encouraging institutions, faculty members, and graduate students to pursue community-based research.  An increase in the use of community-based research could provide unanticipated benefits to institutions and would be particularly beneficial to the communities who partner with academic institutions.  

Purpose Statement

When considering the research that has been carried out in relation to community-based or participatory methods of research, there have been some important case studies that have been conducted that add insight into the process.  In relation to participatory research, there have been case studies of the experience of individuals carrying out this kind of work (Kneifel, 2000; Maguire, 1993).  The case studies conducted by Kneifel (2000) and Maguire (1993), both doctoral students, are process studies of carrying out participatory research; the studies explore what is learned from that experience.  Other case studies have been conducted that focus on collaboration between universities and communities (Benson, Harkavy, & Puckett,1996; Reardon, 1995; Santelli, Singer, & DiVenere, 1998; Savan & Sider, 2003).  These studies tend to emphasize the research that was conducted and carried out rather than the process of the collaboration.  As has been mentioned, Reardon (1995) has provided a case study of a long-term participatory action research project between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and East St. Louis; the case study explores different approaches to participatory research and what has been most effective in working with East St. Louis.  Benson, Harkavy and Puckett (1996) have produced a case study describing a participatory action research project between the University of Pennsylvania and the community of West Philadelphia aimed at neighborhood and school revitalization, and there are many other case studies that seek to illuminate the field of community-based work (Chataway, 1997; Nyden et al., 1997; Wallerstein,1999)

Though there have been case studies exploring the process of implementing other kinds of participatory research (Kneifel, 2000; Maguire, 1993), there has not been an extensive study written about the researcher's perspective of the experience of participating in a long term community-based research project based on the new model of community-based research that has been provided by Strand et al. (2003a).  The literature points to the need for additional case study work to inform the field of community-based research.  Israel, Schulz, Parker, and Becker (1998) argue for "in-depth, multiple case study evaluations of the content and processes (as well as outcomes) of community-based research endeavours" (p. 194).  Wallerstein (1999) says, "Although there has been an upsurge of interest in community-based research and its methodologic problems, there has been little written about the problematic relationships between communities and evaluators/researchers" (p. 40). 

The purpose of the following contrasting case studies (presented in chapters four and five) is to explore the process of collaboration on community-based research projects through my partnership with a non-profit, educationally oriented organization in a western city and through my partnership with various members of the community in a small, western, mountain town who work with the immigrant population.  My study adds to the field of community-based research methodology by exploring the process and outcomes of conducting community-based research. 

Research Questions

The overarching question the study addresses is-what is the process of collaborating with a community partner on a community-based research project?  Additionally, the study looks at four sub-questions:

What kinds of issues arise when collaborating on a community-based research project?

What facilitates or hinders the process of collaboration?

What does the researcher gain through this collaborative process, and what are the benefits for the community?

What can we learn from these experiences to inform the field of community-based research?

This study explores these questions by offering comparisons between two community-based research projects, one which was effective and one which was less effective.  I label a project as an effective community-based research project based on four factors: the opportunity to work closely with the community dealing directly with the issues, the ability to develop an effective collaborative relationship with my community partners, the inclusion of the community in creating knowledge throughout the research process, and the creation of change or the potential for change.  Through the comparison of these cases, this study provides insight into the difficulties and delights that come with using this research methodology. 

This introductory chapter began with an exploration of the disconnect between academic researchers and the community and has introduced newly emerging methodologies to address this disconnect.  The next chapter elaborates on the research traditions and philosophies that have joined to create community-based research.  Chapter two also discusses the traditions of research and service within higher education and defines many of the constructs that are integral to understanding and carrying out CBR.  Chapter three provides a description of the methodology chosen for this study, case study design, as well as providing details on the methodology of community-based research, the participants of the study, data collection and data analysis, and validity procedures.  Chapters four, five and six present the findings of the study.  Chapters four and five present the within-case descriptions and data analysis for each individual case, while chapter six presents the cross-case analysis and major findings of the study. 

Contents | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Notes & References | Appendices