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 4: The Coalition for Schools

In order to develop an understanding of the process of conducting community-based research, this chapter provides a chronological overview of my collaboration with the Coalition for Schools.  This overview details the main events that occurred during the collaboration and includes a description of the research that was conducted.  Following the overview is the within-case analysis of this particular case structured around the four themes of my analytic framework. 

Case Description

The library at East Middle School became crowded as more and more parents packed into the room.  Looking around there must have been at least 70 to 90 parents, most of them Latino and some African-American.  There was palpable energy and excitement as the meeting began.  At the front of the room was a table with people who worked in various social service and governmental agencies in the city, including: the principal of East, the city council woman for that district, a representative from the police department, and the director of security for the school district.  A parent came up to the microphone and began speaking in Spanish.  A translator interpreted her comments.  The parent stated that the parents of East students were concerned about safety at the school.  She asked, "When can we receive a copy of the safety plan for East?"  The principal responded that the school had created a discipline committee to address staff and student expectations and school rules, and they would work to develop a plan.  Another parent came to the microphone, an African American woman.  She stated that parents would like to have a monthly incident report that measures school safety and that parents would like to meet with the principal each month to discuss safety and discipline.  The principal agreed.  Another Spanish speaking parent then came up and addressed various people at the table.  Each person was asked what he or she would do to help the situation.  When the head of security for the school district responded that he would try to have more security coverage at East in the mornings and in the afternoon, the woman responded, "Is that a yes or no to our question?"  As each member at the table agreed to various support endeavors, the parent at the microphone would reply, "We will hold you accountable for your promises."

I was excited as I left this meeting on December 5, 2002.  I had been working with the Coalition for Schools for two weeks, and the organization that had set up this meeting at East, Parents Supporting Education (PSE), was one of the member organizations of the Coalition.  I was energized about working with an organization that had grassroots connections like PSE.  Though I had been feeling some uncertainty about my decision to work with the Coalition, the meeting at East put some of my unease to rest.  

The Coalition for Schools was created in the fall of 2001.  According to interviews with Coalition members, the initial mission of the organization was to align the efforts and funding streams of organizations that were working in that area of the city in order to support the feeder pattern that flows into the three small high schools in that quadrant.  This includes five elementary schools, two middle schools, and the three small high schools housed on one campus.  Todd Jones, the executive director of a local foundation, was the initial leader of the movement and promised substantial funding from his foundation.  However, as the Coalition continued to take shape in the spring of 2002, the school district started to promote its own plans to support improved academic achievement, including a literacy plan developed by a local literacy specialist.  Business and Schools United (BSU) decided to support this initiative, but Todd Jones and other significant funders felt that the school district did not want the Coalition to have their own agenda.  At this point, Mr. Jones withdrew the majority of the financial support for the Coalition.  Lisa Brown was hired during this transition period and led the process of redefining the Coalition based on its reduced funding.

After the foundation withdrew its support for the Coalition, BSU became the lead organization of the Coalition, and the Coalition for Schools is housed within BSU.  Based on interviews that I conducted with teachers, principals, parents, and Coalition members as part of my CBR work with the Coalition, I found that most people recognized the close association between the two organizations.  BSU is an association with members from education, business, and the community that serves over 100 schools and is nationally known for its work and publications in the field of literacy. 

Lisa Brown has a Master of Divinity degree from an ivy-league university.  She lives in the area of the city that is supported by the Coalition, and her two children attend schools in the school district.  Marge Bowline is the president of BSU and also the co-chair of the Coalition.  The other co-chair is Rosanna Ibanez.  Rosanna has strong ties to the community in that part of the city; however, I did not work closely with Rosanna in my work with the Coalition.

There were also two professors that played an important role in my collaboration with the Coalition for Schools.  My advisor, Dr. Graham Darby, is the professor who is in charge of community-based research at my university.  I became involved in this work after taking a course with Dr. Darby in the first year of my doctoral program.  Dr. Don Green works closely with Dr. Darby in assisting with CBR projects at the university.  He teaches courses in CBR and also works with a foundation that supports reform initiatives in schools in the city.  I had worked with both Dr. Darby and Dr. Green on previous CBR projects before starting my work with the Coalition.

When I began my work with the Coalition, the Coalition had developed two goals and six areas of reform.  The two goals include: 1) improvement of academic performance in literacy and math, and 2) community ownership of the success of students and the schools.  In order to achieve these goals, the Coalition has six reform areas on which to focus.  The reform areas include: 1) teacher recruitment and retention, 2) teacher professional development, 3) principal leadership, 4) curriculum and assessment, 5) community and parent involvement, and 6) early childhood education.  The governing body of the organization is the executive committee which is comprised of a small group representing various organizations and perspectives within the Coalition.  In my experience working with the Coalition, most decisions were made by Marge Bowline and Lisa Brown with consideration of the input from the executive committee. 

The Coalition has also created various action teams that are devoted to particular issues or areas of interest, including early childhood education and after-school programming.  There are many members of the Coalition general assembly that attend the open invitation general assembly meetings.  These include non-profit organizations, foundations, parent organizations, universities and colleges, and the school district.  Thus, the structure of the Coalition is complex.  Several of the individuals I interviewed during my work with the Coalition expressed confusion over the structure of the Coalition and the decision making process.  One attendee of the general assembly meeting in January, 2003 stated on the evaluation form, "It would be helpful to have a visual aid-an understanding of how all groups are related and who is in charge of what." 

In the fall of 2002, I was originally working with a principal, in one of the middle schools in the Coalition, to carry out CBR work that I would study for my dissertation.  When the principal was removed from her position in October, I had to find another site to complete my dissertation research.  I wanted to work with a school or with an organization that worked in the field of education.  I was considering several possibilities when Dr. Don Green brought up the possibility of working with the Coalition.  He had met with Marge Bowline and she had asked for his help in using data to forward the work of the Coalition.  Since Don was currently committed to other projects, he asked if I would be interested in working with the Coalition.  I jumped at the chance.  I was familiar with BSU and some of the work they had done around the city, and I was excited about the possibility of working with such a reputable organization. 

Don met with Marge to discuss my involvement, and we decided to set up a meeting.  Don sent an email on October 24, 2002 and requested that we all meet, but because of Marge's busy schedule, we were not able to set up the meeting until November 21.  I was concerned that if I met with Marge and Lisa and things did not work out, it would be difficult to find a school to work with that far into the school year.  Don sent Marge an email detailing his role and my role in the process and essentially asked her to commit to the project before we met; she agreed. 

On November 21, 2002, Dr. Green, Dr. Darby, and I went to the BSU offices close to downtown to meet with Lisa and Marge.  I was apprehensive as we walked into the old red brick building.  I had heard so many good things about BSU that I was feeling a little intimidated.  Marge and Lisa met with us in the conference room.  My advisor, Graham, and I talked about community-based research and the needs of my dissertation.  Lisa and Marge both said they understood what I would be doing and felt comfortable participating.  Then Marge discussed what they were needing in relation to the work that I would conduct with them.  She said, "We need data on what is happening in the schools in [this part of the city] to provide a current picture so that we know what is getting better and what is not."  She also discussed the idea of what she called community indicators.  She wanted to select a group of indicators that are of particular interest to the community and provide regular reports of these data to the community so that the community would begin to push for change.  Since this was a large project, they wanted to hire a data person who would work part-time.  I agreed to devote around 16 hours a week to them (no more than 20 hours) and in return I would be compensated. 

After we left the meeting, I felt a little unsure about what had happened.  Though Marge did have the option to say that she did not want to hire me, I felt like they were sort of cornered into accepting me for the position.  I was also unsure of whether or not I could provide the work they wanted me to provide.  Though I was not completely clear as to what my work with them would entail, it already seemed daunting.  I asked Graham and Don as we left, "Do you think I can do this?"  They both assured me that they had confidence that I could do the work.  The next couple of weeks involved a flurry of meetings.  I attended the Coalition executive committee meeting the next morning, a meeting with Lisa on November 25, a meeting with one of the member organizations of the Coalition who was working with the three high schools, and finally the parent's meeting sponsored by PSE at East Middle School on December 5.  This fast pace was simultaneously exciting and overwhelming.

When I met with Lisa on November 25, she discussed some of the work that Coalition members were carrying out in the schools in that part of the city.  She asked me, "Will it be possible to measure the impact the [Coalition] is having?," realizing that the work of member organizations may not be attributable to the Coalition.  She asked me to look at some data they had that had been collected by a previous venture of BSU that had been unsuccessful as well as a power-point presentation put together by the Education Trust that illustrated what they were wanting as an end product.  I looked through the information and did not really know what to make of it.  There were reports produced by the Rand Corporation, Education Trust, and a data team working with the previous initiative.  I began to wonder if they expected me to be able to produce work that a team of people working full-time would create.  I felt overwhelmed and did not know where to start. 

In the initial stages of CBR work, the researcher usually works closely with the community partner to determine the research question for the project (Strand, Marullo, Cutforth, Stoecker, & Donohue, 2003a).  In my previous experiences conducting CBR, some of this initial exploration of issues and questions had already been done by the professor of the course.  I made the mistake of not realizing how important it was to focus on this first stage before continuing on with data collection.  The reform areas of the Coalition were so comprehensive that I did not know where to focus.  In previous experiences when I have felt overwhelmed, my instinct is to jump in and get started and then things typically fall into place.  This time I decided to do the same.  Instead of pushing for discourse around the data, I started to pull together a list of data that were easily accessible and that might have some relevance for each of the reform areas, as well as additional data that could be collected to inform the Coalition about a particular strategy area.  Based on the information Lisa had directed me to from the previous initiative and information I found on the web through the school district, a foundation, and the state department of education, I developed a list that I titled "Data Points for [the Coalition for Schools]."  This list included demographic data for each school, assessment data, and a number of other measures such as average attendance, dropout rates, teacher data, and other information.  I also included more time intensive data, both quantitative and qualitative, that the Coalition might decide to pursue (see Appendix C).  I saw the list as a starting for a discussion of possible ideas for data collection.  Instead, what I did not realize was that the focus of my work would become collecting and putting together the accessible statistical data that were on the list.   

When I met with Lisa and Marge on December 6, 2002, and showed them the list, Marge said, "You've already earned your keep with this."  She was obviously pleased.  Instead of selecting items from the list that they thought would be useful to pursue, they instead added items to the list.  Marge asked me to collect the available statistical data and put them together on spreadsheets that they could give out, along with the list of data points, at the executive committee meeting on December 17.  Marge again broached the idea of community indicators and thought that some of the data from the list could be used for this.  She thought it would be interesting to select a few indicators for which we could collect data each month to distribute to the community, as well as indicators that would be reported yearly.  She asked if I could develop a list of potential monthly indicators for the general assembly meeting in December and also put together some data to present.  Marge thought it would be compelling if we compared data from the Coalition schools to another higher performing feeder pattern in the school district.  So, not only would I be putting together statistical data for the 10 schools in the Coalition but also at least three additional comparison schools, and I had less than 10 days to do it.  As I left the meeting, I was concerned that the list of data was now longer and that it already seemed insurmountable to collect all the data. 

On December 16, 2002, the payroll administrator for BSU asked me to email her my hours early since she wanted to get things done before she left for Christmas break.  In that one week, I had worked 33 hours trying to complete the spreadsheets of data for the executive committee meeting.  I had planned to put in only a few hours the following week because of other commitments, so I thought I would still only end up with 35 or 36 hours for the two weeks.  Since I had to turn in the hours early, I sent an email to Lisa and the payroll person explaining that those were the hours for essentially two weeks of work and that it should even out since I would not be working many hours in the coming week.  Lisa emailed back expressing concern over that fact that I had worked more than my allotted hours.  Though I thought my approach was reasonable based on the cumulative hours for two weeks of work, Lisa did not agree.  I was surprised by her reaction and felt frustrated since I had essentially gone without much sleep for a week in order to put together the information they had asked me to complete.  I was led to believe we were going to talk about some of the data at the executive committee meeting, but the committee did not look at the data.  I realized at that point, that my role within the organization was that of an employee. 

During the two-month period from mid-December to mid-February, Dr. Green kept pushing for Lisa and Marge to have some conversations around defining the reform areas and selecting data around these defined goals.  He was concerned that I was collecting data without having a vision that provided meaning for the data.  In meetings and through email he pushed for this discussion, but I do not believe Marge and Lisa understood what he was wanting.  In several meetings I also tried to make this happen, but I had did not have the power or confidence to bring about this kind of conversation.  My relationship with Lisa began to deteriorate, and I began to realize, when I was not included as part of the agenda at the executive committee meeting on December 17, 2002, and at the Coalition general assembly meeting on January 15, 2003, that I would not be allowed access to members of the Coalition to discuss data related issues.  Also, I did not feel confident in asking for this access. 

Lisa began emailing me work lists which directed me toward data they wanted collected, sometimes within one day (e.g. find out how many books each school library has).  There was no discussion around the purpose of the data or whether they would tie into any overall plan.  In emails and meetings with Lisa, I felt that my abilities and work ethic were constantly questioned and that my input was not valued.  I did not share these feelings with Lisa, so it is very likely that she was not aware of this.  My work with the Coalition became primarily about trying to complete the spreadsheets of data (see Appendix C) and collecting various discrete pieces of information that Lisa wanted.  In several meetings I was asked to pursue unrealistic projects that would have required a full-time effort for a period of years, and even then I would have only been able to complete the project for one or maybe two schools.  After attempting to rectify the situation and having no success in trying to improve the process, I decided on February 15, 2003 that I wanted to terminate my participation. 

I told my advisor, Graham, and Don that weekend that I wanted to end my work with the Coalition and we met on Monday, February 18 to discuss the situation.  Don felt that I should continue my work with the Coalition and that he and Graham could reposition my role so that I would have more power over decisions made around data and also be able to gain access to other members of the Coalition.  We would justify this change in roles based on the needs of CBR and the needs of my dissertation.  I reluctantly agreed to continue.  Don sent Marge an email on February 21, 2003 stating that Graham had some concerns in relation to my dissertation.  He stated, "Essentially, he'd like to see Barri design an evaluation plan (in collaboration with [BSU] and other stakeholders, of course) and collect data from [Coalition] stakeholders related to the strategies we talked about in December."  Marge emailed back and agreed to meet. 

When we met at the BSU office on March 4, 2003, the first thing Lisa asked was if I had my work plan.  When I said no, she went back to her computer and printed off an email I had sent with a list of projects I was currently working on and made copies for everyone.  As we progressed through the meeting, Lisa was silent as Marge talked.  Don talked about Graham's expectations for my research and the idea that I would develop an evaluation plan.  He said that the goal would be that my work would shift from a focus on data collection to a focus on design.  Marge's response was that this sounded like "a gift versus an imposition."  She said they needed an evaluation plan to measure progress and asked, "Why didn't you tell us earlier?"  We discussed what the Coalition needed and what the plan would look like.  Don said that we were looking at a consulting model for the data plan and final report, and that we would submit a proposal for the research.  Marge agreed.  At the end of the meeting Lisa asked, "What about these?," referring to my work plan.  I said I would continue to work on the list until I had completed all of those projects.   

From that point forward, my role was supposed to change from that of an employee to that of a participant.  The research proposal included four things: a review of literature on best practices in urban education, a report analyzing the statistical data that I had already collected, an evaluation of what was currently happening with the Coalition based on interviews with various stakeholders, and an evaluation plan to measure the work of the Coalition in the long term.  The review of literature was something they had asked me to do in a previous meeting.  When I completed it, and it was finally reviewed almost a month later, Lisa sent an email to Don on April 4, 2003 critiquing the work and detailing revisions I should make based on recommendations from BSU staff.  After making extensive revisions, I was happy to see a copy of the review on the table of materials at the Coalition general assembly meeting on June 6.  However, I was frustrated to find that it was the first version of the review, not the final draft with the recommended revisions from BSU staff. 

I was reluctant to begin any of the other three areas of the research proposal until the plan was approved.  I sent Marge and Lisa my proposal on March 21, 2003, and it was approved on April 14.  When the proposal was approved on April 14, I began working on the three additional pieces.  I particularly enjoyed the third piece of the proposal that allowed me to interact with teachers, parents, principals, and other members of the executive committee and Coalition general assembly.  I put together a report for the Coalition that described the ways in which the Coalition had already yielded results and suggestions from stakeholders as to how the Coalition could best support their efforts.  I felt like I had provided the Coalition with some useful information.  However, after I sent the report to Lisa and Marge, I never received any feedback in relation to that third report. 

In my effort to change my role, I became excluded from the workings of Coalition.  I was not invited to the executive committee meeting at end of April 2004, where an important discussion occurred in relation to the community indicators.  A principal and the area superintendent for the Coalition schools expressed concern over what they perceived as negative data about the schools being distributed on a monthly basis.  This conversation essentially ended the pursuit of the monthly indicators in which I had invested a considerable amount of time.  As I completed each piece of my research proposal, I continued to receive what I perceived to be negative feedback from Lisa.  I finally fulfilled my commitment to the Coalition when I sent them the long-term evaluation plan on July 15. 

When I contacted Lisa for a follow-up interview almost a year later, when asked if she had any additional comments she said, "Barri did a fine job for us. We have a very broad project and she could have delved into any one of a multitude of statistical arenas regarding high needs, urban, minority, etc. Instead, Barri stuck with the 'Bigger Picture' and brought us some reliable information about all of our subject areas."  I was perplexed.  Had all of the tension and turmoil I experienced during my work with the Coalition been a misunderstanding?  Was Lisa really happy with my work and just did not express it?  What I felt was more likely was that Lisa's subsequent experience with two additional data strategists that were hired after me helped her to realize some of the complexities involved in the research process. When I shared an outline of findings with her, she responded, "Thanks for sharing [these findings].  I feel it is accurate, and that it was a learning experience for all of us and that the experience I had working with you has made life more bearable for our new, full-time data person."  Though it was nice to receive some belated, positive feedback, in the end, I viewed this process of working with the Coalition as one of the more difficult work experiences of my life.

Though this was a difficult experience for me, I did learn several things about myself during this process.  First of all, I learned that when I feel that I am in the role of an employee, I feel that I have less power as a researcher.  Though I do not think that I was trying to force my own agenda on Lisa and Marge, I do feel that I have some expertise to offer that can be useful.  As an employee I felt less confident in sharing this expertise, and I think this lack of confidence impacted Marge and Lisa's view of my expertise.  My status as a graduate student and my socioeconomic background also undermined my confidence in this situation.  I often felt out of place in meetings with Marge and Lisa because they came from different backgrounds than myself.  My lack of confidence, as well as my dislike for conflict, made it difficult for me to speak up about concerns that I had, and it is very likely that Marge and Lisa were not aware of the negative feelings I experienced during this process. 

Within-Case Analysis

The first section of this chapter provided a chronological case description of the major events of the case.  The next section of this chapter provides within-case data analysis structured around the analytic framework of community, collaboration, knowledge creation, and change. 


One of the questions I continued to ask myself as I worked with the Coalition was whether or not I was truly working with the community.  The Coalition would be what Strand et al. (2003a) describe as a mid-level organization and my work with them could be depicted as "doing CBR in the middle" (p. 73).  Though there were grassroots organizations that were part of the Coalition, I did not have access to these organizations as part of my collaboration with the Coalition.  Strand et al. (2003a) point out that doing CBR with a mid-level organization can still be beneficial if the organization demonstrates a "real commitment to their constituent communities.  One indicator of this commitment is that they make ongoing and concerted efforts to be community based" (p. 74).  I often felt confused as to whether the Coalition was really interested in receiving community input.  At times, they made decisions that appeared to seek community input.  For example, at the first executive committee meeting that I attended on November 22, 2002, Lisa said that there were at least two vacancies on the executive committee and they were looking for more grassroots people to involve in the Coalition.  Lisa asked for suggestions from the committee.  She also suggested that they include some teachers on the team. 

Another example that demonstrates that the Coalition actively sought community input was the use of a small grant that they received.  One of the executive committee members, a professor from a local university, wrote a grant for the Coalition that was funded.  In the executive committee planning meeting held on February 3, 2003, the committee decided, based on Lisa's suggestion, to devote the grant money to creating a community team that would help define the work of the Coalition in relation to the community.  This team was made up of teachers, principals, grassroots community people, and university professors. 

Though these examples demonstrate that the Coalition sought out community input, at times I felt that I had to push for this input.  One important example relates to the monthly community indicators that Marge wanted to pursue.  In a meeting with Lisa, Marge, and Rosanna Ibanez (the other co-chair of the Coalition) on December 12, 2002, we discussed the idea of monthly community indicators.  I suggested that we should get input from parents as to which of the data points they would be interested in seeing on a monthly basis.  Rosanna wholeheartedly agreed and Lisa and Marge concurred.  I contacted a representative of Parents Supporting Education (PSE) and gave her a potential list to share with parents.  At the Coalition general assembly meeting on January 15, 2003, Marge decided we should get input from Coalition members on the monthly community indicators.  I created a list and asked general assembly members to choose four items.  After receiving feedback from PSE and tallying the responses from the Coalition meeting, I sent Lisa an email on January 21 detailing the community indicators that parents and the Coalition members had chosen.  I talked through some of the choices based on what I thought each indicator could tell us.  I also recommended that we get input from teachers and principals on the indicators. 

When I met with Lisa on January 24, 2003, we discussed the community indicators and looked at the input from parents and the Coalition members.  There were two common indicators that both had chosen: discipline incidents and attendance.  For the third choice, I suggested trying to collect data on homework completion since it was one of the four indicators that parents selected and was fifth on the list of the Coalition members.  However, Lisa and I agreed that the data collection for this indicator would be more difficult to pursue.  Lisa decided to go with the Coalition general assembly's third choice: number of parent volunteers.  I suggested again that we get input from teachers and principals. 

At the executive committee planning meeting on February 3, 2003, the various members of the committee were divided into groups based on the six reform areas in order to develop some long term plans within each reform area.  The group that focused on completing the planning tool chart for the community strategy area was given the sheet where I had talked through some of the choices for indicators.  Lisa had added that she recommended the number of parent volunteers as the third indicator.  The representative from PSE that was in the group saw that third choice as biased against parents.  However, Lisa felt that this indicator could be seen not just as a way to criticize parents, but also as a way to emphasize the importance of parent volunteerism. 

I began working with the school district assessment office to set up monthly data collection for the indicators.  We were working toward a plan when I received an email from my contact in the assessment office stating, "I spoke with [the area superintendent] this morning and she asked that you contact her directly with your data request."  I let Lisa know, and she said she would talk with the area superintendent.  At the executive committee meeting in April, 2003, which I was not invited to attend, the area superintendent and one of the elementary principals reacted strongly to the idea of the monthly indicators.  When I interviewed the elementary principal later on May 15, she said,

I have a huge problem with [the community indicators] and I'm going to tell you why.  First of all, the [Coalition] is not doing anything that directly impacts that information.  They're not doing anything that impacts our discipline, they're not doing anything that impacts our attendance right now, or our achievement...So when I saw the mockup...all I saw was another way to hammer our schools...I just thought, why do we need again to highlight the things that we're working so hard to improve and all you would do when you looked at that data would either pit school against school or, 'Well, you see we told you these schools were bad schools.'  And honestly, we're killing ourselves to do all the things we need to do.

Since these data could not be collected without the support of the school district, the Coalition had to drop the idea.  I could not help feeling that if teachers and principals had been involved in the discussion from the beginning, we could have negotiated a compromise that would have worked for everyone. 

The fact that parents and teachers were not part of the communication loop of the Coalition was apparent in the interviews I conducted as part of my evaluation of what was currently happening with the Coalition.  In interviews with teachers and parents, most expressed that they had not heard of the Coalition, and those who had did not know what the organization was or what it did. They all said they wanted to know more about the Coalition.  One teacher at one of the high schools said,

Well one I thing is maybe to come and talk to the whole faculty...just let people know you exist.  I certainly know the [Coalition for Schools] exists and I have never been real clear on what all the relationships are with [BSU] and [PSE] and everything.  Who are you?  What do you do?  What do you have to offer?

One of the teachers at one of the elementary schools stated, "We need to see you here too.  What you did this morning has helped a lot as far as my understanding of what you're doing."  The evaluation report that I wrote recommended that the Coalition send representatives out into the schools and to meet with parents.  I do not know if they followed this advice; however, when Lisa was asked in the follow-up interview what the Coalition had gained through my work with them, she did not mention any changes that came about through this report.  Though I understand that the logistical issues of trying to communicate with teachers and parents would be demanding, I do think that this additional communication would bring additional support for the work of the Coalition.


In the context of my analytic framework, I define collaboration as shared decision making (Marlow & Nass-Fukai, 2000).  The potential for effective collaboration is based on the ability to develop relationships between researchers and community partners (Stoecker, 2002a).  This relationship is impacted by communication, trust, and dynamics around power.  When I first began my work with the Coalition, I did think that they wanted to collaborate with me.  In my initial meetings with Marge and Lisa, they seemed receptive to my input, and I did have some say as to decisions that were made in relation to data.  However, as my work with the Coalition progressed, Marge and Lisa made all of the decisions relating to our work together.  When my role was repositioned to that of a consultant, I gained greater decision making power, but there was no longer any sort of collaborative relationship. 


According to Strand et al. (2003a), "In the context of CBR, with its commitment to collaboration, shared power means that campus and community partners participate fully in shaping decisions about their work together" (p. 32).  Most of the articles that have been written about power relationships within CBR partnerships usually focus on the concern of the researcher having too much power (Reback, 2002; Wallerstein,1999).  However, in my position the situation was reversed.  I do not see myself as a person who is generally interested in power.  I feel that I am able to concede power, and I do so willingly when I feel it will be productive toward particular goals.  However, in my work with the Coalition, I had no power to concede because I was not allowed any power in the relationship.  I think a major part of this dynamic was created by the fact that I was being paid by the Coalition.  Though I initially thought that this would not interfere in my work with them, it created a situation where I felt I did not have the power to contradict Marge and Lisa. 

Though Graham and I discussed community-based research in our initial meeting with Marge and Lisa, and I provided them with a summary of my dissertation research which included a definition of CBR, I do not think we clearly defined my role in relation to the work that I would do with them.  According to Verbeke and Richards (2001):

Specifying the roles and responsibilities of participants and their institutions can facilitate the process and enhance its outcomes.  Participants should negotiate in advance to decide who does what.  This reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings along the way based on varying impressions of how things were meant to be done.  Clarification of roles and responsibilities reduces the risk of recrimination.  It also reduces the potential for power struggles.  It forces the participants to focus on the desired outcomes and the means through which the outcomes will be achieved (Roles section, para. 1).

The fact that we did not clarify my roles and responsibilities within the organization meant that I ended up being viewed as an employee.  This was reflected in Lisa's references to my "work plan" or "work list."  This did not happen immediately but became more pronounced as our relationship continued to deteriorate. 

On February 6, 2003, Lisa sent me an email with a "work list" asking me to collect various pieces of discrete data that were not tied to the list of data points, nor to anything else we had discussed.  For example, she asked me to call all the libraries in the Coalition schools and find out how many books they had and what their circulation was.  She also asked me to call other better resourced schools in the district for comparison.  She said she was thinking about writing a grant and this information would be useful.  At this point, I realized that there was no longer going to be any discussion around the strategies and goals and how to connect data with the strategies.  My role was now that of an employee who was hired to collect data.  On February 10, Lisa sent another email adding to my work list.  She asked me to contact a professor at a local university and ask her for a report she had completed on early childhood education.  Though I realized that this information could be beneficial to the Coalition, I felt that collecting this type of information did not require any expertise and I thought I could be more useful to the work of the organization in other ways. 

This approach continued after Don sent an email to Marge and Lisa on February 21, 2003, expressing concerns over my dissertation and the kind of work they would like to see me do.  Lisa sent me an email that afternoon stating that she would still like me to "make a listing of all the things we talked about as part of your work for the near future...I really want to be clear about what we talked about so we can incorporate that in the Tuesday planning session."  I replied to the email with the work list that I was currently working on.  In the meeting with Marge, Lisa, and Don on March 4, Lisa made a concerted effort to bring my work list into the discussion.  I do not think that Lisa completely understood the role I was expecting to play in this research process, partially because we did not clearly define my role within the organization. 

As it came closer to the end of our collaboration, I became aware of a factor that may have added to these issues.  When I interviewed Lisa on June 11, 2003, in a discussion related to funding for the Coalition, she said, "We've got a list of funders, we've got an amount of money that we've raised, but a lot of our money comes from [a foundation] and it goes to [BSU].  And so [BSU] really has control over the budget of the [Coalition]."  As Lisa made this statement, it was obvious that this was a situation that caused frustration for her.  I realized at that point that she may have been feeling that she did not have the power that she wanted to have either.  Her title was director, but, in reality, her position was controlled by Marge Bowline.  I went back through all of my observation notes and realized that though Marge did seek input from Lisa, it was typically Marge who was making the decisions in the meetings that both of them attended.  Later in the interview when I asked Lisa about her views of the role of data in the work of the Coalition, she described data as "dangerous" and potentially alienating.  I questioned whether she really wanted to use data in any of the ways that Marge envisioned.  I finally understood that some of the problems I had encountered might relate to Lisa's position within the organization. 

I wondered if Lisa felt that she had been essentially coerced into working with me, since it was Marge's decision to bring me on board.  As Verbeke and Richards (2001) point out, it is difficult to have a successful collaboration if it is not a voluntary collaboration for all participants.  I asked Lisa in the follow-up interview if she felt that she had input into my hiring.  Her response was, "You were not hired in a competitive process, but were recommended by [Graham] and [Don]. I didn't see any 'red flags' when we met, and so we agreed to hire you."  In a way, I feel like she sidestepped the question.  She said, "We [italics added] agreed to hire you," but based on my observations of interactions between Lisa and Marge, Lisa did not disagree with Marge.  She was always supportive of whatever Marge proposed.  This may have been in part because Lisa was fairly new to her position, but at the time I was working with her, she did not contradict Marge.  Though I did not get the impression that Marge was a person who would not allow her employees to contradict her, I realized that Lisa, like me, may have felt less powerful in the role of an employee. 

I believe it is important in a CBR project that every participant feels that he or she has a share of power in order for the project to be deemed successful.  As stated by Christenson et al. (1996),

I have now come to understand collaboration as creating more power rather than sharing a quantity of power...Empowerment is not a zero sum game.  When a collaborative process works well, it empowers everyone and everyone benefits from the learning and accomplishments of the shared work and relationships (Marilyn Johnston section, para. 2). 

I think that in my work with Lisa we were both, in some ways, powerless.  This lack of power impacted our ability to form a trusting relationship, and it impacted the potential to conduct research in such a way that would empower us both. 


In reviewing twenty case studies of collaborative research, Nyden et al. (1997) found that trust was an important thread in all twenty case studies.  Trust was a quality that was lacking in my relationship with Lisa.  I did not trust her, and things that occurred in our interactions demonstrated that she did not trust me.  An issue that kept recurring during my time working with the Coalition illustrates this lack of trust. 

In early January 2003, I sent a list of potential community indicators to a parent representative from PSE to get feedback from parents.  For some reason, the PSE member emailed her response to a lady named Jane Peterson who works with an organization that is focusing on using data to support community-based work in various areas of the city.  Lisa regularly attends meetings with this organization, and the organization is a member of the Coalition.  When Jane forwarded the email on to the Coalition, Lisa emailed me and asked me if I was working for Jane.  I told her I was not.  When I met with Lisa two days later on January 22, 2003, she asked me again if I was working with Jane.  I told her again that I was not.  I said that I had attended one meeting the organization had in the summer of 2002 with Graham and Don in relation to some CBR work that I had completed with a team of graduate students.  She told me that she did want me to contact Jane, so I emailed Jane and sent her the list of data points detailing what we had collected and what we might collect.  I told Jane to let me know if she wanted any of the current data and copied the email to Lisa.  Jane emailed back and said she did not want any of it at that time. 

On February 6, 2003, Lisa emailed me and asked if I had contacted Jane.  Lisa stated, "I've already attended several meetings [with Jane's organization] and talked about getting this stuff together, and don't want to sound like a broken record at our next meeting."  I replied and told her that I had been in contact with Jane and had let her know the data that we had.  I stated that Jane had said she did not want any of it right now (I had copied this email to Lisa).  On February 14, Lisa emailed Jane to see if she wanted any of our data.  Jane responded with interest so Lisa forwarded the email to me and said,

Barri-before I respond to the email below from [Jane], I wanted to make sure I wasn't 'butting in' to your plans here.  I had to email [Jane] for another reason and I added the question: do you need any of our data?-since I wasn't really clear on what she had communicated to you.  Can you send [Jane] the data we have currently?  Sounds like she's interested. 

I did not mind sending Jane the data or the fact that Lisa had asked her if she wanted it.  However, I felt like she was implying that I had some sort of covert relationship with Jane's organization.  The fact that she questioned me twice as to whether I was working with the organization made me feel as if she thought that I was an untrustworthy person.   

Another issue relating to trust had to do with Lisa's trust in my work ethic.  I do not think I ever gave her any reason to doubt that I would not complete a project that I said I would pursue.  However, when Lisa asked me to collect certain pieces of data, she did not seem to trust that I would actually follow up on her request.  She would continue to ask if I had it yet and would set deadlines for when she wanted the data.  Some of the data I got from the school district were data that were accessible on the web.  If you want data that are not available on the web, you have to pursue it doggedly, which I did repeatedly for a number of different pieces of data.  An issue that was a problem the whole time I worked with the Coalition was getting teacher data (e.g. years of teaching experience, number of unlicensed teachers, number of teachers with advanced degrees) for the current (2002/2003) school year.  When I first started requesting these data in January 2003, the human resources office had not even completed the reports to pull together teacher data for that year.  On February 6, Lisa sent an email asking how the teacher data were coming along.  "Can we have that completed by next week?" she asked.  She did not seem to understand that no matter how many people I called or emailed, I could not control when they would decide to give me these data.  In every meeting that I had with Lisa after that she would ask me if I had the teacher data yet.  When the individual in the school district who was completing the reports finally finished, she contacted me and told me that she had passed my data request along to someone else.  I do not know why my request was passed along to another person, but it was frustrating to me that Lisa did not seem to believe that I was actually pursuing these data. 

Not only did Lisa not trust me, I did not trust her either.  In my interactions with her she often came across as disorganized.  This disorganization impacted me in that I was put in situations where I was often asked to collect data at the last minute and was not able to proceed in the slow and meticulous manner with which I usually collect and organize data.  At times, I was rushed to collect a piece of data that they wanted before an important meeting.  For example, Marge and Lisa asked me the day before the Coalition general assembly meeting on January 15, 2003, to put together some data in a spreadsheet that they wanted to hand out at the meeting.  I rushed through trying the find the data and hurriedly put together a spreadsheet before I went to work for my graduate assistantship that day.  I was frustrated at the meeting the next day when I saw that one of the spreadsheets I had rushed to finish the day before had an obvious mistake on it.  I felt Lisa's lack of organization had impacted my ability to produce quality work. 


If I had been comfortable enough with Lisa to communicate some of these frustrations to her, we could have addressed some of these issues.  According to Verbeke and Richards (2001), collaborators "must be willing to engage in honest discussion about difficult issues.  Differences of opinion must be expressed and settled amicably" (Communication section, para. 3).   However, we were never able to develop a strong enough relationship where I felt comfortable expressing a difference of opinion.  One factor that may have led to this disconnect in communication was the fact that a great deal of our communication was done through email.  Lisa viewed this as positive.  In the follow up interview conducted with Lisa, when asked what facilitated our collaboration, she stated, "We communicated a lot by email, which worked well given our heavy schedules."  The problem with email communication, as Merriam (1998) points out, is that "it lacks inflection, body language, and the many other nuances that often communicate more vividly than words."  This could have impacted the way that I interpreted some of the emails that Lisa sent to me.  Also, the fact that I did not feel heard or respected in face-to-face meetings probably made me more sensitive to what I perceived to be negative comments included in email. 

Lack of Consideration

The final issue that impacted our collaboration was what I perceived to be a lack of consideration for the other obligations I had while working with the Coalition and a lack of consideration for my dissertation research.  Most meetings I had with Lisa and Marge had to be scheduled well in advance because of their busy schedules.  My schedule was a little more flexible, but they often expected me to adjust my schedule at the last minute to accommodate their needs.  After a meeting with Lisa on January 9, 2003, Marge called down to Lisa's office and asked me to stay longer and meet with her to discuss her presentation for the upcoming Coalition general assembly meeting on January 15.  I told her that I was not able to stay because I was scheduled to go to work for my graduate assistantship position.  Marge's secretary set up a time for us to meet on the following Monday. 

Later that day I got an email from Marge's secretary stating "we will not need to keep the 13th meeting time," with no explanation.  I arrived at my home Monday afternoon to find a voice mail message from Lisa stating that they wanted me to call all the schools in the Coalition and find out the percentage of new teachers each school had for that year.  I called around to all ten schools and got most of the information on Monday afternoon and the rest the next morning.  After I had contacted the last school on Tuesday morning, Lisa called again and said Marge also wanted to find out how many teachers each school had that were not fully licensed.  I had to start the round of calls all over again.  But first, I had to call my supervisor for my graduate assistantship and let her know I would be coming in late.  When I got online to send them some of the data I had collected, I had an email from Marge asking me to put together some other data to email them that day to use at the meeting the next day.  They wanted me to try to complete getting some of the demographic data for the current school year that were not yet available on the school district's website.  I had sent Marge these data more than a week before and she had given me no feedback at that time. I was frustrated that they waited until the day before the meeting to ask me to get this information, and I felt that they demonstrated a lack of consideration for the fact that I was scheduled to work for my graduate assistantship that day. 

I also felt they displayed a lack of consideration in relation to the work of my dissertation.  In the initial meeting with Marge and Lisa on November 21, 2002, Graham and I had described the goals and principles of CBR.  They said they understood and were willing to work on this project with me based on those principles.  I also sent both Lisa and Marge a summary of my dissertation research to further clarify the needs for my research and the parameters of CBR.  Lisa responded that she understood what I was doing and thought that they were "involved in some interesting work, and that it is worth studying."  The Institutional Review Board requested that Lisa write a letter stating that she understood my research in order to approve my change of research sites.  I asked Lisa on December 10, 2002, to write a letter to the IRB.  On January 21, 2003, I sent an email with my third request for a letter and told her that officially I was not supposed to collect any data until I had approval from the IRB.  Finally, when I went in to meet with her on Friday, January 23, she typed up the letter during our meeting after I brought up the issue again.  Though I realize that the completion of my dissertation was my agenda, not the agenda of Lisa and Marge, they did agree to work with me based on the fact that I would be conducting my dissertation research as part of the process. 

Knowledge Creation

One of the goals of CBR is that the community partner participates in the production of knowledge that is created during the CBR project.  Ideally, the community partner participates in every facet of the research process including data collection, data analysis, and writing up the results (Strand et al., 2003a).  This requires that the researcher and community partner value the knowledge that each brings to the equation.  In my work with the Coalition, Lisa and Marge's only participation was in determining what data to collect.  They did not participate in any other way except to critique the results of my work. 

Shared Goals

One of the obstacles in developing a participatory relationship in regards to the research process was the fact that we did not have a vision around which to work.  One of the biggest mistakes that I made in this process was that I did not push for a plan that defined goals for data collection before I began collecting data.  According to Strand et al. (2003a) an "important principle of a successful partnership is agreement about the desired outcomes of the joint endeavor, along with similar ideas about the best strategies for achieving these goals" (p. 30). 

In the email that Don sent to Marge before our initial meeting he stated,

My understanding at this point is that I would take the lead in helping the [Coalition] and its constituent organizations come to consensus around key issues/needs they will address as part of their efforts related to [the Coalition].  Then Barri would take the lead (under all of our supervision) helping organizations operationalize their goals around those key issues/needs, identify indicators, and develop strategies for data collection, some of which she would do on her own; others of which she would supervise or collaborate with others on.

Marge's reply was, "I think we are on the same page about how this might work."  However, during our initial meeting on November 21, 2002, Don brought up the idea about working with the Coalition to reach a consensus on goals.  Lisa and Marge were a little confused because they said that they already had goals.  This issue was not clarified or resolved during that meeting.

In a meeting with Don, Marge, and Lisa on December 11, 2002, Don again pushed for us to define the goals around the six reform areas.  We were looking at the list of potential data points that I had put together (Appendix C) and he suggested that we "collect less stuff and set goals around the data."  Don shared with us a list of guiding principles that he had developed collaboratively with the three high schools that were in the Coalition as part of a reform effort with which he was working.  Each principle was defined and data points were clearly linked to principles.  Don said that we needed to define the reform areas before we could determine which indicators would best measure each reform area.  After the meeting, I was hoping that Marge and Lisa would be interested in having a discussion around defining goals around data collection, but they did not ask for this conversation, and I felt uncomfortable pushing for us to have this conversation. 

After I met with Don on January 20, 2003, he recommended that I develop a data plan based on selected indicators so that there would be a vision around data collection.  I was not sure how I would do this since I still did not have a true sense of how the Coalition defined the reform areas and what sorts of initiatives they planned to implement in various areas.  Don sent an email to Marge and Lisa on January 22, 2003, pushing for a plan that I would design.  Lisa responded that the executive committee would be meeting on February 3 for a planning session, and that they would discuss data.  In the meantime, Lisa stated that she wanted me to work on completing the spreadsheets of data that I had started.  Don sent an email to Graham on January 22, 2003 stating,

I question the value of Barri filling out the data chart in the absence of a larger vision about what the project is about.  BSU appears more comfortable working out a data collection plan before or concurrently with defining that vision, which I'm concerned is putting the cart before the horse and not using Barri's time most effectively.  As the CBR guy, we need your direction about what to do when the client's demands go against the expertise the university brings to the project.

In spite of Don's efforts to push for a discussion around the strategy areas, this did not happen. 

When I met with Lisa on Friday, January 24, 2003, I brought up the idea of developing a data plan.  She said that she wanted to have the executive committee discuss possible data points at the planning meeting on February 3.  She said that they had already defined the reform areas in previous meetings; however, she did not have any sort of written document that outlined this.  She questioned what Don was pushing for, and I do not think I was effective in trying to articulate what we needed to do.  She told me that she wanted me to focus on completing the spreadsheets for now. 

Don pushed for me to develop a plan to ensure that the executive committee defined reforms and discussed data during the planning meeting.  My plan was to talk with Lisa in the morning before the meeting on February 3 and emphasize that each planning team needed to define their reform area and then look at data points that would measure what they had defined.  When I got to the meeting, Lisa was still trying to get everything organized and get materials on the table.  I talked with her briefly, and she said they would be dividing into groups by reform area and that they would be looking at goals and data.  It ended up that a significant portion of the meeting was spent on discussing and making decisions in regards to a grant the Coalition had received.  When the planning teams finally broke up into reform areas, there was little time left.  They were given a planning tool sheet that did not ask them to define the reform area, but it did ask them to list desired outcomes.  Each group was also given a list of potential data points and at the top of the sheet it asked them, "What data do you think we need?"  However, Lisa did not direct them toward this sheet or ask them to turn it in. Most of them did not have time to complete the planning tool sheet and none of them looked at the data.  I asked Lisa after the meeting if I could have copies of the planning tools, and she said she would get them to me later.  I asked for them again twice after that, but I was never given copies of the planning tool.  If I had been given the opportunity to look at the planning sheets, it may have given me some idea of how the executive committee defined the various reform areas.  

I decided to set up a meeting with Marge and Lisa to push for a discussion of the reform areas and data that might link to the reforms.  I emailed Marge and Lisa on February 6, 2003, and asked for a meeting to discuss narrowing down some of the data points based on input from the executive committee.  Before the meeting on February 11, I emailed Marge and Lisa an agenda for the meeting.  The agenda included three points for discussion in relation to data:

1.  Which indicators line up with the [reforms] as they were defined by the teams in the planning meeting?  The indicators could either be used to measure the outcomes that each team listed, or the indicators could be used to determine how to reach the outcomes.

2.  What makes a good indicator?  First, we need to ask what the indicator can tell us and make sure that it aligns with what we want in a particular strategy area.  Second, we need to choose indicators that can be collected fairly easily on a yearly basis.  If the data collection is too detailed or complex, it may be difficult to maintain the collection of these data over a period of years.  Third, the indicators we collect should provide information that is easily understandable to inform the work of the [Coalition].  

3.  Would you like me to propose a plan based on input from the planning teams, or do you want to create this plan together?

When I arrived at the BSU office, Lisa asked me to make three sets of copies of all the spreadsheets I was working on.  Even though I had asked for the meeting and I had created an agenda, the attempt I made to direct the meeting was ineffective.  Lisa started off the meeting by asking me where I was in relation to collecting the teacher data.  The conversation then turned to other matters in relation to the work of the Coalition.  At one point I tried to direct the conversation toward my agenda, but Marge began talking about issues at East Middle School. 

At the end of the meeting Lisa said, "I think right now with all this stuff [spreadsheets] just keep plugging in where we're missing things."  Though the meeting had not gone well in that I was not able to accomplish my goal of having a discussion around goals for data collection, I emailed Don and told him that the meeting had gone fine.  I did not know what to do at that point, and I was trying to make everything work.  When I transcribed the meeting two days later and had more time to consider the situation, I decided that I wanted to quit.  It was then that we decided to reposition my role. 

Views About Data

One of the factors that may have interfered with the possibility to have discussions around the goals of data collection was the fact that we had different views about the use of data.  Marge viewed the purpose of data in the work of the Coalition as a means to startle people out of complacency.  Marge brought up the point in several meetings that she thought data should be provocative.  In a meeting with Marge and Lisa on December 6, 2002, Marge said we wanted data that would "tell a provocative story."  During the executive committee meeting on December 17, I started to talk about what I thought data could do.  However, Marge interrupted me and said, "For the [general assembly] meeting, we want to determine what data will be most compelling to provide people with a sense that they need to support the [Coalition]."  Finally, in an interview with Marge on June 5, 2003, when I asked her about the role of data in the work of the Coalition, she said,  "I think there's nothing as provocative or engaging as having a really good data set presented in a way that tells the kind of story that encourages people to action." 

Though I understood the political nature of the work of the Coalition and the importance of using data to provoke thought or action, I also thought that data could be used for other things such as to inform practice or to support decisions.  I felt that Marge's view of the use of data limited our discussions to certain data and at times led to the reporting of inaccurate data.  During the Coalition general assembly meeting on January 15, 2003, Marge presented average percentages for teacher turnover (29%) and principal turnover (40%) for the Coalition schools.  When I looked at the percentage of principal turnover, I found that 40% was too high.  When I included the correct percentage in the Analysis of Statistical Data report, Lisa told me that it was wrong.  I showed her how I had created the percentage and could not understand how they calculated 40%.  Though I do not think they intentionally chose to misrepresent data, I do feel that the focus was on choosing provocative data rather than ensuring that they were reporting accurate data.  I felt that as the data person I was being represented with this inaccurate information. 

This issue of conflicting views about data may stem from the fact that my training in relation to research has centered on traditional academic research.  Most academic researchers use data in different ways than community organizations may seek to use data.  Though I was responsive to Marge's desire to collect provocative data, in that most of the data I collected were focused on this purpose, as a researcher, I hoped to broaden Marge and Lisa's scope of understanding in relation to how we could use data to further the work of the Coalition.  However, I was not successful in articulating how we could use data in other ways. 

Valuing Knowledge

When Lisa questioned the accuracy of the data that I reported, I felt that she did not value my knowledge or abilities in relation to research.  According the Strand et al. (2003a), "When all members of the CBR team recognize the value of each member's knowledge, mutual respect prevails, and the partnership is far more likely to be successful" (p. 32).  As with the issue of power, the valuation of knowledge usually deals with the researcher respecting the knowledge of the community.  In my case, it was the knowledge of the researcher that was not valued.  This was reflected in constant criticism of my work. 

I believe I am a person who can accept constructive criticism, particularly if the work that I have done has been acknowledged.  With everything that I produced for the Coalition, Lisa critiqued it in such a way that made me feel as if my work was not valued.  Some of her criticisms were valid and others demonstrated lack of understanding.  However, when I would try to explain something to her, I was not always successful in conveying information in such a way that she could understand my reasoning.  Since Don was reviewing all of the work I completed before I sent it to Lisa and Marge, it was interesting to see the contrast in their feedback.  When I sent Don the Analysis of Statistical Data report, his email response on May 13 was, "Nice job, Barri...I especially like how you've linked indicators to [reforms].  Very thoughtful.  This will help [BSU], and I think other organizations around [the city], immensely."  It is important to know that Don is definitely willing to provide praise when it is warranted, but he is also willing to provide criticism if he feels a piece of work is not well done.  When I met with Lisa on June 11, 2003, she critiqued the report.  Some of the comments she made included, "Since the word analysis is in the title, I thought there would be some analysis" and, "This report didn't really tell me anything." It was obvious from some of the comments she made we had different views about the purpose of this report.  I sat in stunned silence during most of the meeting and did not really know what to say.  I could not understand how I could get two completely different responses to the same piece of work.  This contrasting set of critiques occurred with each report that I completed. 

These contrasting critiques may have been partially the result of differing knowledge bases of research.  Don, who is grounded in traditional academic research, understood the structure and language of the work that I completed.  Lisa, though she is a very educated person and has extensive knowledge in certain areas, does not have the same background in academic research.  Her research experience is based within another discipline that works from a different research paradigm.  As the researcher in this role, I was not successful in working with Lisa based on her foundation of knowledge.  I expected her to understand the language and interpretations that I provided in relation to data. 


Another issue relating to the creation of knowledge that continued to reoccur during my work with the Coalition was the issue of timelines.  According to Verbeke and Richards (2001), "It is important to provide ample time for collaboration...Unrealistic time frames are often the cause of frustration and disappointing results in collaborative ventures" (Time section, para. 1).

In the follow up interview with Lisa, I asked what hindered our collaboration.  One of the issues she mentioned was "time constraints on your part as a full-time student-hard to keep up with some of the timelines and to really delve deeply."  During our work together, Lisa consistently sent me reminders on the day of a deadline to let me know that something was due.  Though it may not have been her intention, the implication was that I could not meet deadlines.  However, I felt that I was consistent in meeting deadlines when I had control over the research.  There were delays at times in getting data I requested from the school district, but that was something over which I had no control. 

            Unrealistic Expectations

A final issue relating to our collaboration around knowledge creation revolved around Marge and Lisa's unrealistic expectations of what I could do as an individual, part-time researcher.  In a meeting with Lisa on January 9, 2003, Lisa showed me a document titled "Vision for the Feeder" that was developed through input from the principals in the Coalition schools.  Principals stated goals they planned to pursue in their schools.  One section, under assessment, asked for "[state assessment] data that are disaggregated based on: stability and mobility (both in schools and feeders), attendance, Special Ed., English Language Acquisition (by level), and individual student growth."  Lisa asked me if I could do this for the schools.  I told Lisa that it might be possible to pursue this but that it would be a complete study all on its own and that it would be a time intensive endeavor.  She stated that the principals really wanted this information and she thought they would be useful data.  I agreed that it would be useful, but I reiterated that if I pursued this, it would be all I would have time to do in the next few months.  And even then, I would probably only be able to study one or maybe two schools.  There were other situations that arose where Marge and Lisa discussed the possibility of pursuing an intensive data project.  I do not think they realized the time intensive nature of carrying out any sort of research that would encompass all 10 schools. 

In the follow-up interview that was conducted with Lisa in early April, 2004, she stated,

The only hindrances to our work together were some lack of clarity around what we needed (my part) and the time constraints on your part as a full-time student-hard to keep up with some of the timelines and to really delve deeply. By the way, this was an understandable 'hindrance'! To put things in perspective: we now have a full-time data manager and he has a hard time keeping up with everything!

I do not think that Marge and Lisa understood that to delve deeply into any one particular area would mean a full-time commitment for a period of years in order to complete research at all the schools. However, it does sound like Lisa may be starting to understand the intensity of the workload based on her experience with subsequent data managers.  When I shared an outline of findings with Lisa, she responded,

"I have been working on the very issues you describe-understanding the complexity and time it takes to retrieve and analyze data, the different ways different people view data, etc.  In future, I would be much more targeted in my use of a PhD student for such a project." 

Through continued experience with researchers and data, Lisa is beginning to develop a better understanding of the complexity of data collection and data analysis. 


Since I am no longer working with the Coalition, it is hard for me to assess whether or not the work that I did with them brought about any change.  However, the interviews that I conducted with teachers and parents as part of the evaluation report suggest that I created greater awareness of the Coalition for some teachers and parents.  While I was working with the Coalition, I also periodically provided data to Parents Supporting Education which may have been helpful in their work.  I think it most likely, however, that my work had little impact.  In the follow-up interview I asked Lisa, "What did the Coalition gain through the work that we did?"  Her response was, "We have referred many times to your work, both the statistical data that you compiled in the [reform] areas and the review of literature. I believe it gave us a good jumping off point for future work."  Since she did not refer to the evaluation that I completed or to the evaluation plan, I do not know if those recommendations are being used in any way.  After receiving her feedback from the follow-up interview, I asked her specifically if they were using these two reports; however, she did not respond to this question.  One of the recommendations that I made in the evaluation report was that the executive committee needed to "discuss the use of data and develop a plan."  One thing that has happened in 2004 is that the Coalition created a data team to look at which data should be used in the work of the Coalition. 

The fact that some of the work that I completed may not have had an impact may be due to the repositioning of my role to a consultant.  According to Seargeant and Steele (1998), if those who are receiving the research findings do not have ownership of the consulting work, they will not use the results.  If Lisa felt that she did not have any input into the research that I conducted after we repositioned my role to a consultant, she may not have been interested in the evaluation or the evaluation plan. 

Was This CBR?

One of the issues that I struggled with throughout my work with the Coalition was the fact that I felt like the work that we were doing was not community-based research.  I did not have access to the community, I was not able to develop a collaborative relationship, and I was primarily responsible for creating knowledge, though the knowledge to be created was primarily determined by Lisa and Marge.  When we repositioned my role, I became essentially a consultant.  Though Marge and Lisa may have had more input than in a traditional consulting relationship, it was not really CBR because of the factors listed above. 

Frustration over this experience stayed with me for months until I read a book chapter by Patricia Maguire (1993).  Maguire made the decision to pursue a participatory research project for her dissertation.  However, the title of her book chapter (in the book Voices of Change) is "Challenges, Contradictions, and Celebrations: Attempting Participatory Research as a Doctoral Student."  Maguire points out that she "attempted" to carry out a participatory research project, but some would not view it as being real participatory research.  She continues,

Nonetheless, reflection on the flaws and inadequacies, and even the modest successes of attempting this alternative research approach may help others find the courage to learn by doing rather than being immobilized and intimidated by ideal standards (p. 158). 

Maguire's words gave me hope that regardless of whether or not my work with the Coalition was truly CBR, there is still value and knowledge to be gained from the attempt. 

Implications for the Field of CBR

This case study provides an example of a CBR project that met with limited success.  There were several factors in this experience that interfered with making this project successful.  First of all, one of the most important factors that hindered success was the fact that we did not start with developing a vision or plan for our work together before I began the process of data collection.  If we had worked together to develop a plan, not only would it have guided our data collection, but it would also have facilitated the development of a collaborative relationship.  As part of this process of creating a plan for data collection, the researcher and community partners also have to come to terms with differences in relation to views about how data should be used.  Thus this factor is dealt with up front and does not hinder the ability to agree on subsequent decisions made in relation to data. 

Another factor that interfered with making this project successful was that we did not define my roles and responsibilities within this project.  Though I expected to be viewed as a collaborative researcher, Lisa and Marge viewed me as an employee.  A document detailing my roles and responsibilities would have made it more likely that they would view me as researcher working with them rather than an employee.  It is also important to consider whether the factor of being paid by an organization makes it less likely that a collaborative relationship will develop because of the power dynamics that surround the role of employee.

Another mistake I made in my work with the Coalition was in not developing an effective pathway for communication.  Because of the lack of face-to-face communication and overreliance on email, many relational factors that arose during the collaboration were not addressed.  It is important to be able to have an open and honest discussion when things are not working well.  This is difficult to do when you do not have a relationship, but it is possible that these kinds of discussions can help facilitate the development of a relationship.  If we had developed effective communication, I would have realized sooner that Lisa did not have enough power in the relationship, and I would also have been able to bring up issues in relation to lack of consideration around timelines and the work of my dissertation.   

This chapter provided the within-case description of my work with the Coalition for Schools as well as within-case analysis structured around the themes of my analytic framework.  Chapter five will provide the same information in relation to my work with John Brewer and Maria Swenson in my small town. 

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