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1999 Annual CRN Conference


What Works, What Doesn't?: Community-Based Research and Strategies for Change


"Thank you for the opportunity to attend the conference -- it was a life-changing experience."
CRN Conference Participant

Launched by the Loka Institute in 1995, the Community Research Network (CRN) supports participatory, community-based research efforts worldwide. Community-based research enables grassroots, worker, and civic organizations and local government agencies to access knowledge responsive to their needs and which they can use to effect constructive social change. Community-based research often involves collaborative relationships between professionally trained researchers and community members, and is based on respect, mutual learning, and empowerment.

The Community Research Network (CRN) seeks to complement the mainstream research system with a new nationwide and worldwide research infrastructure that will make empowerment-through-mutual-learning and other research benefits accessible to all citizens and communities.

The 1999 Annual Community Research Network Conference took place June 11-13 in Amherst, Massachusetts (USA). The conference generated tremendous enthusiasm, bringing together over 200 community activists, professional researchers, students, and funders from across the entire United States, plus nine other nations. (In fact, owing to space constraints 50 applicants were put on a waiting list and unable to attend. Loka plans to find a larger venue to accommodate more participants in future years.)

Financial support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's "Managing Information with Rural America" (MIRA) Initiative, the C.S. Mott Foundation, the Community Research Project funded by the Corporation for National Service, and several other conference co-sponsors (see below) enabled the Loka Institute to provide partial or full scholarships to 40% of the conference participants. Of the 200 participants, more than one-third were community activists, and 17% were people of color.

Participants came together to discuss issues they are facing in their daily work and how to strengthen the CRN so that all groups -- particularly those traditionally disenfranchised -- have a voice in the network and in building their communities. The conference included plenary sessions, many workshops, interest-group caucuses, a wrap-up conference evaluation and CRN strategizing session, plus an evening of storytelling and a rockin' rhythm-and-blues dance party.

Some key issues that emerged from conference discussions included:

o Shifting Research Paradigms -- Community Members As Researchers:

Participants stressed the need for transformative thinking that shifts away from expert-driven models of research. This can begin by including more community groups and more diversity in the CRN, using different and diverse forms of outreach, and developing creative approaches to funding community-based research (e.g. research funding that is funneled directly through grassroots organizations, rather than exclusively through universities).

o Community Ownership of Community-Based Research:

Conference attendees discussed community-based research as a learning process for all participants. The way in which research partnerships and roles are defined can ensure a mutually beneficial process for both community members and their professionally trained collaborators. Research partnerships need to stress community ownership of the research process and its results. All partners need to recognize that knowledge exists in many places, not just among credentialed experts. Conference attendees recommended that the CRN function as a resource where diverse partners and resources are brought together.

o Developing an African, Latino, Asian & Native American (ALANA) Caucas
Within The Community Research Network:

A new Community Research Network (CRN) ALANA Caucus formed during the conference with the goal of expanding the participation of ALANA people at all levels of the CRN. Caucus members made many suggestions for the future of the CRN, including that more ALANA people, farm workers, and other low-income people participate in planning future CRN conferences, and that future conferences draw more upon the resources of ALANA people in conducting workshops. The CRN ALANA Caucus also stressed the need to prioritize the problems of people of color and the poor, emphasize the capacity-building component of community-based research, and examine the power differential between university-based researchers and community-based researchers.

o Issues of Concern to Grassroots Communities & Activists:

Grassroots participants stressed the need to do a better job of crossing boundaries that currently separate academic and grassroots communities. For example, they stressed the importance of community members having a role in all components of the research process (i.e., not only in data gathering, but in problem formulation, research design, project administration, data analysis, theorizing and interpretation, dissemination of results, and project evaluation), and that the research language needs to be in terms that all can understand. Participants also expressed a desire for training in how to translate research results into action, and they asked to know more about how the CRN can help particular communities with the issues they are facing.

o Issues of Concern to University-Based Practitioners of Community-Based Research:

Academics at the conference discussed the many challenges they confront when trying to participate in community-based research from a university or college setting. They identified new skills they need to acquire in order to be able to collaborate effectively with community research partners. A recurring concern among university-based practitioners is the need to have their home institutions, professional societies, and professional journals learn to recognize the academic legitimacy of community-based research. Ideas for addressing this problem included developing community-based research advisory committees within universities, and publishing more success stories in professional journals and in other public venues.

o International Collaboration:

A Saturday morning plenary panel focused on several models outside the United States for organizing community-based research systems. Speakers included representatives from European "science shops" in the Netherlands, Denmark and Northern Ireland; the program director of the new Community University Research Alliance (CURA) program that has been launched by Canada's Social Science & Humanities Research Council; and a U.S. respondent. (For more information about these efforts, see http://www.loka.org/crn/index.htm).

Discussion highlighted the benefits of routinely involving university students in community-based research, and also the social value-added when community research centers are knit together into a comprehensive network that facilitates mutual learning, research referrals, and translocal research collaborations. Opportunities for transnational collaboration among community research centers and programs were highlighted.

Several European participants were intrigued to learn about the more grassroots-based and participatory models of community-based research that are practiced in the United States. A number of conference participants asked that future CRN conferences include sessions discussing the Participatory Action Research (PAR) tradition that has grown up in the developing world over the past several decades.

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Conference participants discussed many ideas for continuing to develop and improve the Community Research Network, focusing particularly on the need for increased diversity within the CRN and in future
conferences. Suggestions included:

  • Conducting regional CRN conferences.
  • Including more practical "How To" workshops in future CRN conferences.
  • Broadening community-based research capabilities beyond universities, e.g., by developing K-12 (i.e., pre-college) curricula and by building research capacities within grassroots communities themselves.
  • Mapping the current CRN to see more precisely who is doing what and where.
  • Conduct strategic planning about how to expand government funding of community-based research.
  • Develop a "Request for Help" section on the CRN Web site so that communities can post their research needs.
  • Increase outreach to encourage the participation of communities of color and low-income individuals in the CRN and in CRN conference planning.

 

"It became very obvious that there are many different models of
how to conduct community-based research. It would have been very
interesting to explore the different models, their strengths and
weaknesses in different settings, so we could develop a common
language."
-- CRN Conference Participant

Loka Institute staff welcomed these and many other suggestions, and are conducting follow-up discussion with conference participants and other CRN members on how to integrate such ideas into future CRN activities.

In addition, participants from the CRN ALANA Caucus and the CRN Institutional Change workshop requested that Loka set up Internet discussion lists focused on these issues. To subscribe to the new Institutional Change list, send an email to inst-change-subscrib-@egroups.com; to unsubscribe, send an email to inst-change-unsubscrib-@egroups.com. For information about the CRN ALANA Caucus and CRN ALANA Internet discussion list, contact Helan Enoch Page.

For additional information about the Community Research Network, including how to become involved, publications, Internet discussions forums (such as CRN-list -- the Community Research Network listserv), and the CRN Database of community research centers worldwide, visit our website.

The 1999 Community Research Network Conference was supported
financially by the W.K. Kellogg and C.S. Mott Foundations, as well as
through general support provided to the Loka Institute by the John D. &
Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Albert A. List Foundation, the
Menemsha Fund, and individual Loka Institute donors.

Additional 1999 CRN Conference co-sponsors included:

Applied Research Center
Bonner Foundation*
Center for Mutual Learning
Childhood Cancer Research Institute
Community Technology Centers Network
Consortium for Sustainable Agriculture Research Education*
Highlander Research & Education Center in partnership with the Folk &
People's Education Association of America
Institute for Community Research*
Institute for Science & Interdisciplinary Studies
Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty & Genocide
Science & Environmental Health Network
Youth Policy Institute*

(* indicates 1999 CRN Conference scholarship sponsor)

Prepared by Jill Chopyak
Executive Director, The Loka Institute


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