1999 Annual CRN Conference
What Works, What Doesn't?: Community-Based Research and Strategies
"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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
"It became very obvious that there are many different
how to conduct community-based research. It would have been very
interesting to explore the different models, their strengths
weaknesses in different settings, so we could develop a common
-- 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
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
Institutional Change list, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org;
to unsubscribe, send an email to email@example.com.
For information about the CRN ALANA Caucus and CRN ALANA Internet
discussion list, contact Helan
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
through general support provided to the Loka Institute by the
John D. &
Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Albert A. List Foundation,
Menemsha Fund, and individual Loka Institute donors.
Additional 1999 CRN Conference co-sponsors included:
Applied Research Center
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 &
Science & Environmental Health Network
Youth Policy Institute*
(* indicates 1999 CRN Conference scholarship sponsor)
Prepared by Jill
Executive Director, The Loka Institute
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