Changing the landscape of critical community research


The global shift of the early twenties leaves us situated in a rethinking of our humanity as we know it. We are now faced with a global pandemic and the magnification of health inequalities that have followed, the stark race relations brought on by the murder of George Floyd, plus the technological transition of the global economy into a more remote way of working.

Our world does not exist in a vacuum and the cultural opening we are experiencing today is a direct response. The ripple effects of evolution inherently challenge our ability to adapt, therefore it would be worthwhile for us to examine how we rethink our research approaches so they become more relevant and reflective of the new society we want to effect.

It’s necessary to appreciate the traditional research approach of yore does not necessarily work for many of the parties who are not privy to the ivory tower of academia. In particular, the BAME community and various underserved communities across the urban locale suffer from research weariness in high volumes. This is due to the extractive traditional research approach that seeks to take the ‘juicy scoop’ from our neighborhoods without leaving any ownership, equity, or legacy behind for the benefit of our communities supplying the data.

Without any sense of community intellect, we are being left out of important conversations that invariably influence our wellbeing and contribute to wider society greatly. This research approach clearly doesn’t work for us and there has finally been an awakening against it.

Adaptation is the only valid answer when something does not work. Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results”. The research space is not exempt.

A rethinking of not only research but methodology, peer review and ethics is long overdue as we ask ourselves: “how can we adapt to the new technological movements and the disruption it has caused? How do we take research ‘off the shelf’ and make it ‘research in action’?”

As it stands, the traditional approach tends to utilise the community as data collectors in time-restricted capacities, leaving no room for us to continue after the fact. We need a continuum model involving the community, from collection across a full process of analysis, evaluation and implementation.

This is not to dismiss traditional research entirely as intrinsically ‘anti-community’ or as being representative of dominant power structures and there is value in what is already established within the research space. However, there are gaps in terms of cultural competence, social brokerage and a nuanced understanding of urban subcultures. We have a track record, lived experience and a diverse cohort that can speak to different dimensions within this niche.

The essence of love and humanism underpins our ACP: accessibility, credibility and positionality within the urban locale. This makes us specialists, able to further investigate and unpack hidden cultural nuances, adding depth, texture and cross-cultural dexterity to traditionally established research.

By defining the new standards of research, we are also investigating what metrics of quality and validity will be. With added cultural and human-centric dimensions to research, data will need to be collected, evaluated, analysed and implemented in a different way. Social action is the combination of all of these factors.

Additionally, we can’t ignore the historical distrust found in counter-public spheres as they won’t fade away overnight. Deep counter-narratives against the system developed in response to historical discrimination have left communities consultation curious. They wonder:

‘Who is this person with a clipboard asking all of these questions?’
‘Why do you want to ask me questions?’
‘Can’t you see I don’t have the time?’

Research fatigue has developed due to constant inquiries in historical regeneration projects that have led to no tangible benefits. The person with the clipboard is now just as stigmatised as spam on an email chain!

In light of this, it is important that we set the stage for our research journey as transparent as possible. It is evident that our disruption will upset the status quo but, given the cultural opening of 2021 and the inequalities our communities are living in, something has to change. We have a particular niche on the distrust nexus and the cultural nuance behind it because we have lived experience.

Nevertheless, it is with humility in our research experience that we will be able to translate our findings to areas where they can make a lasting impact. Our remit is to honour our affiliation with communities suffering from an institutional disconnect. In doing so, our commitment is with providing an upskilling and love that is long-standing as we are not another marketing agency offering a one size fits all solution for the deprived.

An antiquated system of research where the old has not moved in tandem with the new, research processes can become overly fixated on the minute mechanics of research. Communities that live and breathe the issues, and bare its scars and their historical community insights, that have been extracted with little return. This needs to change.

Chaurey (2020) notes that it is part of the duty of care of a researcher to understand her/his place in the systematic extraction of resources before entering the field and this positionality is important as it can shift the ‘saviour complex’ which some from elite institutions may embody. The value of rethinking research brings local voices to the forefront, harnessing a non-deficit approach that has the clarity to upskill communities with a dialogical approach harnessing the ACP: accessibility, credibility and positionality.

The ubiquity of bureaucracy and documentation in many research processes is by no means universal but, it has led to a distrust of a researcher. We propose a new bespoke approach and template for conducting research within communities where distrust is rampant. Moreover, in social science research, there is an emphasis that academic inquiry actively seeks to critique the status quo.

If research is not equitable at this strategic stage, how can any tangible equitable outcomes be produced? Why should the opinion and review of certain officials trump the view of Carlene who lives on an estate in South London directly impacted by health initiatives? BAME communities contain a sizeable segment of those who have opted out of the mainstream biomedical and healthcare mainstream institutions.

Some commentators refer to this as ‘self-care constructed as a political act’ and that ‘health activism’ is itself functioning as a form of resistance to the dominant mainstream medical institutions, by those who felt marginalised by, and alienated from, said institutions. BAME communities are therefore becoming more informed about their own health needs and concerns via informal networks.

People are informed by their own cultural networks which sometimes oppose mainstream norms and conventional advice. At present, there is a diffusion of supplementary and alternative health options which appear to be popular within the urban space. It may be in the interest of the medical and healthcare establishment to collaborate with some of these trends if they want to improve the health outcomes for marginalised communities.

Health providers may therefore have to consider making use of community-based facilities for a range of health-related outreach initiatives via a peer-to-peer approach. This will also require an increased understanding of how to engage the counter-public health spheres to fully comprehend this activism.



Further Reading


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