WHAT IS COMMUNITY RESEARCH?

"Don't extract, give back" - Shaun Danquah

 

The genesis and drive underpinning our community research model emerged after Centric founder, Dr Shaun Danquah, observed an intellectual gap within academia between the community and the academic institutions that conduct research on them. For too long, communities suffering from the consequences of inequality and wealth disparity have been the subjects of research programmes, instead of partners in the design and implementation of research activities and active agents in developing solutions for improved wellbeing.

It’s something we’ve definitely witnessed over the last 15 years: researchers have been jettisoned into communities to conduct research based on what Gaudry (2011) calls an ‘extraction model of research’. This process, which we label the ‘parachute model’, is where localised knowledge, a.k.a the ‘juicy scoop’, is removed from communities by outsiders without any commitment to involving or benefitting the communities being researched.

This type of neo-colonialism still exists in some research to this day: ‘We are coming to find out why you’re so poor and why you’re so disorganised. We’ll listen to you and maybe we’ll offer you some tips.’ It’s an approach deeply entrenched in how traditional research works.

Our rethinking of research, with our Community Research model, is a standard of its own and is not a ‘bolt-on’ to existing research methods. Through our new community research approach, we’re trying to address the ‘research weariness’ our communities experience. If you’re part of a community that you’re researching, it means you have access to certain networks, conversations, debates and ideas that dwell in that community, which outside research institutions very rarely access.

Call it a cultural commodity if you will. There is more validity, nuance and richness in the data we can produce by exploring and telling the story of our own community rather than having an outsider parachute in.

Our accessibility, positionality and credibility with the urban locale that we possess allow us to channel our self-determining spirit and cultural-centric approach through our community research model. It empowers community researchers to conduct: design, data collection, analysis, evaluation, reflection and implementation. We aspire for the most collaborative approach possible.

This ‘urban looping’ includes our community in all phases of our work, which we label our Continuum Model. Furthermore, in pursuit of our aims, we have demonstrated through our community research model an interplay between robust consultancy, technical skills, entrepreneurial incubation, academic rigour and community engagement.

Here’s our list of the key principles for acceptable collaborative research in communities:

– Upskill community researchers and develop research frameworks for insight gathering within the urban locale.

– Develop a deep understanding of cultural equity within disenfranchised communities.

– Treat community researchers as equal partners – that means partnering with them from the start before the research questions are set, maintaining that partnership through to the end, and paying for their time.

– Pay research participants for their time and insights at every stage.

– Working tirelessly on building toolkits, designing community-based products, facilitating workshops and collaborating with culturally progressive enterprises.

– Make participation in research fun, rewarding and worthwhile.

– Avoid taking big chunks of people’s time, for free, and then boring them!

– Identify and provide a relevant platform for street-corner innovation and entrepreneurship.

– Hold yourself accountable for the effects of your research – do all you can to ensure that something tangibly beneficial comes out of it for the community you studied.

– Be completely clear with participants about who’s funding the research, what it’s for, and the expected outcome.

– Assembling a forum for those on the reciprocal end of being voiceless to gaining a strong voice.

This product development is in response to an increased demand for our approach. It brings an understanding of local nuances, layered with the racially sensitive lens we have which is simpatico with the heartbeat of the community itself.

If our last 15 years of experience of working across urban locales in this field has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t properly implement any of those variables in isolation. The influential substance and real unique selling point to what we produce is the cultural interface between those variables.

 

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