Curated Story
Source: Ashoka

Whose Knowledge Is It?

This article originally appeared on Stanford Social Innovation Review

Many communities rightly tire of researchers who want to study their ways of being, their problems, and their knowledge, without building reciprocal relationships for mutual benefit. They often experience research as extractive, using their time and energy to “create knowledge” (knowledge that has always resided with them) and locking it in academic journals. This can be particularly true for communities facing social, economic, and environmental challenges where social innovation may hope to have something to offer.

Community-engaged research (CER) explores ways to redesign this relationship, to center community priorities and leadership, and to ensure that the results are of mutual value. We believe dedicated infrastructure is needed to support this transition and to overcome barriers to the success of CER. Existing leaders in the field include Rutgers’ Collaborative Centre for Community-Based Research, Brown’s Swearer Centre, and networks like Community-Based Research Canada. Simon Fraser University (SFU) shares a history of community engaged scholarship and recently launched the Community-Engaged Research initiative (CERi) to extend and cement the University’s commitment to ethically-centered relationships with external partners.

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Ashoka insight

  • Relationships come first. Truly reciprocal research processes are based in trust and mutual understanding, which takes time and consistency.
  • Researchers need training, practice and experience to do CER well.
  • The process is as important as the outcome. Done well, we are inevitably exposed to and surprised by the assumptions we hold in re-assessing our processes.
  • “Engaged” is not a box to be ticked. Community must help shape and drive the process. Results need to be mutually accessible and valuable to them.
  • Hire and support project leaders who defend community priorities and question university-community power dynamics.
  • Representation and leadership matter. This for example means prioritizing BIPOC project leadership with BIPOC communities.
  • Traditional research cultures will not change easily. Systems self-perpetuate. Dedicated resources and infrastructures can help develop exemplars, build communities of practice and create new narratives and focus for needed process and policy changes.