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Sustaining progressive change through community-based participatory research: A commentary by Sarah Bobrow-Williams

August 12, 2022

Doctor_woman_patient_GettyImages_croppedHow many of us have spent countless days producing exacting research reports informing the most salient social issues today—only to find a box of undistributed reports in the office storage closet a year later? Even the most impactful research aimed at influencing public policy makers and other targeted audiences has a short shelf-life. By contrast, participatory action research (PAR), also known as community-based participatory research, can make a far greater, longer-term impact—especially when the intended audience for the research includes communities that are the most marginalized and affected by the issues being studied.

Many marginalized communities have long and often sensitive histories of being “researched”—being the object of the research, while the job of identifying, defining, and assessing the issues is left to outside “experts.” Regrettably, excluding instead of centering the expertise of community members who are directly impacted by the issues not only leaves them feeling used but is a missed opportunity to catalyze and sustain progressive community change on many levels.

Those of us who have worked alongside communities have witnessed the consternation and dispiritedness felt by individuals when they are placed under the microscope without being given the opportunity to define challenges as they experience them. This omission also precludes the synergy and devotion that is often generated by problem solving from multiple perspectives. Conversely, community-based participatory research offers a collective, dialogic process for expression, reflection, perspective taking, and information sharing, and, ultimately, creative solution-based action among stakeholders. This process helps form a nexus of dynamic connections and relationships that can lead to sustained change over the long term....

Read the full commentary by Sarah Bobrow-Williams, a community-based participatory research consultant for the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative (SRBWI).

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

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