With and From – Participatory Methods

Big question: How can research contribute to building more just, inclusive, and sustainable communities?

Time Commitment: 60 minutes

Why this matters:

Research is a central and honored part of higher education. The practice of research utilizes significant time, resources, and energy. Research develops new knowledge.

Reflection Question:

Why do we commit our time and resources to the development of new knowledge? For what purposes and toward what ends? Related, what counts as knowledge? Who holds knowledge? What knowledges do we honor and legitimize?

Diving In, Part 1: What counts as knowledge or expertise? 
Check out this  video from Dr. Khalid Kadir, UC Berkeley Global Poverty and Practice Program. It explores the questions: (1) what is an expert? And (2) how are problems defined? (13 minute, 29 seconds) 

The video highlights the ways that “experts” frequently define problems as naturally occurring, implicitly suggesting that no one was involved and that no one is responsible. Instead, the video argues for the importance of context, history, and politics to solve problems (like poverty).

Question for reflection:

What sort of academic training are you receiving, and what type of “expert” will that make you into?

Question for application:

In this module, we are exploring how research can contribute to building more just, inclusive, sustainable communities. As you examine your current situation, can you think of an issue area or specific problem that is “keeping you up at night” (e.g. food security in your neighborhood)? Jot down a few sentences describing the problem.

Diving In, Part 2: Who has the problems and who has the solutions? 
Read Why Detroit residents pushed back against tree planting – (1,740 words; 14 minute read) – Detroiters were refusing city-sponsored “free trees.” A researcher found out why: She was the first person to ask them if they wanted them. As you read, consider how the researcher’s identification of “heritage narratives” may help illuminate the intersection of important topics we have covered earlier, including cultural humility and structural violence.

In the center front of this picture, two white men water a recently planted sapling.

Question for reflection:

Reflecting back on the issue or problem you identified in the previous section, consider the following questions:

  • Who is this a problem for?
  • Who benefits from the existence of this problem (or, how is this problem the “side effect” of something that benefits someone else)?
  • How did you come to see this as a problem – how did it become visible for you?

Read over the description of the problem and analyze whether you’ve already determined certain solutions. What might be missing from your understanding of that problem? Who might you need to ask to understand more?

Question for application

Communities face many issues that we call “wicked problems”: multi-layered, multi-variable issues that are difficult to address and bigger than one institution’s reach (e.g. poverty, the opioid crisis, etc.). They also contain inherent assets and strengths that can address those problems from a perspective grounded in community. Identify one of these “wicked problems” that you have observed in your own community. Now, identify some knowledge assets or stakeholders you would bring to the table to address that issue.

Diving In, Part 3: Community-based participatory research (a definition)

Community-based participatory research (CBPR) provides an alternative to traditional research. CBPR enlists those who are most affected by a community issue – typically in collaboration or partnership with others who have research skills – to conduct research on and analyze that issue, with the goal of devising strategies to resolve it” (University of Kansas – Community tool kit).

This definition draws attention to the importance of:

  • Why – with the goal of devising strategies to resolve it
  • Who – those who are most affected by a community issue
  • How – in collaboration or partnership

In Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities, Eve Tuck (2009) calls communities, researchers, and educators to re-envision research and re-imagine how research “might be used by, for, and with communities” (p. 410). In discussing the initiation of new research, she cautions,

It is important to ask, when considering a new community research project, “What can research really do to improve this situation?” The answers might reveal that research can do little in a particular situation or quite a lot in another. Or they may reveal that it is not the research that will make the difference but, rather, who participates in the research, who poses the questions, how data are gathered, and who conducts the analysis. (p. 424)

The next several pages examine questions raised by Tuck in Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities:

  • Why matters Research for what? For whom?
  • Who mattersWho am I, where am I located, and how do those answers position me to contribute to positive social change?
  • How mattersHow can ensure co-construction through all phases of the research process (questions, methods, analysis, writing, dissemination)?

Page Completion – Outcomes:

Now that you have completed this page and the readings, videos, and activities within it, you should have strengthened your understanding of: 

  • The dangers of conventional expertise and the risks involved with naturalizing social and even environmental challenges.
  • The ways in which cultural humility and structural violence intersect with researchers’ and communities’ understandings (or lack thereof) in relation to one another.
  • Community-based participatory research, in terms of an initial definition.

Please share feedback on this page by taking this 5-question survey. Thank you!

Next: Why matters – Research for what? For whom?

Citation for this page: Reynolds, N.P. (2020). How can research contribute to building more just, inclusive, sustainable communities? In E. Hartman (Ed.). Interdependence: Global Solidarity and Local Actions. The Community-based Global Learning Collaborative. Retrieved from http://globalsolidaritylocalaction.sites.haverford.edu/with-and-from-participatory-methods/


Mock, B. (2019, January 11). Why Detroit Residents Pushed Back Against Tree-Planting. Retrieved May 8, 2020, from https://www.citylab.com/environment/2019/01/detroit-tree-planting-programs-white-environmentalism-research/579937/

The University of Kansas. (n.d.). University of Kansas Community Tool Box. Retrieved May 8, 2020, from https://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/evaluate/evaluation/intervention-research/main

Tuck, E. (2009). Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities. Harvard Educational Review79(3), 409–427. Retrieved from http://pages.ucsd.edu/~rfrank/class_web/ES-114A/Week%204/TuckHEdR79-3.pdf

Videos and pieces cited within the videos:

GlobalPOV. (2014, April 11). The #GlobalPOV Project: “Can Experts Solve Poverty?” With Khalid Kadir [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jqEj8XUPlk&feature=emb_logo