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Community-based research builds on the strengths, knowledge, and cultures of the communities involved
CBR recognizes that academics are not the only source of expertise for doing research. Communities have knowledge, expertise, skills, and other gifts that they use to understand and address issues that affect them.
Professional researchers bring valuable strengths to CBR, such as:
Community-based partners also bring strengths, which outside academics often lack, such as:
In CBR, the goal is to leverage both academic and community strengths. To do this, partners need opportunities to understand and affirm one another’s cultures, identities, and perspectives. One great way to do this is through storytelling. Through stories, partners can give each other a better understanding of who they are and how they see the world. They can explore the similarities and differences across cultures — including the culture of academia.
Partners also need an understanding of the strengths and cultures of the broader communities they are working with. For example, who are respected leaders in the community? Where does the community gather? Who in the community has knowledge on the research topic? Where are community members already creating inventive and innovative solutions? Community-based partners can take the lead in this, but they can also benefit from learning more about their own communities. This can be done through processes like asset mapping (see below).
This work requires partners to have cultural humility: an honest interest in one another and a willingness to question cultural assumptions. It also requires an understanding that culture is complex and evolving. There is no one “Latinx” or “Polynesian” culture. People need opportunities to teach others about their background, culture, and identity in their own words.
When partners have a good understanding and appreciation for community cultures, they can design research methods that are inclusive of those cultures. Sometimes, traditional research methods are very alien to the way people are used to talking and interacting.
Asset maps can be useful for identifying community strengths that could be mobilized for a CBR project.
In asset mapping, partners collaborate to identify assets and gifts in the community. Assets might include organizations, networks, leaders, individual knowledge, cultural practices, physical spaces, etc.
Partners can begin by mapping out what they already know. They can increase their knowledge by inviting other community members and people who work in the community to share their knowledge.
The map can keep growing over time. For instructions and examples, check out these resources from the Asset Based Community Development Institute:
Indigenous leaders and university researchers launch a project about education. They recognize that indigenous peoples have long practiced their own methods of research and knowledge sharing, and want to build on those methods. So, rather than doing focus groups — with one researcher asking a set of questions to participants — they run “circles” in which all members have an equal chance to speak. This method builds from traditional indigenous talking circle practices and emphasizes storytelling. Through personal and traditional stories, participants share intergenerational knowledge and make collective sense of their histories and lived experiences. They are not research “subjects” but rather co-analysts of their own educational practices.
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