Blogpost: HOPE Village and Community-Based Participatory Action Research

By Esmeralda Hernandez

The Community Engagement Team here at the National Forum is partnering with Focus HOPE on a project to promote dialogues around the topic of higher education in the HOPE Village community.  The project, funded by the Graham Institute, will involve a method called Community-Based Participatory Action Research (PAR).  PAR involves identifying those who have first-hand experience with community issues and including them in the research process.  For the HOPE Village Initiative, this means finding two youths and two adults from the HOPE Village community to work alongside researchers here at the National Forum.  The community researchers and those from the Community Engagement Team will train to become qualitative researchers together, as well as to conceptualize the project, facilitate dialogues and collect data, analyze the results, and present findings collaboratively as one team.

We believe developing this relationship between the community researchers and the National Forum team will have many benefits for our research and the community.  Utilizing community researchers is based on the idea that participants are more likely to trust community researchers and therefore contribute more fully to the conversation.  Moreover, community researchers are more likely to fully understand the issue within the community and therefore are able to provide unique insight to the facilitation and analyzing process.  This understanding of relevant issues is amplified by the fact that, unlike the researchers at the National Forum, community researchers are constantly on-site and therefore are also able contribute their knowledge and experiences about the issue of higher education that originates outside the limited perimeter of the project.  We hope to inspire members of HOPE Village to take the information we gather in the dialogues and take action to improve educational disparities in their community. The inclusion of community researchers may help gain support of the research findings and the ability of these findings to inform self-sustained community action.

Finally, the Community Engagement Team at the National Forum hopes to grow significantly from the experience of working with community researchers and better understand our role as scholars in community-based work.  Participatory Action Research is not easy.  As a team, we have met up with numerous experts such as Dr. Mark Chesler at Inter-Group Relations and Dr. Barbara Israel at Detroit Urban Research Center to learn more about the method and the processes needed to make it happen.  We expect PAR will be a welcome extension of the community-based work here at The National Forum for Higher Education for the Public Good.

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