Commentary: Participatory Action Research Leads to Sustainable School and Community Improvement

Article excerpt

Fantuzzo, McWayne, and Bulotsky (2003) describe a collaborative community research program that aims to decrease the population incidence of child maltreatment and build preschool children's competencies. This university-community collaborative has contributed substantially to the knowledge base that informs maltreatment prevention, including the development of a culturally appropriate measure of urban children's social competence, a better understanding of the deleterious effect of maltreatment on children's social and academic competencies, and the implementation and evaluation of a collaboratively developed intervention for maltreated children. Additionally, Fantuzzo and his colleagues have demonstrated their commitment to collaborate with community residents, practitioners, and agencies to apply research-based conceptualizations and empirical findings to building a community's capacity to protect its most vulnerable children.

This collaborative community research program is an exemplar of the successful integration of two prevention research traditions: the investigator-driven research model (Cole et al., 1993; Weissberg & Greenberg, 1998) and the participatory action research model (Connell, Aber, & Walker, 1995; Knapp, 1995; May et al., 2002). In this commentary, I first compare the goals, assumptions, methods, benefits, and limitations of each approach to school and community prevention research (see Table 1). Next, I argue that the integration of traditional director-driven prevention research methods and participatory action research methods, as illustrated in the Fantuzzo et al. (2003) article, is essential to the goal of sustained and effective community prevention efforts.

Investigator Driven Prevention Research (IDPR)

Goals. The primary goal of IDPR, referred to by Fantuzzo et al. (2003) as the "standard modus operandi" is to identify efficacious prevention interventions. IDPR draws on data-driven theoretical conceptualizations of a problem (e.g., violence, substance abuse, child maltreatment) to develop and test interventions that target processes (e.g., child skills, classroom climate, or parent-child interactions) that are presumed to play a causal role in the development and/or maintenance of the problem. Prevention scientists are interested in testing the underlying theoretical conceptualization of the development of the problem as well as the efficacy of the intervention, in the hope of discovering principles of growth and change that can be applied broadly, across differing contexts. Given this goal of generalizing findings to new settings, replication of positive intervention effects is considered essential to the demonstration of an intervention's efficacy.

Assumptions. IDPR assumes that the systematic process of developing interventions and the use of rigorous controls (especially randomized clinical trials) for factors other than the intervention that might account for changes on outcomes of interest produces knowledge that has broad applicability. Because prevention science researchers recognize that a program's efficacy will differ in different contexts, the long-term prevention research agenda incorporates the identification of contextual features that account for such differences in efficacy. IDPR also assumes that the researcher is the expert and that objectivity is essential to the discovery of generalizable truths. The quest for objectivity means that individuals responsible for implementing an intervention are often kept "blind" to the true goals of the intervention and to participants' assignments to different intervention conditions. Finally, LDPR assumes that following this Research and Development (R&D) stage, programs of demonstrated efficacy will be disseminated to and adopted by local communities.

Methods. Because most prevention researchers are familiar with Fantuzzo et al.'s (2003) description of LDPR, repetition is not required here. …