A Case Study of a Community-Based Participatory Evaluation Research (CBPER) Project: Reflections on Promising Practices and Shortcomings

Article excerpt

Community-based research (CBR) is collaborative, change-oriented research that engages faculty members, students, and community members in projects addressing community-identified needs (Strand, Marullo, Cutforth, Stoecker, & Donohue, 2003). With its roots in action research, participatory research (for a detailed description between the two, see Brown & Tandon, 1983), and popular education, CBR is an important tool in engaging institutions of higher education with local communities (see Strand et al., 2003 for more on the history of CBR and its relationship to the three stated models). Indeed, several academic disciplines, including education (Stocking & Cutforth, 2006), environmental health sciences (O'Fallon & Dearry, 2002), international education (Lewis & Niesenbaum, 2005), nursing (Kelley, 1995), occupational therapy (Taylor, Braveman, & Hammel, 2004), planning (Reardon, 1998), public health (Israel, Eng, Schulz, & Parker, 2005; Minkler & Wallenstein, 2003), social work (Rogge & Rocha, 2004), and sociology (Buroway, 2005) have acknowledged CBR's contribution to the paradigm shift toward university-community involvement. Furthermore, the growing recognition of the potential of CBR to address complex community needs is recognized by the insistence on forming CBR partnerships contained in grant guidelines from federal agencies (e.g., the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Outreach Partnership and the Center for Disease Control's Prevention Research Centers Program) and other funding sources.

With CBR, the research issue and question originate with the community. Often times, community organizations want to know if their programs are "working." In these cases, program evaluation can become part of the CBR paradigm. Evaluation research is defined as the systematic application of social research procedures in assessing social intervention programs (Rossi &Freeman, 1993). Community-based researchers can use evaluation models such as participatory evaluation (Patton, 1997a; Stoecker, 1999) or empowerment evaluation (Fetterman, 1994a; Fetterman, 1994b; Stoecker) to help guide the community organization through the evaluation process. The CBR project that is described in this article aligns more with the participatory evaluation model, which is really an extension of the stakeholder-based model with a focus on enhancing evaluation utilization through the primary user(s)' increased participation in the research process (Cousins & Earl, 1992). The principles of participatory evaluation can be summarized as follows: (a) involve participants at every stage of the research process; (b) make sure the participants own the evaluation; (c) focus the process on the outcomes the participants think are important; (d) facilitate participants to work collectively; (e) organize the evaluation to be understandable and meaningful to all; (f) use the evaluation to support participants' accountability to themselves and their community first and outsiders second, if at all; (g) develop the evaluator role as a facilitator, collaborator, and learning researcher; (h) develop participants' roles as decision makers and evaluators; (i) recognize and value participants' expertise and help them to do the same; and (j) minimize status differences between the evaluation facilitator and participants (Patton; Stoecker).

Research that is firmly based in the community is an important component of the community engagement movement and with increased awareness, the participatory evaluation approach can be a vehicle through which communities can become further engaged in the programs which serve them. The practical challenges of conducting research in and with a community, such as unrealistic goals and timeframes, minimal resources, a lack of personal investment, and methodological challenges associated with recruiting participants (Stocking & Cutforth, 2006; Strand et al. …

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