Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Community-Based Research: Analysis of Outcomes for Learning and Social Change*

Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Community-Based Research: Analysis of Outcomes for Learning and Social Change*

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Broadly defined, community-based research (CBR) is a process of conducting research that embraces and integrates the participation and local knowledge of people in communities and organizations with the goal of informing efforts to achieve social change. Although several publications on CBR exist, they primarily focus on processes, methods, and tools for developing and implementing CBR projects. This special issue of the Journal of Rural Social Sciences builds from that knowledge base, analyzes the outcomes of real-world CBR projects, and assesses learning outcomes for students, faculty, organizations, and community residents. This introduction to the special issue provides an overview of the academic and practical applications of community-based research that aim to achieve learning outcomes and social change for both university- and community-based partners. It includes a review of theoretical concepts and methodological approaches comprising CBR, followed by a summary of the articles in this issue.

The idea for developing this collection of individual works on community-based research (CBR) evolved from a workshop at the 2009 annual meeting of the Rural Sociological Society (RSS) held in Madison, Wisconsin, entitled "Community-based Research: Documenting and Learning from Project Outcomes." The workshop was organized and facilitated by John J. Green and Randy Stoecker, two sociologists with experience in designing and implementing CBR initiatives. Several contributors to this special issue participated in the RSS workshop and were subsequently invited, along with others, to develop manuscripts drawing from their experiences as students, practitioners, and professors working with communitybased and non-governmental organizations through a variety of development initiatives.

The guest editors of this issue, representing the disciplines of community development, sociology, public policy, and demography, have been involved in numerous collaborative CBR projects, over the past ten years, through the Institute for Community-Based Research (ICBR), which originated at Delta State University and now operates primarily through the Center for Population Studies at the University of Mississippi. Their work has focused on documenting and evaluating the needs, interests, and recommendations of service providers following Hurricane Katrina and those of minority and limited-resource farmers in several states; the education and workforce training needs expressed by underemployed women; and other projects with organizations throughout the Mississippi Delta and Gulf Coast regions addressing issues of poverty, education, transportation, access to health care, and sustainable development. This special issue represents a culmination of the editors' efforts combined with those of their co-contributors, which is founded on the desire to provide a theoretically and methodologically informed collection of works derived from actual "on-the-ground" CBR projects, and is accessible beyond the walls of the university. The contributors to this volume come from diverse places and have been involved in an array of different projects, yet they all have a deep grounding in and commitment to CBR.

DEFINING COMMUNITY-BASED RESEARCH

The concept of community-based research has evolved out of "participatory" and "action" oriented approaches that emphasize the integration of research, education, and action designed to achieve some level of social change as a key outcome. Critical to this type of research is direct participation by people (e.g., individuals, informal groups, organizations) who will be directly affected by the issue being studied. At the core of CBR is a blend of research approaches that include variations of participatory, action-oriented research, and popular education initiatives (Jordan 2003). One CBR root can be traced to Kurt Lewin's (1948) model of action research that demonstrates how to solve practical problems within organizations through a research cycle of planning, action, and an investigation of the results of the action. …

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