Overview of the Research Process Webinar

December 21, 2015 - Kathryn Colasanti, Courtney Pinard, Katherine Alaimo, Ashley Atkinson

This webinar provides an overview of the research process with a focus on community-based participatory research (CBPR). Topics covered include designing research, data collection methods, protecting research subjects and analyzing and communicating your results. The speakers share the principles of CBPR and offer suggestions for how to meaningfully engage community members throughout the research process.

Webinar Authors: 


Overview of the Research Process Webinar Slides

Webinar Transcript:

Kathryn Colasanti: A little bit of context about today's webinar. This is our second training webinar associated with the Michigan Good Food Charter Shared Measurement Project, and the goals of the shared measurement project are to better align how food systems across Michigan are tracking their progress and tracking the impact of their work and also to better track progress towards the goals of the Michigan Good Food Charter. So we began that project just over a year ago by engaging stakeholders around those ideas, and one of the things we heard back was that there is a desire for overall increased understanding of research and evaluation generally. So to respond to that, we are providing this webinar and a few others to kind of name the foundations. Before moving forward of the Shared Management Project, we had a webinar that provided an overview program evaluation in mid-November, and that's posted to the Center for Regional Food Systems website. So again, this is the second one, which will be an overview of the research, and then in 2016, we plan to provide some webinars more focused on the specific measurement tools and indicators that are priority areas where the Shared Management Project, starting with the new survey tool on healthy food access. So stay tuned for that. That brings me to an introduction of today's speakers. So we'll be hearing first from Ashley Atkinson and Katherine Alaimo, and they have been working together for 15 years, believe it or not, beginning in Flint, and then in Detroit starting in 2003, and their work together has focused on evaluation and research related to fruit and vegetable consumption, social capital, neighborhood satisfaction, and the economics of urban agriculture. Ashley had worked in the field of community guarding, urban drainage, and vacant land reuse for 15 years and served as the director of Urban Agriculture and Open Space Green in Detroit for a decade and now serves as Co-Director of Keep Growing Detroit where they support more than 1400 gardens and farms across Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park, and also want to note that Ashley is a member of our Shared Measurement Advisory Committee.

Next, we'll will be hearing from Katherine Alaimo, and Katherine and Ashley will be going back and forth, I should note, but Catherine is an Associate Professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University, and her research is aimed at creating safe, healthy, and just community school environments that encourage healthy eating, physical activity, sustainable food systems, and community foods security. Much of her research applies to the community-based participatory research approach that will be talking about today, and she has worked throughout her career with committee-based organizations and community gardeners in Michigan, and then, finally, we'll be hearing from Courtney Pinard, who is a research scientist at the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, and we've had the opportunity to work with Courtney since starting the Shared Measurement Project. She had led our stakeholder engagement process for that project, and her research focuses on public health outcomes, the policies, programs, and practices that impact nutrition and diet, and Courtney has particular interest in rural food access and how regional food systems can strengthen community food security, particularly in more remote and low-income areas. So in today's webinar, we will be covering, oops, first what is research? Why do research in a community setting? Potential risks and pitfalls. And introduction to Community-Based Participatory Research approach, and an overview of data collection and evaluation measures. So again, thank you all for being here. With that, I'll turn it over to Ashley. 

Ashley Atkinson: Hi everybody. So first we wanted to start with providing a framework for the difference between what research and evaluation are. So the big picture is that research is contributing to the general body of knowledge, and evaluation is very specific to assessing ongoing or completed projects, programs, and policies, and that's specific to their design implementation and results. So at our organization, Keep Growing Detroit, we do a lot of both research and evaluation, and our entire staff is involved in the process. So they're involved in designing, asking the question, coming up with the design, collecting data, analyzing data, the whole nine yards. We're going to go over that in more detail. So related to research, again, research is, in my mind, the way I look at it, a lot of it is hypothesis testing. So in my work using it as an example, I have a lot of questions related to how different things that we do every day impact each other. So the question is, you know, how does the education and gardening classes that we do impacting the success of gardeners having and sustaining gardens or having productive gardens? So that would be more in the line of research versus program and project evaluation, which helps to both look at the process, examine the process that you're using in program implementation, as well as the outcomes in program implementation. So the process could be something if you're involved in a collaborative, multiple individuals, multiple organizations involved in implementing a certain project, a lot of us are, that you would be examining, if that process of collaboration. So how you're communicating, how you're collecting information, how you're sharing information is either working or not working and how it can be improved. Outcome evaluation is more the outcomes that are the result of whatever project you're implementing. So the number of gardens that are supported or are returning to the program. So we ask ourselves, we do, again, a lot of research and evaluation, and we asked ourselves about what is the benefit? Why is it so important to do research in a community setting, and first and foremost to us is to be accountable to the community that we serve, and it's really important, for example, not only that our organization helps to start gardens but those gardens involved in our work actually return every year, they become stronger. You know, they're more sustainable. That they're actually being successful or getting to the point of being successful and sustainable. Also, to gain new knowledge and insight about our work to help us improve it. So if there's a process, for example, that is less than efficient or not very effective, that it can be identified, pinpointed, and improved. To build the capacity of organizations and people, for our staff, for example, being involved in the process of program evaluation or research has been very helpful in developing their skills to kind of examine their work through a critical lens, to take a moment to kind of reflect on what they're doing, what's working, and to, in some cases, deconstruct and reconstruct what they're doing so that it's just more impactful. Also, to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us. It's very important for our organization, most likely for yours as well, that we're being very accountable for the, you know, the few dollars that we do have. We do want to make sure that they're being really put in the best places to have the biggest results, and then, definitely, very, very important to influence policy makers and funders, those people that have quite a bit of leverage and power in the community to actually make sure that the policies that support our work or the funds that are necessary for making it happen continue to be put in places where the results are evident and then also to share what we're learning with our communities and other communities. So in our case, we work a lot with other communities from New Orleans, to Baltimore, to Pittsburgh, and because we're able to both document, as well as to kind of share the outcomes of our work. They're a lot more transferable and relevant to those communities than they would be otherwise, but there are definitely some risks and some pitfalls to be mindful of when you're thinking on embarking on a research project or new evaluation project, and I would do these. Highly recommend that you really think about them and you process the following earlier in the process than later. So first is the historical breaches and trust and abuse of power that have been evident in the process of collecting data, doing research, and systemics and doing evaluation. So an example that comes to mind is the Tuskegee Experiment. Many, many, many people in our communities are familiar with this experiment, as well as a million other breaches of trust, and in this particular case, there were a case and control group. Basically, the individuals involved in the study, the researchers knew that they had a communicable disease. They were not told they did, and they were not helped in any way in terms of alleviating the disease, and as importantly, stopping its spread throughout the community that they were in. So, you know, that kind of thing, a lot of people, you know, they are turned off by even the prospect of participating in something like research or evaluation because that historical reference. There's also promotion of white culture and white supremacy, so speaking for my own experience, research is and has been a tool to kind of elevate numbers and statistics above people's stories, and then also, the evidence collected in research about people's experiences, and so a lot of that caring about the evidence, caring about the numbers, it is part of white culture, which, you know, in America we live in a pretty ethnocentric culture, and it's very much dominated by, you know, our white culture, and it has sometimes a very negative impact on the communities that we're serving, and we just should think about the association between research and some of the practices in the foundation of research, and it's helping to further that in our communities, and then lastly, the delegitimization of local knowledge and experience, or the extraction of wealth and knowledge from local communities to, you know, academic communities, which often don't represent the communities that are being researched and examined. There is a lot of knowledge in the communities that we serve, particularly, in my experience, in Detroit, and when we are involved in research where the evidence is only important or relevant once a researcher says that it is, and then takes that researcher evidence back to the institution that they're in, it really, it has, or can have the effect of delegitimizing or the local knowledge the people that were really instrumental in creating that knowledge and that experience, it's all of those things should really be considered before embarking on a major research or evaluation project.

Katherine Alaimo: Hi, so one approach that people who are interested in conducting research with communities can take is participatory research or community-based participatory research, and it has processes in mind that can take to the challenges and pitfalls that Ashley just discussed with us, and if you utilize those processes, and are mindful of those potential pitfalls, then the possibility is for elevating the level of research and its ability to do good with the community. So, community-based participatory research is an approach. It's a collaborative approach that enables community residents to actively participate in the research process, and there's different models of participatory research, but the, you know, when you think about the ideal model would be that community residents are participating in the initiation or conception of the research. The design of how and when, and through what means, their research is conducted. Participating in the analysis and interpretation and summarizing those into conclusions and then communicating those results with others, and the goal of this approach is influencing change in community health or social health systems programs and policies, and so what you have is a partnership approach where community members and researchers are actively coming together to combine knowledge and action for social change. Okay, so sometimes people think of CBPR or community-based participatory research as a method, but really what it is is an approach that can utilize any or all research methods to answer research questions. So it's really an orientation and how we approach doing the research, and, the idea, again, is adequately involve all partners in the research process and recognize that when you are working with communities in an equitable manner that the sum is greater than the parts. That more can develop than if you are doing the research on your own. So why CBPR? We have many complicated or wicked health and social problems that are not necessarily going to be well-suited to outside expert research. So that having the local knowledge on the ground and that expertise when asking the right research questions and finding the right approaches can be really beneficial if you're looking to solve a particular problem. As Ashley said, there is a long-standing history of research abuse and mistrust where researchers slip in without consulting the community, do their research, and leave and then report on it without coming back to discuss that research with the community or leaving any legacy. We've also seen oftentimes results in intervention research and that, in some ways makes some sense. That if you're trying to work with a particular community or population then asking them from the get go, you know, "What do you think would work for you?" can be very beneficial before you even get started on your intervention, and increasingly, we have this understanding of this importance of local and cultural context, and also in interest in using research to improve our practices or to create best practices, and again, having that local expertise and partnership can be beneficial. So there's values and principles that come with CBPR that are not necessarily traditional when we think about research. It builds on strengths and resources and promotes cohorting, and also promotes capacity building of your community partner so that it's not just, again, creating this knowledge for a university setting, but is building capacity and the ability of community partner is to potentially do their own research or so create their own knowledge, and it seeks a balance between research and action and then disseminates the finding in thoughtful ways that are appropriate for the community, and another value and principle of CBPR, as you can see from the 15-year-long partnership that Ashley and I have had that it involves oftentimes a long-term process and commitment. So this is an over view of the CBPR research process, and you can see on the left of the slide that the first step is engaging stakeholders and forming a CBPR partnership. It's not always possible at the university level to form a partnership at the very beginning of your research project, but the best practice is to form a team as early as possible, so that there can be a shared understanding of each step, and that can help you build forward throughout the research process. The next step is to assess community strengths and dynamics, and this can help you determine which direction you're going to go into, and I'm going to go through each of these in a little bit in more detail in the next slides. Identifying priorities and research questions is critical, and some might feel it's the most important step of the research process, and then designing and connecting the research or evaluation, and Courtney is going to walk us through some of the important steps with that, and then interpreting and disseminating your research, and you can see that the process is circular in that if all is going well, that these steps are all following into a new process for potentially a new research or action project, and finally, in the middle you see sustaining and evaluating your CBPR partnership So taking the time to take stock of your partnership and either formally or informally how things are going throughout the process is very helpful and important. So Ashley's going to start with the first step and talk about who our stakeholder is.

Read the full Overview of the Research Process Webinar Transcript


Accessibility Questions:

For questions about accessibility and/or if you need additional accommodations for a specific document, please send an email to ANR Communications & Marketing at anrcommunications@anr.msu.edu.