Tag: Engagement

Community Engagement in the Environmental Sciences

Community Engagement in the Environmental Sciences

A virtual panel discussion of best practices, approaches and principles for collaboration between environmental sciences and communities that have not historically shaped the research priorities of academic institutions featuring: 

Queen Quet; Chieftess and Head of State of the Gullah/Geechee Nation & UMN CLA Winton Chair in the Liberal Arts

Na’Taki Osborne Jelks; Spelman College & West Atlanta Watershed Alliance 

Dan Rizza; Climate Central

Kurt Kipfmueller; University of Minnesota

Moderated by Kate Derickson

Showcasing The CREATE Initiative: Sharing in the Benefits of a Greening City

Showcasing The CREATE Initiative: Sharing in the Benefits of a Greening City

As social movements leaders remind us, in the midst of all the work that needs to happen in the world, we must celebrate our wins. After over two years of deeply relational research and product-generation, the CREATE Initiative hosted a public showcase to celebrate these “wins”: contributions made by staff, students, and community partners to address the urgent question of green gentrification.  

Hosted at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs in mid-February, the showcase was an opportunity to share all of our work over the last few years as a unified body of research. We highlighted the contributions from our 2019 CREATE Scholars cohort, presenting products that are resourcing our partners in Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Nassau County, Florida. An interactive mapping demonstration allowed attendees to experiment with layering data about housing, racial covenants, environmental toxins, and park investments to understand first-hand how these systems of housing and environmental (in)justice interact across space. Attendees also left with copies of our recently-published policy toolkit for mitigating green gentrification entitled Sharing in the Benefits of a Greening City. 

A panel of CREATE partners from our Policy Think Tank and the Mapping Prejudice Project offered up a series of generative reflections on the importance of community-engaged research, the pitfalls of working inside and with University institutions, and the urgency of centering marginalized forms of knowledge in research. Moderated by CREATE Co-Director Bonnie Keeler, the panelists were particularly adamant about the connection between process and product, a fundamental relationship that has been central to the CREATE Initiative ethos. As panelist, Policy Think Tank member, and professor at St. Cloud State University Iyekiyapiwin Darlene St. Clair told the audience, authentically relational research is essential to engaging the humanity not only of the community research partner, but of the academic researcher as well. In other words, when we forgo attention to process, we lose something of ourselves as well. 

The sold-out showcase presented an important opportunity to step back and view our work as a collection rather than individual products. In doing so, we were able to articulate moments of connection that we had not previously verbalized. Furthermore, this showcase allowed us to reflect as a team on where this project started. As we wrote in the showcase introductory statement: 

When we began this work, some scholars and public officials wondered to us whether there was anything that could be done about the way that green initiatives sometimes displace vulnerable communities. The work we are presenting here is our attempt to answer that question affirmatively: yes, there are things that can be done to ensure that everyone shares in the benefits of a greening city. Our goal was not to offer a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather to mobilize the resources of the research university to take stock of how communities understand these problems and develop creative, if at times partial, solutions, and to support the ongoing efforts of our collaborators to make just, green futures a reality. 

Our ongoing conversations with community organizations, public agencies, and institutional partners have made clear that these questions are not going away any time soon. There is just as much, if not more, demand for clearly articulated and accessible analysis of green gentrification as ever. If anything, CREATE’s collaborative research process has only spread interest in this question through a growing network of stakeholders. 

As CREATE continues to deepen our research into the historical and contemporary relationships between green infrastructure investments, racial exclusion, and housing displacement, we will hold these reflections as a place of re-grounding and, as Darlene wisely insisted, look for ways to make this research a place from which to deepen our own humanity. 

All work products highlighted at the showcase can be viewed on our website. A full version of Sharing in the Benefits of a Greening City is available for download here. If you would like to request a physical copy of the toolkit, to borrow the interactive maps we have generated, or to coordinate a presentation about this work at your organization, please email create@umn.edu

For more, you can read, listen, and watch recent coverage of the CREATE Initiative here. 

CREATE’s Model of Engagement

CREATE’s Model of Engagement

Community-engaged research partnerships have the potential to be transformative for community-based collaborators and researchers alike.  For communities, especially those that are under-resourced or have not historically had the ear of decision-makers, gaining access to sophisticated research that explores questions that are timely and meaningful for their sets of concerns can level the playing field in a decision-making context.  

In urban planning processes, for example, developers can hire consultants to generate promise-filled plans, reports, and projections that can be challenging to vet for people who don’t have access to their own research. Tireless community advocates who have worked overtime to develop expertise on an issue and conducted their own research on a shoe string budget are familiar figures in the urban and environmental political landscape, but the demands of this unsupported work are often too onerous for everyday people to sustain.  

Partnerships with university-based researchers can resource these efforts, providing communities with similar levels of research support that developers, large NGOs and state agencies enjoy and promoting increased community participation in urban and environmental decision-making processes.  

For researchers, these partnerships can be equally rewarding.  There is a growing sense amongst university-based researchers that the “ivory tower” model of research perpetuates inequality even as it attempts to research its roots. In the context of eroding trust in expertise, trust-building collaborations can make research findings travel further and have a greater impact.  

Collaborative, community-engaged research isn’t necessarily only “applied” research – when done thoughtfully it can invite insight into the questions considered to be the frontiers of scientific inquiry. Engaged citizens raise topics, problems and potential solutions that can generate new, creative pathways for research.  In the case of CREATE, our collaborations with communities in Atlanta, Florida and Minneapolis have provided fertile ground for pushing the boundaries of ecosystem services research to better account for the social impacts of the approach.  

As urgent and exciting as engaged research can be, it can be challenging to do.  Communities that have long been “researched” but seldom genuinely engaged as partners are understandably skeptical that university-based research will deliver any real value to them.  Under-resourced community organizations have little spare time to give to researchers who may or may not generate findings and products of value to their work. And academic institutions tend to undervalue and de-incentivize genuine community-engaged research, which has different timelines, requires different resources, and has different ethical dimensions than “traditional” research.

In spite of these challenges, there are myriad examples of effective, generative, and long-term research collaborations between communities and universities.  At CREATE, we are piloting a model of community collaboration that is responsive to a decade of community-engaged research that I have conducted through the geography field, as well as the experiences of our community-based collaborators.

The central ethos of our approach is “resourcefulness,” which has three different dimensions:

1)    It centers the needs of community-based collaborators by framing university-based researchers as resources for collaborators.  We flip the script to ensure that our collaborators benefit from research and the researchers put in the time, money, and the bulk of the work.

2)    It brings to the fore the issue of material resources, and emphasizes the need to focus on how resources are spent throughout the collaboration.  We are attentive to whose time is prioritized and compensated, whose travel is paid for, and whose priorities and needs drive the distribution of the project’s resources.

3)    It rethinks what the university has to offer publics, especially those who have not historically had access to shaping the priorities of research universities.  We take a fresh look at what the libraries, our speaker series and college-wide initiatives, our classrooms, our graduate training programs as well as our research initiatives can provide our community collaborators.

We have actualized this resourcefulness framework through our program structure. Central to this structure is the “policy think tank,” a body supported by CREATE staff that serves as a vehicle for our community-based collaborators to share ideas and identify research products that would be of value for their communities. Think tank members receive a stipend for their participation that they can use to augment their salary or resource their organizations. The think tank in turn informs our “synthesis team” comprised of interdisciplinary researchers whose role is to design, find funding for, and conduct research that our think tank considers a priority.  

This approach is distinct from “participatory action research” in which community partners participate in every stage of the research. While this model has its merits and applications, it is only one type of community-engaged research. Instead of focusing on collaboration through the process of conducting the research itself, our focus is on the topics, approaches and products we develop.

Finally, we have a team of faculty and administrators interested in changing the nature of graduate education, to train students to conduct engaged, problem-oriented research in collaborative, interdisciplinary settings. This advisory team takes lessons from our policy think tank and synthesis team and applies them in their own engagement with graduate education.  

Like any good collaborative effort, our approach is a work in progress and we’ll continue to iterate on it as our work unfolds. Look here for further updates to our model and approach!

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