Tag: Extractive Research

Healthy Community-University Partnerships

Healthy Community-University Partnerships

When pursuing community-engaged research-based partnership, there is a growing awareness that the “extractive” and “directive” models are unacceptable.  The “directive” model is business-as-usual, in which “best practices” emerge from university research with the expectation that communities should change their priorities and practices accordingly. Researchers who recognize the limitations of that approach may prioritize “engagement” but can sometimes practice an “extractive” approach, which centers questions that the researcher and their colleagues are interested in, unfolds according to university timelines, and seldom results in research findings or products that meet the needs of communities.  When conducted in the name of equity and with or “on” historically marginalized and under-resourced communities, this approach is especially problematic, as it creates additional burdens on these communities while burnishing the “expert” credentials for researchers with unclear impacts on equity outcomes.

Researchers looking to avoid either of these can inadvertently create other modes of collaboration that are equally ineffective, unethical, or likely to result in problems.  Examples of unhealthy researcher-community “collaborations” include:

Proximity: researchers attend numerous meetings, observe public activities, share spaces with activists and community members and gain credibility with other researchers as a result but do not allow them to shape or influence their research questions or approaches.  It is disingenuous at best to call this “engagement.”  

Dependency: researchers are wholly dependent on the community to create scholarly outputs and without community involvement at every stage the researcher has “nothing to show for their time.” This creates undue pressure on the community partner and can cause the researcher to introduce and impose university-driven priorities and timelines on the process. This is especially problematic for graduate students and pre-tenure faculty, who have timelines and pressures to create “outputs” that might not sync up with the needs and priorities of the community partners.

Imposition: related to dependency, this is a relationship in which university priorities, values, and timelines drive the engagement and substantially shape the activities that the community and/or organization are undertaking. Shaping community activities can be generative when all parties have a trusting relationship and agree that participatory action research is called for, but this should not be a default expectation of a researcher.

Healthy university-community partnerships can take a variety of forms, and should be responsive to the needs of the community, creatively mobilize the myriad resources housed in a research university, realistically take stock of the capacities of the research team, and carefully consider how the collaboration will advance the goals of the community collaborators.  These can take the form of:

Shared Interests

Shared interests: researchers and community-based organizations or groups convene and converse around shared interests in topics, issues, and approaches.  They share findings, exchange resources, and leave open the possibility of short- or long-term collaboration as opportunities arise.

Shared Goals

Shared goals: researchers and community-based collaborators have a shared and explicit theory of change, conception of justice, and desired outcomes. Researchers create products for collaborators as well as products oriented toward their research communities that translate their findings to scholarly audiences.

Shared Activities

Shared activities: Researchers and community members identify research processes and products that address shared interests and advance shared goals.  They work together in an ongoing way to conduct research, share findings and resources.

These are just a few of the models that can be the foundation for healthy collaborations between communities and researchers that do not reproduce the extractive or directive models that have historically characterized “engaged research.”  CREATE practices all three of these with different collaborators as needed, and will continue to iterate across these as the project develops.

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