Our guest blog is from Lesley Greenaway, a free-lance evaluator and consultant. She has a PhD in Participative Evaluation, and is committed to building capacity for research and evaluation.
What is distinct about community-led research is that it includes community members as active participants in the whole research process. This means finding ways to share decision-making in what questions to ask, who to ask, how to ask, analysing what you find and making decisions about the future. This is research with communities as opposed to research on communities.
Of course, community-led research is not without its challenges: building partnerships, developing local skills, maintaining rigor and ethical practice, and, at a practical level, planning the time and resources needed.
But in my experience, the benefits far outweigh the costs:
- new responses to local issues are generated by communities;
- community members own their research findings;
- increased skills and confidence create new opportunities for volunteers and new research projects; and,
- organisations gain evidence for attracting new funding.
I recently worked with CFHS on a study of food insecurity that they commissioned using this approach. Including the voice of communities and learning from their direct experience was fundamental for learning about a more nuanced and diverse lived experience. CFHS recognised that it was not enough to know how many people accessed food banks, we needed to dig deeper. What about the people who don’t use food banks but are living on the edge, teetering on a thin line between just okay and not okay? What were their experiences and what strategies did they use to help them to cope? These questions pose a challenge for researchers, not least, how to get to the heart of authentic lived experience. Enter community-led research and its principles of inclusion and participation. My role was to support three community partners and their teams of community researchers to undertake this community-led research. It was at times challenging, deeply rewarding and lots of fun to work alongside the talented community researchers, and for more about our stories….