In it together

PHOTO CREDIT: Izzy Fuller

Claudia Loayza and a young participant contribute to a mural at Poplar Grove Park during an Earth Day Placemaking event with Re-Imagining Nature SLC.

A group of community leaders and University of Utah researchers has completed a nearly year-long project to develop guidelines for carrying out community-based research (CBR). They hope the guidelines, which can be viewed and downloaded here, will be adopted across the U and other universities by researchers interested in building equitable, mutually beneficial research partnerships.

“The movement calling on academics to research with communities rather than on communities has been growing for many years, but I think the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement pushed this idea even more toward the surface,” said Paul Kuttner, associate director for community engaged scholarship for University Neighborhood Partners and co-founder of the Community Research Collaborative (CRC), which created the guidelines. “CBR is one way we can address systemic racism and colonialism in higher education and tackle complex social problems.”

These new guidelines are an updated and revised version of the 2007 University Neighborhood Partners report, Guidelines for Community-Based Research. The latest version includes an expanded set of principles and integrates lessons learned from the growth of CBR over the last 15 years. The team of researchers and collaborators extends across the U’s main and health campuses and includes leaders and organizers representing diverse Salt Lake Valley communities.

“It’s exciting that more faculty are interested in equity-based approaches to research,” said Adrienne Cachelin, CRC co-founder and professor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies. “These guidelines can help ensure projects respect and encompass the culture, knowledge, expertise and lived experiences of the communities involved. It’s not only about justice, it’s about synthesizing different types of knowledge to create more impactful and complete research.”

Members of the CRC stress the importance of recognizing that communities and universities are not two separate things. Universities are very much part of their cities and regions. They are impacted by the same forces and local residents are valuable parts of the university community.

“We can only truly be the university for Utah if we figure out our priorities together, in partnership with community members,” said Ana Antunes, CRC co-founder and assistant professor in the division of Gender Studies. “This is about research and scholarship, but it’s also about community building and relationships that last long after a single project is finished. It’s also about recognizing that research in the past has been harmful and exploitative to marginalized groups, so finding ways to change that and include communities in the process.”

This report is the first step of many for the team. With the support of the Office of the Vice President for Research (VPR), they are looking to create classes, trainings, funding opportunities and a community-based review board based on the guidelines.

“We are working hard to make the guidelines accessible to both community-based and university-based people. We’ll be creating a multi-lingual website along with videos, facilitation tools and resources people could use to actually do this work,” said Kuttner. “We want to support academics reaching out to the community. We also want community members to feel empowered to reach out to researchers and engage in ways that involve shared power and decision making.”

Only then, said the team, can CBR be truly transformative.