"Research" in Community-Partnered, Participatory Research

Published In: JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, v. 302, no. 3, Commentary, July 15, 2009, p. 320-321

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2009

by Kenneth B. Wells, Loretta Jones

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In many underserved communities, "research" is a loaded word that sets expectations of being examined or exploited. This is more likely when data are published but not otherwise shared, such as in a community forum. Research, whether it intends to or not, may disadvantage groups by highlighting problems rather than assets. Research can thus become a symbol of distance between community reality and the "ivory tower," where few mechanisms exist to facilitate community access to knowledge. Academics may view pursuit of knowledge as paramount and in entering research partnerships take such perspectives personally rather than as an expected subject of ongoing discussion. That research is a loaded word suggests that it is important to understand the power associated with it. When members of underserved communities are reminded of everyday applications of research, such as seat belts, the sense of alienation the term conveys can disappear.

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