Centering Participatory Action Research in Racial Equity and Global Justice

Published Dec 28, 2021

by Rhianna C. Rogers

Rhianna C. Rogers, director of the RAND Center to Advance Racial Equity Policy, presented to the 13th Geneva Forum on December 15, 2021, at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

Rogers noted that, around the world, organizations are making commitments to achieve racial equity and global justice. However, the complexities associated with achieving those goals are not always clear. To reach these goals effectively, Rogers said, it is critical to grow skills in intersectional research spaces. At the same time, Rogers argued, it is important to acknowledge that personal beliefs and perceptions — rather than data — can determine how people respond to efforts to increase equity. Balancing racial equity studies, policy analysis, and cross-functional awareness is key to making the research and analysis carried out in the RAND Center to Advance Racial Equity Policy both meaningful and action-oriented.


Rhianna Rogers

Hello, my name is Dr. Rhianna Rogers, and I'm the director for the Center to Advance Racial Equity Policy at the RAND Corporation. My presentation is titled Centering Participatory Action Research in Racial Equity and Global Justice. So, let's begin.

First, I want to remind some of you who might have not been able to attend last year's session that in my previous job at SUNY Empire State College, I presented last year the presentation, titled Purposeful Participatory Action Research: Developing Responsive Programming Online. Much of the conversation that we're going to be having today builds upon the research that I brought with me from my life at SUNY into the RAND organization as I started in August. And so you'll be hearing some connections about prior work as we go through this presentation. So for those of you who don't know RAND, RAND is one of the oldest think tanks in the United States, and it has direct connections with public policy in many, many ways. It also is host to the oldest public policy dissertation program in the country.

And so one of the reasons that I left higher education formally and I came to this think tank is very similar to what I said in a recent article in Forward, which is the Center to Advance Racial Equity Policy's newsletter. I truly believe that now more than ever, these types of initiatives need to move quickly if we truly want to see change happen not only on a national level in the United States, but on an international scale. Getting together individuals who haven't typically been given voice is so critical right now if we're going to actually make real policy change and make society better for all. And so one of the things that we're going to be covering today, which is why this is part of that Participatory Action Research Forum that's inside of the Geneva Forum, is really to focus on best practices and ways that we can integrate learning from others into the development of successful programming.

Now, before we begin, I want to highlight the fact that there are three main pillars that the Center covers. The first is methods and action. In this space, we're looking at developing ways that can challenge the status quo of methodologies that are looking at equity and equity studies and finding new ways to be more inclusive and to bring more people to the table. The second area is dialogue and change. And this is really getting people from different backgrounds in the room to have conversations. This is quite important when we're trying to develop new policies because we want to make sure that we're representing voices. And then the third pillar is policy leadership. I like to call this the development of new leaders of the future. This can be anyone from any walk of life or any age group, but individuals who want to upskill themselves in areas around racial equity so that they can make an impact on their community, their neighborhoods, their regions, and ultimately the globe.

Now, before we get a deeper dive, I want to highlight a couple of key elements of racial equity. What does it actually mean? Well, what we focus on racial equity is that there's no one size fits all. Each and every person has their own unique experiences, and it's important to document those. For those of you who were able to attend my presentation last year, I talked about using participatory action research in my previous job at SUNY Empire State College, where we were talking through the lens of my project, the Buffalo Project, ways that we can incorporate student voice in the development of programmatic initiatives through the university system. At the Center, we're doing the exact same thing, but taking it beyond higher education and bringing it into the realm of society overall.

And so many of the programs that I'm currently developing at the Center are looking at stakeholders in different spaces. So digital equity, health care equity, looking at things like racial equity as a broader lens of entering into different disciplinary focii. What we have to do in looking through the lenses of either housing, economic development, empowerment, education, among many others that you see on this slide, is we're trying to get these trusted messengers in these different communities to be able to focus with us and to work with us on ways that we can address those three pillars of methods, dialogue, and leadership.

And so I'm excited to share with you that we've already done a lot of work in the first five months of my time in this space, kind of building off the work that I brought over from my previous life. For example, the last time that I spoke with you, I talked about SUNY Empire Connects, which was this layout of bringing together student voices, tying in kind of their feedback, and developing programming. Well, I have to tell you, we're doing a very similar model here. If you go take a look at the Center's website, we have Connect With Us. Just this morning, we held a presentation about gaming and we're bringing in partnerships from the outside world to develop socio-cultural games impacting individuals that are kind of at the K-12 level in the higher education space and beyond.

Now, for those of you who want to apply equity into your own work, I'm going to give you a couple of best practices because as I said to you, that's a really important part of the work that we do at the Center and completing the loop on equity studies. First and foremost, you need resources and you need to develop partnerships. I just mentioned to you about this idea of trusted messengers. This is a critical piece that you don't want to forego. You want to make sure that you're also setting rules in place. Who are the stakeholders that you want to have at the table? Are you including them, are you only focusing on the elite? Have you asked for people that are at different levels of kind of cultural variables or intersections? And are the people that are being directly impacted by your work in research, being involved in the process? Do you count them as equitable stakeholders? Is their voice being involved throughout the process, not just at the end when you give them a report or a product?

And this is critical because one of the things that I've kind of alluded to in this presentation is that really this is all about developing responsive programming and just-in-time programming that allows you to modify the work that you do based on the insights that you have and keeps that kind of in line with the work that you're doing and making sure it's a check and balance to see that you're doing equitable work in equitable ways. Now, during this process, we also have to acknowledge that there's systematic barriers and we have to leave room for opportunities of upskilling of those individuals that want to be part of the conversation but may not have had the privilege to develop their skill sets. If you've identified some community partners that you see lack in particular areas, this is your opportunity to step in and really show that equity lens where you can build in scaffolding opportunities, whether it be trainings, whether it be microcredentials—another point I covered in our conversation from last time last year—but there's a variety of ways that you can be inclusive, and I've provided you with just a few here.

You'll see on the final slide that I've also given you additional resources that you can continue this conversation and please feel free to reach out to me whenever you have any questions. That being said, once again, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak here today at the Geneva Forum, and I hope that we have opportunities to work as a network to be able to build out some of these programs and develop new ones. Thank you very much.

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