An innovative conference that organizers hope will shape the future of participatory research in community psychology is the basis of a new book to be released later this year by APA: "Participatory Community Research: Theories and Methods in Action." The book will document discussions and recommendations that emerged from the second Chicago Conference on Community Research and Participatory Methods in June 2002--which conference organizer Leonard Jason, PhD, calls a "defining moment" for the field.
Researchers and community members teamed up at the conference to brainstorm ways to strengthen ties in solving social problems. Community members were searching for a more "democratic rather than authoritarian process" when researchers enter their communities to collect data on such issues as homelessness, HIV or drug use, says Jason, director of the Center for Community Research at DePaul University.
Community members want to be viewed as "active participants and colleagues," not as "subjects," he says. "Most [researchers] parachute into an organization and then basically expect [the community's] trust, but that needs to be earned, and that's earned over time."
At the conference, community members also asked for better communication with researchers and a stronger understanding of the research methods and potential benefits. "Researchers have a habit of using abstract and long terms that sometimes make it difficult to understand what they are doing," Jason says.
The conference highlighted theory, research and practice in 11 areas, such as university-community partnerships, epidemiology, feminist perspectives and participatory action research. The conference also featured an interactive segment in which participants from around the world accessed the conference's Web site to listen to the sessions live and have their questions answered.
The conference included three consensus panels composed of faculty, community members and students. Eleven past presidents of Div. 27 (Society for Community Research and Action) also attended the conference.
"There need to be educational forums going on in both ways--Psych Research Methods 101 for community members," Jason says, "and Community Norms 101 that teaches researchers what it's like to be in the community and work with participants."