Fostering Resident-Led Research across All Stages of Research

Sonia Torres Rodríguez
Mar 18 · 5 min read

by Sonia Torres Rodríguez

A publication of the Local Data for Equitable Recovery Resource Hub

As stated in a prior post, researchers collaborating with residents to address community priorities will generate mutual benefit, including opportunities for increased partnership, higher-quality research and findings, and the healing of research-related trauma. These collaborations can be a key strategy to begin undoing the systemic exclusion of communities of color in research.

For organizations considering collaborations with resident researchers, there are many ways to get started in all stages of the research process, from project design to dissemination of findings.

Some is better than none, and more is better than some

Resident researchers can contribute to all phases of the research process (i.e., research design, data collection, data interpretation, and dissemination). Ideally, residents would lead and have ownership of all of these phases, and nonprofit organizations and local governments would play a supporting role, but this is unfortunately not the case in most formal research. However, researchers who are in the middle of existing projects or are starting to develop relationships with their communities can take the leap and start adding community-based components. Considering how resident researchers can best be brought in at different research stages is always a useful place to start.

Research design

Research design includes all aspects of planning a research project, from determining what research is important to a community, to what audience is being engaged, to what methods (e.g., focus groups, interviews, surveys) will be used. This process allows community members and residents to set the goals of the research and determine how they will be accomplished.

Resident researchers can participate in research design through various mechanisms, including joint planning meetings with organizations and other resident researchers, and established community boards, such as youth boards or resident steering committees. For example, the Del Valle High School Youth-Led Community Health Learning Initiative worked with students to design a project evaluating health inequities in the Austin, Texas, region. This work was a collaboration between the SAFE Alliance’s Expect Respect Program, the UTHealth School of Public Health–Austin, and Del Valle High School students, and was supported by Children’s Optimal Health (a partner of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership).

As that project’s first step, the Community Advisory Board, which comprised community partners, designed the research method curriculum for Del Valle students. Health science students then became youth coinvestigators during the course, where they led the identification of need and assets (such as places youth visit in Del Valle to alleviate stress) in the community. The students used their mapping to design a Photovoice project and data walk, where findings were interpreted and disseminated to other students. The project was a culmination of years of partnerships and shows the value of starting with activities like a community advisory board to create a foundation for more elaborate resident-led research, like a semester-long capstone project for high-school students.

Data collection

To people without a formal research background, collecting research data is less foreign a process than might be expected. After all, everyone collects data in their daily lives — for instance, when leaving home, interacting with neighbors, and watching the news. Resident researchers often bring their own lived experience to data collection, resulting in more creative and thoughtful ways to reach fellow community members.

THRIVE East of the River is a collaboration based in Washington, DC, that has provided $5,500 in emergency cash assistance to 500 households in ward 8 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working closely with the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative, the Urban Institute has trained five paid community researchers to conduct qualitative interviews in partnership with a staff researcher. In addition to the standard consent and confidentiality protocols normally followed in any research interview, the interview team adheres to procedures designed to ensure that the community researchers do not know the people they speak to. These researchers’ participation enriches the feedback given about THRIVE, because people being interviewed are more likely to open up to researchers they can identify with and are more likely to be understood by researchers who share a similar neighborhood context. Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative and Urban Institute leaders plan to use this initial project as the base for a long-term collaboration designed to build research capacity directly into a historically disinvested community.

Data interpretation

Data interpretation is the process by which findings from data collection are analyzed and contextualized. Especially given the racially biased ways data have been used, collaborating with resident researchers to interpret the data can disrupt patterns of exclusion.

Resident researchers can collaborate in data interpretation through data walks, workshops, and other creative mediums. For instance, twice a year, MIT’s Healthy Neighborhoods Study hosts a six-hour collaborative data analysis workshop where community members review data, share their perspectives, and come to a consensus about what the study’s findings mean by moving from hypothesis to conclusion. This process creates a formal space for resident researchers to collaborate with a research organization to interpret findings.

Organizations can also use more inventive mediums. In 2016, the Data Center (a National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership partner) in New Orleans worked with the Media Arts Department at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (a creative arts training center for high-school students) to have youth creatively interpret the results of the newly launched New Orleans Youth Index, a collection of indicators that give a snapshot of the well-being of children and youth in the city. Eight students and alumni of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts chose an indicator that had personal meaning to them and made a professional film exploring the issue.

Video courtesy of Elevated Chicago

Data dissemination

Data dissemination is the process by which findings are shared with all affected stakeholders, not just those most likely to be subscribed to newsletters and social media. Data dissemination strategies include holding community meetings, distributing flyers, and building interactive websites codesigned with residents. Recently, an interactive dashboard about inequities related to COVID-19 was created by Drexel University’s Urban Health Collaborative (a National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership partner and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grantee partner). Stakeholders have disseminated the dashboard by sharing it with Promise Neighborhoods staff and city partners, by beta testing indicators and visualizations with community leaders, and by promoting the website with fliers and group demos to key local leaders and advocates.

During the pandemic, it can be difficult to transition typical dissemination practices (such as in-person community events) online, so it can be useful to branch out to new mediums. Elevated Chicago worked with local residents (predominantly Black and Latinx) to evaluate how walkable the city’s South Side and West Side communities are in the context of the pandemic, racial justice protests, and gentrification. It produced and widely shared a series of videos that were scripted and filmed by two residents (one in Logan Square and one in Washington Park) with other residents relating how the condition of public transportation and affordable housing affects them directly.

It is encouraging that more organizations are demonstrating interest in undertaking inclusive research at each of the different phases of the research life cycle, and @NNIPHQ looks forward to learning from new examples in the field.

Note: Although many people use “resident-led” or “community-led” research interchangeably, sometimes different geographic areas can have stigmas associated with one of the words, making it preferable to use one word over the other. This blog post uses “resident-led research,” but people should use the term most appropriate for their context.

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