Real Voices, Real Change – a dialogue About Community Based Research Presented by

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Real Voices, Real Change – A Dialogue About Community Based Research

Presented by

Sonja Nerad,

Access Alliance Multicultural Community Health Centre, Toronto


Ted Richmond, Laidlaw Foundation

About ten people took part in this CUExpo workshop, which featured a brief overview by the two presenters followed by lively discussion.

Sonja Nerad is Community Health Programs Manager at Access Alliance Multicultural Community Health Centre. This agency is unique in its focus on building community research capacity at all levels including Board governance as well as staffing and resources.
As Program Manager, Inclusive Communities for Children, Youth and Families at Laidlaw Foundation Ted is an active participant in several community-academic research alliances. Ted has also worked as Coordinator of the Toronto CERIS (Metropolis) research project and as Research Coordinator of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.

CBR is about a conversation . . . Keep the conversation open”

Participant at the Innovating Research, Strengthening Communities – CBR Forum, Toronto, Fall 2004


Many of us understand “collaboration” in the middle, we understand collaboration as a process we are engaged in from beginning to end. Much of the concern for building partnerships starts after the research questions have been identified and ends before the research results have been interpreted. By community involvement at the beginning – defining the question – and at the end – determining the implications – is at the heart of true community-based research. These beginning and end stages are also the most challenging for building successful partnerships.

Opportunities continued

Many of us believe the conversation in CBR is between the community and the university, we believe an equally important conversation takes place among community members. We have to move beyond the paradigm of community and academics struggling over the balance of power in the research relationship. Real community research challenges the established viewpoints and work processes of community organizations and staff. We aren’t trying just to get the research done; we are also working to build up community capacity to do better research.

Opportunities continued

Many of us do not negotiate budgets or question the

funder’s rules, we believe that budgets reveal real power relations and that change will happen when we challenge these rules. If you want to understand the power relations in a proposed research project, start with the budget – who controls it, whose work is paid, what expenses are reimbursed? If you want to change these power relations, challenge the “rules” that determine these possibilities.

Have you identified other opportunities?

Discussion focused on the following points:

  • The challenge of building true community involvement at the beginning and end of the research process; this really resonates with the experience of one group

  • There has been progress; funders are becoming more flexible in what they allow in budgets

  • Actual research costs still don’t fit into budget criteria e.g. for SSHRC CURA

  • Community research poses methodological challenges, e.g. getting useful information from vulnerable populations

  • There are several good alternatives to standard, quantitative research methods e.g. using community focus groups or focus groups to review the research findings but these approaches take time

  • Who adjudicates the research proposals? Are community members allowed to be adjudicators? This along with budget rules reveals much about the power dynamics

  • To build better partnerships we need better “ground rules” but they can’t be too rigid; we need some flexible adaptive capacity as well

  • Community agencies are not the community; we need to remember this in assessing roles, ethics, methodologies etc.


Access Alliance Multicultural Community Health Center, “Racialised Groups and Health Status: A Literature Review Exploring Poverty, Housing, Race-Based Discrimination and Access to Health Care as Determinants of Health for Racialized Groups”, June, 2005

Access Alliance Multicultural Community Health Center, “Innovating Research, Strengthening Communities – A Forum on Community Based Research”, Winter, 2005

Chung Tang, Duberlis Ramos, Farah Khayre, Uzma Shakir, “Redefining the Urban Planning Agenda: A Joint Alternative Community Perspective”, APG, 2003

Nancy Mandell, Fionna Whittington-Walsh, “Building Bridges Across Sectors: A Resource to Help Create Community and Academic Research Partnerships”, CERIS Working Paper No. 33, June 2004

Choose carefully where to get involved and then get deeply involved”

Participant at the Innovating Research, Strengthening Communities – CBR Forum, Toronto, Fall 2004

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