Abstract: Research for Equity and Power (REP): Developing a Community Engaged Research Partnership to Address Community Identified Issues (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Research for Equity and Power (REP): Developing a Community Engaged Research Partnership to Address Community Identified Issues

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Treasury, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Mary Ohmer, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Shannah Tharp-Gilliam, PhD, Director of Research, Homewood Children's Village, Pittsburgh, PA
Purpose:  This presentation discusses best practices for developing community-based participatory research, and how PACS researchers applied them to address equitable development in a low-income African American urban neighborhood. Inclusive and equitable community development takes time, and neighborhoods nationwide are changing more quickly than residents can adapt.  Deliberate strategies are needed to equip residents with the tools they need to influence equitable development.

Context:  Low-income neighborhoods across the country are facing increasing pressures from neighborhood change, with gentrification occurring at twice the rate of the 1990s (e.g., including critical affordable housing shortages and rapid increases in home values), and wealth inequality among neighborhoods is rising (Maciag, 2015; Pendall & Hedman, 2015). Given these pressures, engaging residents around equitable development is critical to ensuring that all residents participate in and benefit from a city’s economic transformation, especially communities that have historically faced the greatest inequities (Treuhaft, 2016).

Methods: The following strategies were used in this study to increase resident civic engagement around equitable development in the community PACS serves: (1) engaging 30 youth and adult residents in Community Conversations to gain insight on residents’ perceived power to tackle equitable development issues; (2) empowering residents to develop an Advocacy Roadmap and Playbook to guide how they can influence neighborhood change; and (3) working with participants to develop and implement a Citizen Training Academy to train other residents.  Research questions and data collection methods include: (1) In what ways does civic engagement around equitable development strengthen participants’ sense of agency, perceived empowerment, efficacy and perceived community well-being? (Methods: focus groups and pre-post surveys); (2) How are residents influencing the implementation of equitable development, particularly in current plans? (Methods: data on neighborhood change and implementation of current development plans); and (3) How are residents influencing policymakers’ decisions on equitable development? (Methods: interviews with policy makers).

Results:  Immediate results suggest that CBPR principles were able to be threaded throughout the project (Hacker, 2013; Branom, 2012), including: building on the strengths and resources in the community, cultural competence and humility, collaborative and equitable partnerships, understanding the local relevance of the problem, and the multiple social determinants of health that affect it.  These impacts were reflected in: a resident-driven Community Advisory Board (CAB); a community researcher resident who was hired as part our research team; and youth and adult resident researchers and advocates as our participants in the project. The CAB and research team reviewed and refined the research questions, design, and plans for analysis, interpretation, and dissemination, which was ensured through training in participatory research methods, an assessment of current capacity to analyze and interpret results, and training and support to enable our team members to be the primary agents in this project.  The assessment of long-term civic engagement impacts are ongoing.

Implications: Social work researchers working with vulnerable communities can improve the authenticity and effectiveness of their research using CBPR methods and principles; however, they must be willing to share power and resources with community partners and residents to achieve this goal.