CBPR or community-based participatory research has been much lauded by many anthropologists and other social scientists. This model pairs academic researchers and community members; both partners should have active roles in shaping the research’s design and implementation.
In theory, CBPR offers many benefits to academic researchers, the community involved in the research, and individuals in the community. Researchers may benefit from a better understanding of the community, allowing for better research design. The community can help shape research design and ensure that the actual needs of the community are taken into account. CBPR also provides practical advantages: it facilitates access to possible study participants; language barriers are minimized if not eliminated since community co-researchers are bilingual; a balance between emic (insider) and etic (outsider) perspective is maintained.
I have used this approach in many of my research projects, often with terrific results, but never without challenges. In the current study of urban refugees in Kuala Lumpur we have hired several refugee research assistants representing the Chin, Iranian, Sri Lankan, and Somali refugee communities as well as the urban poor. They have been trained in research ethics and ethnographic interviewing. We have debated the use of oral consent forms, protection of human subjects, and confidentiality issues. Many of the RAs seemed to be natural ethnographers: friendly extroverts able to chat casually about many issues, easily developing rapport with their fellow co-researchers and us. Things were looking good!
A week has passed and we are yet to see notes from any interviews! Good training and careful selection do not seem to trump cultural attitudes towards deadlines. Last night I have posted the following message on my Facebook: How do you motivate people to finish a task if they don’t have any sense of urgency? I received much advice: pay them (I am!), don’t pay them or at least threaten not to (would this be ethical?), provide more training (am considering); shame them on FB (not FB friends with any of them plus as one of my friends wrote: “Shaming never helped anyone to do a better job – value them for what they can do well and have a conversation about what else needs to be done”).
Stay tuned for reports on resolutions…. But never underestimate the difficulties related to CBPR!