While learning about participatory research and social change research, it became quite clear to me how beneficial and valuable society’s interaction and involvement with researchers and their research can be. Not only are researchers and residents often living in and around the same issues at hand, they typically have the same desires to improve them as well. That said, researchers working with the community yields itself to be an incredible team effort with common goals.
When doing a bit of research myself into examples in which participatory research has proven successful, an article was found regarding Georgia State University’s researchers working hand-in-hand with residents in the surrounding community in an effort to identify threats to their environment. The Proctor Creek Watershed is a 16-square-mile area of Northwest Atlanta that includes dozens of neighborhoods. Unfortunately, illegal tire dumping, contaminated land, overflowed sewers, and unpleasant standing water have become trademarks in the area (Marquez, 2019). The residents in the area were thrilled when, in 2013, Urban Waters Federal Partnership, an Environmental Protection Agency program meant to reconnect communities with their urban waterways, stepped in to assist with Proctor Creek (Marquez, 2019). Although excited, residents wanted to ensure that they were, indeed, a part of the picture.
Na’Taki Osborne Jelks, co-chair of the Proctor Creek Stewardship Council, spear-headed the idea to create an app that would allow the watershed residents to identify and document the environmental hazards that were negatively affecting their health and quality of life (Marquez, 2019). This would fulfill the need for “street-level data”, according to Jelks, who believes that it is “important to identify what’s actually impacting the people who live in the community” (Marquez, 2019).
The app allowed longtime residents to partner with Georgia State faculty members and students to collect photo and video evidence of environmental hazards in their neighborhoods (Marquez, 2019). The data were then used to generate a series of maps, which showed where illegal dumping, stormwater infrastructure problems and other issues were most densely clustered. With this research data in hand, the residents were able to present their findings to Atlanta city-council members and the city’s Department of Watershed and Department of Public Works (Marquez, 2019).
It’s evidently clear that the advantage of community-based participatory research is that it allows actual residents of the community to be part of the solutions process, they feel as though they’re creating change. When researchers and residents work together as one, a community full of faces gains credibility and a true voice pushing for change.
Marquez, J. (2019). A River Runs Through It. Georgia State University Magazine. Retrieved from https://news.gsu.edu/research-magazine/spring2019/a-river-runs-through-it