Participatory Research

Subject: ⚖️ Law
Type: Exploratory Essay
Pages: 18
Word count: 5244
Topics: Social Justice, Community, Ethnography, 🤳 Social Media
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Introduction 

Participation and engaging in ethnographic research requires proper relationships and engagement with the community. However, all depends on how the researchers understand various elements and principles that define relations and partnerships in such types of studies. UCSD-TCLC is an institution whose aim and objective is to develop students with vast knowledge to respond to societal problems through a community engagement and partnership learning approach. The success of the institution’s programs has been dependent on the extent to which it collaborates and engages with the community to understand sources of problems, their trends and possible solutions.  The institution encourages a broader knowledge search through participatory ethnographies studies, even incorporating the often forgotten populations like students. In addition, technology is first becoming a new model for improving the engagement between researchers and their participants, especially computer mediated means of communication. In light of such considerations, this report reflects on the field participatory research on children and explains how participatory research entails in building university-community partnerships as well as the implications or role of new media in making the engagement possible. 

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During the field work and site visits, the interaction with children in the university-community partnership brought about the major issue of the role of different groups in society in ethnographic research or how their participation is important. Forming relations with children and members of the community had to be made with a consideration on their interaction patterns. However, the focus was on children and through the entire participation, some of elements needed for forming relations with them in the market or the community was identified. The study, in its initial objective, aimed at addressing the problem of children’s inclusion in social study. So often, experts in social work have deduced that as of currently, the recognition of social agency of children as well as their full involvement in research has changed their role and position in social and human sciences (Christensen 166). In addition, the situation has addressed the shortcomings of some of the misconceptions that currently exist in conservative methodologies used in child research (Rappaport 796).  However, the field study formed the basis for discussing what it means to engage in university-community participatory study, formations of relations and how to create partnerships. 

From the study and observation, the acknowledgment of the children’s action in social research and their involvement per se was evident.  In forming relations with the children, as part of community partnership in participatory ethnographic study, everything was done within the powers of the researchers to relate with the population. The chance provided for kids like Jayden portrayed the recognition of the role of children’s participation in social research or ethnographic studies (Christensen 167). Even when the child had asked about money, care was taken to handle this professionally, with care not to treat is as a negative habit. Instead, continued participation of the child in the study or field observation would have been ensured if the issue with him borrowing money was addressed. Although I had refused to give the give money or a dollar as he had requested, Camille came to the rescue and handled this aspect really well.  In her response, she too cleverly asked Jayden that “I will only give you a dollar after you give me a dollar”. It was a polite way of turning away the child’s request but still taking care not to hurt or leave him hurt hence cementing the relationship with the research. In this case, it was an act to ensure that the child would not be so much angry with the researcher and as such, stop to ask for money. Therefore, for the study, it can be argued that university-community partnership in participatory research depends on how researchers are focused on creating positive relationships with its members (Rappaport 798). 

Eventually, the kids continued to interact with us and we had to find alternatives of engaging with them or enticing them into continuing with the participation with the research. For instance, Shayda, an associate in this field work, provided snacks for the kids. In this case, the research was finding an alternative way of getting the attention of the children, especially on what they like the most to ensure that the involvement in the study was continued (Christensen 166). In our dismay, the children really liked sandwiches and this rekindled the relationship with us hence we were able to find the best ways of ensuring their participation in the research.  For this gesture, it shows that for the participatory research, understanding the elements that attracts the community’s attention helps in improving the research relationships and as such, creating higher possibilities of university-community partnership in social research (Rappaport 795). 

Accordingly, researchers and experts in social science indicate that the best way of hearing the voices of children when representative their own lives should be pursued by incorporating research approaches like dialogue and reflexivity (Christensen 166). Through this consideration, it is possible for the researchers to be immersed into the communication cultures of the children. Understanding the communication cultures of the community, especially children, helps in knowing the best ways to relate with them thereby creating more chances or opportunities for partnerships. 

In the participatory field study, one of the elements of the ethnographic study that was evident in this field work is that in developing partnership with the community, a major attention should be on the specific role of the fieldworker as well as the relationship that he or she develops during the field study.  In essence, Christensen (167) suggests that a major point of deliberation when working with different populations is defining adult as a term within the context of the study. For example, when working with children, one needs to strike a proper balance between playing or adopting least adult role or as other experts suggest assuming “the other adult position” (Christensen 166). The same pattern of interaction was evident in the field participatory observation research partnership. For the kids for example, our group had to maintain a lesser adult role and reduce levels of interaction and reasoning to those of the kids. An excellent example was on how the kids were being provided with sandwiches to reduce the gap between the adults (the field group) and the kids.  In essence, what it meant for this interactive research or ethnographic study is that the relationship between children and the researchers was considered. Therefore, when forming relations in the community partnerships, what the researchers meant to the children as part of the population was incorporated into the research. Hence, a major reflection from this study is that during community-university partnership, the meanings of the relationships should be defined such that the researchers or the field observers can know or understand how or the approach that they should be using in interacting with the participants as this improve their chances of participating in the study (Rappaport 798).  

Nevertheless, during the field experience, one of the major elements of the interaction or relationship that I noticed is that so often, participants (more so children) perceive researchers as being strangers and always asking about who these people are in their lives.  By asking such questions, working with any population and relating with entails interaction between the researcher and the population being based on understanding the relationships or who they are to each other (Christensen 166). Knowing the meaning of the relationships essential since it defines the research process in the ethnographic participatory study. For children, as was the focus of the field study, the best way to trigger their genuine participation is by the researcher engaging in detailed social interaction and understanding the significance of such relations. In asking the question about the role or importance of researchers to children, a major question or area of consideration is that it entails how the researcher engages with the children’s lives. The exploration helps this in improving their interaction or participation with the research and eventually, triggering their genuine participation within the study.  

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Forming university-community partnership depends on the understanding of the relationship between the researcher and the participants. After understanding the relationships, the success of the partnership is improved by capturing the attention of the participants. For instance, at the beginning of the study, we did not think that it was possible to talk or interact with the children. In our case, we believed that by taking a lot of time and staying the entire period in the market place, it was not possible to get the attention of the children. To our surprise, some of the kids got curious and came by to chat with us. A positive interaction ensued and the girl saving money for her graduation was quite impressive. However, the success with this interaction could be much attributed with the understanding of the relationship between the participants (children) and researchers (Rappaport 799).  In their part, they had to play the role of “children participants” in ethnographic research. For example, normal kids like Jayden, after learning the role of the field researchers, found it is easy to ask for money or whatever he needed. On reflection, the UCSD-TCLC-community research partnership showed that for an ethnographic research or study, the success of the entire process depends on the extent to which efforts are made to define the relationships between researchers and participants. More so for children, defining the relationship is necessary to reduce the barriers to relationship building and as such, allow them the chance of engaging in the study thereby creating more research-participant partnership or university-community partnership. 

Another vital element or point of consideration that came out from the study is that in working with the community or engaging in ethnographic study, dialogue is a necessity in creating relations and partnerships. For the dialogue, it entails entering much into the process of communication of the participants. Accordingly, it is recommended that relating with special populations like children depends on how the researcher understands their communication process and dialogue is argued to be one of the best strategies to improve the participation of children in ethnographic studies (Stringer et al. 56). For example, dialogue should involve how the research practice or process concurs or aligns with the interests, experiences, everyday routines and values of the children.  In addition, part of the consideration, which I learned from the participation, is how children are routinely expressing and representing the specific values within their daily lives.  

The UCSD-TCLC-community research study meant that for an ethnographic study, especially when interacting with children, it is always necessary to engage in dialogue.  For example, to get more and detailed understanding of the individual population, dialogue or chatting was allowed between Jayden and the young girl. It was a conversation born out of an inquiry about croissants. For Jayden, the opportunity given to engage in conversation with her revealed her status as a child who was saving money for her graduation. Further dialogue with her explored how she had already saved some dollars in the bank account and this left a lot of impression about her. In addition, the dialogue eased the relationship between the kids and us. For example, out of the detailed dialogue with the little girl, Jayden got the courage to ask for money to buy ice cream as the ice cream truck appeared. Besides, the negotiation between the kid and Camille was also born out respect and value for dialogue. Therefore, from the field experience, forming relations in university-community research entails engaging in dialogue to establish rapport with the participants. Dialogue builds strong relations or partnerships. Through dialogue, it is much easier to have a deeper understanding of the participants (more so children) and as such, increase their chances of participation in the research, and help the ethnographic study to get more details about the target population (Christensen 166).   

Conversely, from the field study, forming relations with the audience or the community in ethnographic study entails learning the patterns of communications among participants and partnership is born out of this understanding. In reality, learning about the communication patterns is one of the major areas of weighty considerations which are believed to improve the participation of children ethnographic studies (Christensen 168).   For instance, for the boys during the participatory ethnographic field study, they were more likely to be self-centered and extroverts who would spend most of their times on tablets playing games. Understanding their pattern of communication specifically meant that the team was reduced to finding the best approaches to interacting and engaging with the boys, like for instance, buying them gifts or playing games with the boys.  On the other hand, girls were found to be more extroverts in their communication who liked chatting with their friends.  The understanding of the communication culture between boys and girls made it much easier to identify their patterns of communication and using it to the advantage of the research by identifying the best ways or methods to interact.  Another element of understanding communication of the audience, especially children, was the young girl who was rather quite but could understand everything being said and would use body language or sign language to say what she needed.   

In this case, the overall experience in the field was a proper understanding of the communication culture among children which is very important or vital in ethnographic research. Specifically, Christensen (166) argues that increasing the participation of individuals like children in social research depends on the extent to which efforts have been directed towards understanding their means and approaches to communication or their “culture of communication”. It helps in ensuring effective communication of which the university-community pattern indicated that for children, their participation in research depends on how their patterns of communication are understood to help in enhancing interaction or communication. 

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Upon reflection of the field study, the success in observing and understanding the students would be much attributed to the manner in which the students first refused to engage in dialogue (the first day in the market) but eventually, we connected this experience to the ambiguous role we had to play in the research as adults. For example, the first experience in the market, especially the refusal of children to be attracted to our signs was the manner in which we conducted ourselves as typical adults. In this case, for the children, they still saw us as being outsiders within their social relationships and interactions, as suggested by Christensen (166). However, upon realizing the challenge, we took a different approach to conducting ourselves in the study. For instance, we had to lower our levels of interactions, language and signs of attracting the children so that they could accept us as being part of their social interactions. For instance, the children now wanted to play with us but for someone like me, I did not know or have an idea of how to play with the children.  In this case, their invitation for playing indicated that they had accepted us as being part of their social cycle. Another way which we engaged with the students not like normal adults is the consideration on inviting them to participate in drawings. The gesture was specifically meant to attract their attention and to a greater extent, reduce the gap between their status as children and ours as adults.  Therefore, least to say, the effectiveness in forming relationships with children was much attributed to the manner in which the group acted not as typical adults but tried as much as possible to act unique to be accepted by the children. Hence, in this study, a major conclusion made was that for the community, the participation in ethnographic study depends on the role that the researcher plays which defines the relations created with the researchers (Stringer et al. 57). In essence, the role should not be too much ambiguous and should allow the chance for easy interaction and welcome the ethnographers in their social world, more so for special groups like children (Christensen 166).  

Nonetheless, for the development of relations in university-community partnership, some of the theoretical knowledge or underpinnings would influence the use of dialogue in evoking interactions with children. As ethnographers suggest, the experience in this field study began by the researchers first attending to the cultures of communication which is present in the field (Christensen 165). Accordingly, it showed that for the study or the practical observation, it deviated from the common ideas by researchers whereby they always have a standard or fixed method of communicating with the specific groups. In this case, our communication in the field study was basically restricted to the cultures of communication that we found the children using.  On the other hand, for the participatory study, this work revealed that such encounters or relations entail practical engagement or interactions with the current or natural communication practices common or evident by the locals and as such, help in improving or enhancing partnerships (Stringer et al. 54).  

In addition, the engagement within the field of study indicated that within ethnographic study, it is necessary to observe the language use of the groups, how individuals conceptualize the meanings and the actions they pursue (Christensen 168).  For example, in the field observation, how children attached particular meanings to symbols and language of communication like body languages, cues like food, how the girls valued storytelling and they boys are introverts helped us in explaining or understanding the social interactions as well as the specific connections present in the community. From this experience, the group was able do know the specifics codes of conduct that govern the interactions among children, and as such, helped in behaving and conducting one’s self towards the children. For instance, since girls were more likely to love stories and chatting with their friends, this observation was used to engage in dialogic communication with Jayden and the little girl.  Accordingly, Christensen (166) would suggest that in this field experience or experiment, the group incorporated the differences among children and how they understood the “otherness” aspect of the observations as it relates to them.  Furthermore, it indicated that for the UCSD-TCLC-community research partnership, the researchers need to appreciate how different social contexts create different positions that adults and children can speak. In this fieldwork, the context of interaction or speaking was a market. Therefore, the best ways of interacting was on understanding the importance that children attribute to snacks like croissants and sandwiches and how they are most likely to beg for money to buy niceties like ice cream. From this proper understanding, a reciprocated relationship between the children and the team was identified and from this, created a specific model or routine of conversation whereby the children would easily enter or become absorbed into dialogue and conversation with the research team.

In ethnographic study, as learned from the study, power that individuals hold in the study is a vital consideration which must be used in relating with the participants.  In this case, ethnographic study should assume or perceive power as the essential definition of social life (Stringer et al. 58). A researcher puts more emphasis or attention on the major issues of culture and social life that are sensitive to the concept of power within society. Therefore, participatory field study or research between university and community entails forming relations based on the power held in the community. The field experience showed that for UCSD-TCLC-community research partnership implies that the success of the interaction depends on the extent to which power and social roles or norms are defined within the community of focus and used to develop relationships with the participants. Various elements of the communication were identified as with regards to society culture and power. For one, the research identified that within the community, girls are more robust, outgoing, mature and outspoken than the boys.  It was used in interacting with them, more so the dialogues and conversations.  In addition, within the societal context, boys assume masculine roles and activities like playing games on their tablets.  Moreover, some of the likes and dislikes of the society were defined. For instance, the children like ice cream and this was evident from the manner in which they flocked the ice cream truck and were asking for money to buy from the delivery man. Other element of their likes (food culture) is the sandwiches and croissants. All these elements of the social life helped in strengthening our understanding of the behaviors of the children, their eating habits, likes and dislikes and helped in improving relationships and partnership with the children in doing research. 

Nonetheless, to succeed in an ethnographic study, the UCSD-TCLC-Community research meant that specific elements of the community including the meaning they attach to different elements like food should be considered. The aim of this study was to focus on understanding healthy eating practices within the community. One of the observations made is that unlike children, adults are more motivated to adopt healthy eating habits. The first social scene in the market is when the team was selling bread and cookies since we had not checked Camille’s email requesting to pick up the produce box that had greens. However, upon requesting for fruits, the first woman in the market was disappointed to learn that we had not brought with us the greens. On the contrary, it did not take long before some kids were attracted to us, possibly because of the cookies, and bread and began chatting with us for a little bit.  

Accordingly to theoretical background, a broader understanding on the approach and how children think and attribute reasoning to different elements depends on the extent to which the researcher relates their thoughts to the way they develop, conceptualize and use their understandings of the cultural and social world (Christensen 165). For instance, in the research, the children’s conceptualization of healthy eating was different. For them, cookies, ice cream, sandwiches and croissants are perceived as health eating. For instance, when we tried to offer one of the kids the healthy sandwich, he refused claiming that the food did not taste good. Hence, for the TCLC-community partnership research, a comprehensive ethnographic research should entail a deeper understanding of the cultural and social perspectives that the participants attribute to different topics. The same leads to the success in engaging in research with children. 

The Role of New Media 

The participatory research between UCSD-TCLC and the community also shows or confirms the possibilities and opportunities presented by new media. In essence, new media entails the current technology used in communication especially the internet and some of the online platforms used for research, learning and interactions (Blikstein 3). Accordingly, technology has been identified as a tool which is set to improve the relationship building between schools and communities as it regards research. One of the major roles of new media is that it empowers students in carrying out research and to a greater extent, helps them to embrace the cultural and social shifts in communication within the community to improve partnerships and interactions. In addition, new media is part of the current advancement in digital technologies, especially digital video, robotics, computers as well as digital photography which enable the exploration of different or diverse ways of building relations and working with the community to carry out research (Blikstein 140). 

Accordingly, the computational media as part of the new media has been identified as the new way or increasing the diversity in communication in ethnographic studies.  It allows students the chance of creating a research environment whereby their plans integrate the communication culture of society, motivates greater research engagement and successful studying of the constructs under exploration (Blikstein 6). In UCSD-TCLC-community partnership, this opportunity would allow for interaction with the youths in the community who are more tech savvy and providing them with the platform for expressing their ideas and perceptions about issues in society like health and other social concerns.   

New media or technology has allowed the interaction and communication with the participants within the field of study using different possibilities like video tutorials.  For this type of communication, researchers create their specific research questions then they use these new media methods to interact with the community in solving solution problems by probing ideas and perceptions of the individual communities on such issues or areas of concern. Part of the community-institution partnership enabled through new media includes the democracy lab concept (Hyde and James 2). Accordingly, it has been declared that lab environments that are necessary for public participation are currently missing. Through new media, democratic labs are created of which the public get the chance for research participation by sharing their shared, current or the crucial daily lives which can be used to understand social issues within the community. Accordingly, new media presents a platform for modelling, sharing, testing and revising ideas to ascertain how they apply within the community’s context (Hyde and James 2).  Moreover, through new media, youths and families get the opportunities of expressing their different forms of agency.  In addition, the labs as enabled through new media are useful for mobilizing community participation and as such, evoking direct community contribution in research.  

The possibility of using new media to initiate changes or influence the more community partnership during ethnographic studies is best explained from Freire’s approach to developing new pedagogies that respond to the changes in society. He suggested that there is the difference of one being immersed in his or her reality, while on the other hand, there is the likelihood of one emerging from the reality (Blikstein 3). In essence, rising above from the conscious real and the conscious possible, according to Freire, shows the possibilities of using new media in influencing ethnographic studies.  Therefore, since students and researchers can perceive themselves as being change agents, the same applies with the use of new media in enhancing community relationships and partnerships. Hence, from the theoretical undermining, more opportunities exist with the use or application of new media in initiating positive interactions or partnerships in ethnographic studies. Like in the case of the UCSD-TCLC-community field study, it could have been enabled by opening an online platform for the youths to express their views on healthy eating, the perceptions of children on health foods and overall, how such can be used to create more awareness on healthy eating in the community. An example of new media application is TCLC’s website that invites public participation in different social causes like health and other social intervention programs. Through such an opportunity, the partnership with the community is enhanced and their participation in such discourses can be used as the reference data for making assumptions or conclusions about the social interactions and factors that contribute to such elements like dietary habits among children and youths or adults.   

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Nonetheless, the possibilities of improving or increasing the interaction between researchers and communities in ethnographic studies have been identified by Papert in his theory of constructionism (Blikstein 4). The theoretical model was built out of the Jean Piaget theory of which digital technology was recommended or introduced in education. For Papert, the use of technology follows the same fashion as the recommendations of Freire. In essence, knowledge construction depends on the extent to which students are able to build and share objects publicly (Blikstein 5). During the TCLC-community partnership, this sharing of knowledge could have been enabled through an interactive learning platform like e-learning portals, social media meant for educational discussions about the different aspects of the community and even using other technological devices like phone or learning apps to help with analyzing the knowledge or information about the particular community.  

However, the ease of using new media in evoking the relationships and partnerships with the community all depends on the affordability of the devices. At the community level, various factors would hinder the adoption of computers and other new technological media for communication or participation in research or discussions.  For instance, in discussing the possibility of using computers, Hull (229) argues that most of the students had been concerned with the monetary value of the equipment. In some cases, youths and parts of the community may be uneasy to use robotics since they cost too much, especially within the low-income communities where a computer may be worth a family’s dime. In this case, forming partnerships and increasing the community’s participation in research through technology may be hindered by the affordability of the technological devices.  In the TCLC for instance, a major concern was the on how the little girl was soliciting and saving money for her graduation. The information or her status could easily be used to infer about the economic status or situation of her family and as such, be used in suggesting or confirming that this factor could be a major hindrance to adopting technology to improve such engagement or participation. On the flipside, there was a boy who was playing games on his tablets and from this all that could be inferred is that part of the community has adapted technology or at least, tech savvy. In essence, the competence or skill in using technological device would be applied in encouraging and enhancing more public engagement and participation in the ethnographic study.  

However, the role of new media in enabling the university-community partnership relations could be moderated by the different levels and acceptance of new media or technology among girls and boys. For instance, girls are not that much excited about robotics and computers as boys. In addition, it has been found that girls have relatively low engagement levels and extent in technology-related learning activities and even this issue is common in the entire community (Blikstein 14). The differences in adopting technology lead to the reluctance in participatory ethnographic study or observation of the community. For instance, during the field observation, we noticed that for the boys, they were more likely to use technology in such discourses since a boy was seated on the sofa playing games in his tablet. In comparison, the girls were chatting throughout and not concerned with the games being played or technology being used. In this case, one problem exist with the technology or new media adoption in participation study that girls are less likely to adopt or use the devices for participation. On the other hand, boys are most likely to use the same because they like computers and are more thrilled with technology. Unless awareness is created among girls in the community, the relations will be difficult to develop with them and this may hinder their participation in ethnographic studies.  Therefore, it will be a major or serious drawback to the overall discourse aimed at creating university-community partnership during the participatory ethnographic studies and as such, affect the process of forming or establishing relationships with the community. 

Conclusion

In summary, the reflection shows what it means to engage in participatory research and how university-community relationships can be strengthened. One of the major considerations is that for such types of relations, a researcher has to look at the patterns of interactions, how the participants communicate (dialogue), the assigned powers and the role or position that the researcher has to take in such relationships. The discussion has been done by explicitly referring to the case of children, especially how their participation can be increasing in ethnographic studies. The field observation from results have been used to conclude that university-community partnerships in participatory ethnographic studies entails understanding a researcher’s role, the means or modes of communication as defined within the societal context and at best, how the concept of power is defined. New media has been showed to be on the rise in ethnographic study to increase participation of community especially the youths in ethnographic research. 

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  1. Blikstein, Paulo. “Travels in Troy with Freire.” Social justice education for teachers: Paulo Freire and the possible dream (2008) (2008): 1-28.
  2. Christensen, Pia Haudrup. “Children’s participation in ethnographic research: Issues of power and representation.” Children & society 18.2 (2004): 165-176. 
  3. Hull, Glynda A. “At last: Youth culture and digital media: New literacies for new times.” Research in the Teaching of English 38.2 (2003): 229-233. 
  4. Hyde, Andrea Marie, and James G. LaPrad. “Mindfulness, democracy, and education.” Democracy and Education 23.2 (2015): 2.
  5. Rappaport, Julian. “Empowerment meets narrative: Listening to stories and creating settings.” American Journal of community psychology 23.5 (1995): 795-807. 
  6. Stringer, Ernest T., et al. Community-based ethnography: Breaking traditional boundaries of research, teaching, and learning. Psychology Press, 2014. 
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