Years ago I tried – and failed – to identify academics who could be engaged in research that would be useful for social justice groups. Academics always expected there was money that would pay them or their graduate students to do the work, and relative to organizers and advocates, academic researchers are in no hurry. They work on incredibly long time frames and the rigorousness of the research design and the validity of the data are of paramount importance. There was no bridging the gap.
Happily in 2005 I was invited to develop a grad seminar at USC Annenberg with Prof. Sandra Ball-Rokeach. We created a model that relies not on tenured faculty embarking on community-based research (since they are pretty hard to budge in any direction but one they've already chosen), but on the next generation of academics, graduate students. (Find the 2015 syllabus here.)
It took several years to figure out how to make the model really work but the result ultimately is a remarkable graduate seminar that pilots short-term research projects between social justice oriented graduate students (mostly from USC's Policy and Communications schools) and local grassroots organizations that are Liberty Hill Foundation grantees.
This week I do my pre-semester orientation for interested community organizations. The webinar is on YouTube and runs about 20 minutes. It explains how the course works: its genesis, how the projects unfold and some of the remarkable research projects that have come out of the process.
I am thrilled to be presenting this university-community model at the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference in Boston next June. For the funding community, this model offers a way of providing leadership training for the next generation of academics and nonprofit researchers, right-sizing research to the needs of community organizations, and providing much needed data and analysis for community organizations that rarely have the resources to do the research they desperately need.
I've written about the course before. See these links for more information and for the summary of my presentation at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations.
Earlier links on the Liberty Hill website: "You can’t win without data." and "Asking our own questions."
A post from Inside Higher Education about lessons learned from nearly a decade of fostering community-university partnerships.
Summary of lessons learned presented at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations: "Making Research in Community Work."