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Community valued research: Going beyond the data, into problem-solving

Sign for Flint., Mich.

The AfricaLogical Institute has brought community valued research to Flint, Mich.

Hicks is the founder and president of the AfricaLogical Institute and alumnus of Bridge Alliance's Master Mind Cohort.

The AfricaLogical Institute is a group of researchers and scholar-activists who provide thought partnership opportunites to individuals and organizations seeking positive change. We are social scientists – ethnographers by training – who perform the function of educated and experienced “people watchers.” One project our firm is currently leading is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-commissioned Health Equity Study. This action-oriented, community-based research initiative exists to ameliorate racial health disparities.

As a part of Team Indiana, we are working in urban areas throughout five cities in the Hoosier State. Our action-oriented research seeks to learn from and alert for better health awareness and create an advocacy network to provide appropriate diverse perspectives to the Indiana General Assembly and the state Family and Social Services Administration to develop and/or change laws. In a study published in 2019, we made 11 recommendations to them and others for improving a leading provider of Indiana Medicaid, HIP - The Healthy Indiana Plan.

We believe the recommendations deriving from our 2019 “HIP Study” were impactful, as they were foundational for the more prodigious Health Equity Study we are conducting now. Accordingly, the current Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study includes conducting semi-structured interviews with community members and creating a network across Indiana that united on the need to change laws, policies and procedures to improve community quality of life and health outcomes.

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In developing the application for the foundation, I began promoting the term "community valued research." This approach to research does not simply seek to siphon input and data out of the community. It seeks to prevail as a primary methodological aim and study goal, placing resources, funded programming and investment dollars in the community.

Here, the community serves as the expert, and the Community Leadership Board is a diverse group of “co-conspirators” who work to make data-driven demands in the 2024 legislative session for specific changes to improve community health. Our Community Leadership Board has walked in step with us in developing and implementing this study that seeks to identify and make recommendations for eliminating racial and structural barriers that hinder proportionate quality of life in Indiana.

Precisely defined, a community-valued approach:

  1. Is signified by honoring community members as the experts. Our recommendations were based on community input and intentionally challenging the Flint, Mich., community to work on “clarion goals” that address their expressed community needs. We also clearly challenging elected and natural community leadership to lead.
  2. Insists that natural resources investments, funding for programming and other clearly defined avenues for money to get to the community are imaginable and clear and articulable study goals. Scholar activism, the backbone of AfricaLogical Institute Research, as defined internally, is only as valuable as it is actionable, feasible, and easily usable in our community for progress.

One of the best ways to account for change is by observing and measuring the impact as policy, law, procedures, rules and regulations are created or revised. In other words, it’s real when it’s written. Our macro-recommendation for the Flint community was to be intentional and unified in their pursuit of public policy change. We were careful, however, to insist that not even changing laws “sticks” in the politics of our day. We must ensure that laws are passed and that budget dollars are attached to revised regulations.

Gwendolyn Kelley, senior vice president for research design and development at the AfricaLogical Institute, shares: “There are too many laws that are good ideas that would help those who need help most, if only there were dollars attached to these potentially impactful laws that are passed with good intent.”

Finally, briefly, a third tenet of community valued research, as we observe it in its embryonic stage, should insist on evaluating existing and producing reformative, imaginative, intentional, and honest budgets. Community research in general, and certainly community valued research, should have a grand justification if budgets are not proportionate. We suggest starting at 50/50 and working the numbers from there. Community researchers working with institutions should insist that negotiated budgets reflect the community's contribution to the data outcomes needed and anticipated – especially in a community-oriented research project.

Another overwhelming tenet of community valued research could be the clear imperative that through methodological intent and resolve, research is designed and conducted to, in some empirical way, disrupt dysfunction.

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