Fawcett, S.B. A Reflection on Community Research and Action as an Evolving Practice. Behav. Soc. Iss. (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42822-021-00083-x
Community research and action is an evolving field of practice with multiple influences. Its varied ways of knowing and doing reflect recombined elements from different disciplines, including behavioral science, community psychology, public health, and community development. This article offers a personal reflection based on my evolving practice over nearly 50 years. The focus is on three types of influence: (a) engaging with different communities, fields, and networks (e.g., discovering shared values, diverse methods); (b) building methods and capabilities for the work (e.g., methods for participatory research, tools for capacity building); and (c) partnering for collaborative research and action, locally and globally. This story highlights the nature of the field’s evolution as an increasing variation in methods. Our evolving practice of community research and action—individually and collectively—emerges from the recombination of ideas and methods discovered through engagement in a wide variety of contexts.
"Gradually, the observer realizes that these organisms are connected with each other, not linearly, but in a net-like, entangled fabric." —Alexander von Humboldt, German naturalist and explorer
In our professional lives, we follow branches from a field of origin—perhaps behavioral science or public health—into other related fields. In exchanges with others with different training and experience, we share ideas and methods that alter our practice and enrich our collective work. Like the “entangled life” of fungi (Sheldrake, 2020), we are connected in a web of relationships through which ideas and methods are shared and recombined in novel forms.
Community research and action is an evolving practice with multiple influences. Its varied activities result from exposure to, and selection for, different ways of knowing and doing. Recombined elements of research and practice reflect influences from different disciplines, including applied behavioral science, community psychology, public health, applied anthropology, urban planning, and community development, among others. For instance, if we are trained in behavioral science, we may especially value systematic methods of measurement and intervention. Exposure to community-oriented disciplines, such as community psychology or community development, may add an emphasis on participatory approaches, as represented in community-based participatory research and community engagement in designing and implementing strategies for action. Subsequent exposure to public health methods may add systems approaches and methods for changing conditions that affect health and health equity.
This article offers a reflection on the evolving practice of community research and action. Illustrated with my 50-plus years of experience, it focuses on three important mechanisms: (a) engaging with different communities, fields, and networks; (b) building methods and capabilities for the work; and (c) partnering for collaborative research and action.