Welcome to the inaugural posting of PAN’s CBR in BC blog!
In this first edition, I would like to take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Sara O’Shaughnessy and I have been working with PAN as the CBR Manager since mid-July of 2011. Many of you will have met me at PAN’s Fall CBR Workshop. For those of you I haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting, this blog will help give you a sense of who I am and what I do.
In future postings, you can expect to see monthly updates on the on-goings of PAN’s CBR Manager and community-based research activities in the province, opinion pieces and general musings on various facets of community-based research, and occasional guest posts by research stakeholders.
In this first edition of our CBR blog, I would like to shine the spotlight on PAN’s new CBR website. Here you will find a number of helpful resources and information on community-based research, including a Research Term Glossary that breaks down some of the academic acronyms and vernacular into lay terms. There is also a Research Partnership Checklist form that provides a handy list of questions for community organizations to ask when considering research partnerships.
At PAN’s Fall CBR Workshop, one participant asked an astute question: if we already know that things like housing and food are important for people living with HIV, why do we need research? This is a valid question that many people wonder about. I thought I would take this opportunity to share my thoughts on this question in this first blog postings.
Why do we do research? The most common and perhaps instinctive answer is ‘because there’s a question to which we want to know the answer’ or ‘because there is a problem we want to solve.’ But these are not the only answers that motivate researchers. Sometimes the goal is policy change, sometimes it is to sway popular opinions and beliefs in another, more accurate direction. Other times, it is simply to explore an issue in the greatest depth possible.
Research, particularly when it is community-based, can do more than simply answer questions. In fact, quite often the questions we ask through research projects are not conducive to direct, concise answers. Research allows us to explore the breadth of an issue, and find connections that we might not have been aware of, while providing crucial data to back-up what we already know. Yes, it is true that most of us are probably aware that things like housing and food security are vital social determinants of health for people living with HIV. What may not be as obvious are questions such as how do cultural differences and personal preference interplay with our understanding of ‘food security’?
Research allows us to bring the voices of those most impacted by social problems into the foreground. Research can often shed light on issues of integrity and personal choice that may not be captured in our broader, commonplace understandings of certain issues. The voices of outliers – people or experiences that do not ‘fit’ the norm – are frequently the most important findings of a study. There is a lot to be learned from someone who is resilient in the face of social inequities, just as there is to be learned from someone for whom best practices may not be working.
Most importantly, research is as process-oriented as it is goal-oriented, in that it can be an empowering process for everyone involved. Research presents multiple opportunities for capacity building and allows people to reach others with their stories. Sometimes, it can even provide space for people to think about their own experiences in different ways. There are hundreds of reasons why people engage in research, but from my perspective, getting to explore the rich personal narratives that shed light on the topics we study is the most rewarding.