Are you (or do you know) a graduate student interested in HIV and community-based research? The Universities Without Walls program is still accepting applications for its 2012-13 Fellows until May 4th, 2012. For application details, visit their website at www.universitieswithoutwalls.ca.
CBR Musings: Balance
Balance is one of the most sought-after, yet elusive goals in all facets of life. We strive to find it in our diets, our budgets, our time management practices.
Balance is also fundamental to successful community-based research, which is intrinsically a hybrid of social justice and the pursuit of academic knowledge. There are inevitably multiple partners and stakeholders involved in each project, with individual needs and perspectives that must be taken into account. Unfortunately, there is no formula for how to achieve balance.
Even when our interests are complementary, rather than competing, it can be difficult to achieve balance between all of them. A hard lesson to learn is that balance cannot be attained by ‘doing it all’ and satisfying everyone completely, or by simply giving everyone an equal vote and going with majority- rules decisions. Indeed, it seems appropriate to quote some wise words from my mother: ‘Equal isn’t always fair’. Balance is about figuring out how to maintain as much equity and power-sharing as possible while recognizing that not every need can be met. It’s how we decide which ones to prioritize that matters the most.
Everyone on a CBR project should be an equally valued partner, but that does not necessarily mean we all have the same skills and insights. In my opinion, these differences should be celebrated and highlighted, rather than erased. Ideally, we should be able to trust that academic partners will have greater insight into how to ensure a study is rigorous, that a grant application is ready for submission, or that an ethical review process is properly followed. At the same time, we should be able to trust that PRAs understand the nuances of language and sensitive issues in their respective communities. AIDS service organizations’ expertise on programming and policy contexts is also invaluable, as is their knowledge of how to connect the research to the communities they serve.
This is not to suggest that we only bring our particular vested interests to the table. There are academics who work tireless to ensure that a strong community voice is heard. There are community members who are deeply concerned with rigour and who want to see academic publications result from a study. However, it does no one any good if we completely forfeit some interests at the expense of others. Placing too much emphasis on community voice can result in an overly burdensome demand on the time and resources of community organizations. Too much concern with academic excellence can result in little use value for community partners.
If this were not already complicated enough, it is not just our respective strengths that we bring to the table. We also have separate accountabilities – whether to our communities, organizations, funders, etc. – and are likely to all be affected differently by the decisions we make in CBR projects. The repercussions of certain decisions and processes are not felt equally. We need to ask ourselves who has the most at stake in these decisions? What are the repercussions, good and bad, for the team members? Whose voice is getting ignored by these decisions?
If we can keep these considerations in mind while being thoughtful and methodical about of processes, balance might just become a little more attainable.