Power and politics in research design and practice: Opening up space for social equity in interdisciplinary, multi-jurisdictional and community-based research
Working collaboratively with communities is commonly considered a cornerstone of good practice in research involving social-ecological concerns. Increasingly, funding agencies also recognise that such collaborations are most productive when community partners have some influence on the design and implementation of the projects that benefit from their participation. However, researchers engaged with this work often struggle to actively engage community members in this way and, in particular, Indigenous peoples. In this article, we argue that useful strategies for facilitating such engagement are to leave space in the research plan for questions of interest to community partners and to encourage equitable interactions between all participants through the use of forums in which power dynamics are intentionally flattened. We demonstrate the use of this technique in an interdisciplinary, multi-jurisdictional research study involving the fate and transport of toxic compounds that lead to fish consumption advisories throughout the world. In this project, the use of participatory forums resulted in community partners in Michigan’s Keweenaw Bay area of Lake Superior shaping a key aspect of the research by raising the simple but significant question: ‘When can we eat the fish?’. Their interest in this question also helped to ensure that they would remain meaningful partners throughout the duration of the project. The conclusion emphasises that further integration of Indigenous and community-based research methods has the potential to significantly enhance the process and value of university-community research engagement in the future.
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