Community-Based Research: Teaching for Community Impact
reviewed by Emily Nemeth - September 27, 2016
Title: Community-Based Research: Teaching for Community Impact
Author(s): Mary Beckman and Joyce F. Long
Publisher: Stylus Publishing, Sterling, VA
ISBN: 1620363569, Pages: 346, Year: 2016
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Mary Beckman and Joyce F. Long have assembled a group of scholars and practitioners who collectively demonstrate the promise of community-based research for student learning and positive community change in their new volume. Community-Based Research: Teaching for Community Impact documents the benefits and challenges of collaborative, community-based research (CBR) within higher education institutions and communities. It also discusses the successes and failures of meeting shared objectives and sustaining this work over time and across space. The contributors urge readers to consider what role the university will play in addressing the issues facing our communities, both locally and globally. They also ponder how we will make room for CBR in the traditional academic practices of teaching and disciplinary scholarship. As I was reading this text, I was reminded of Cushmans (1996) request of her colleagues, asking for a deeper consideration of the civic purpose of our positions in the academy, of what we do with our knowledge, for whom, and by what means (p. 12).
Community-Based Research is thoughtfully organized into three parts: (a) Definitions, Orienting Frameworks, and Partners; (b) Guiding Community-Based Research Toward Community Outcomes and Student Learning; and (c) Community-Based Research in Community-Wide Long-Term Efforts. The first part of this volume features terminology frequently used among scholars and practitioners of CBR and speaks to the significance of this work in the lives of participants (e.g., social service providers, youth, faculty, students, and staff). Beckman raises a noteworthy point in her introduction to this part that all of these individuals are members of overlapping communities. She states that the distinction between campus and community is an artificial one because we know that a campus is made up of communities, and some of those communities and certainly the individuals who make up those communities are also part of off-campus communities (p. 13). While the authors choose to adhere to the usual language as it is currently widely used and understood (p. 13), Beckmans point primes the reader to juxtapose this usual language (e.g., campus and community distinction) with new definitions and frameworks suggesting greater fluidity and interdependency between higher education institutions and public spaces. As they equip readers with new language and strategies, the authors make good use of tables and figures to provide succinct references of the chapters contents including a CBR Diagnostic Table (pp. 4243) and A List of Recommended Dos and Donts for CBR Partnerships (p. 66).
In Part Two, the authors explore how CBR can facilitate mutual benefits for higher education institutions and communities. Long introduces this section by affirming that CBR can achieve dual roles: excellent instruction with significant student learning and community impact (p. 85). Purposefully situated as the first chapter in Part Two, Pigza shares a model that university and community members can use to identify and work towards shared goals. The POWER model (partnerships, objectives, working, evaluation, and reflection) represents the five key components of CBR projects. The authors in this part illustrate a range of examples of POWER operating in diverse contexts and partnerships, including graduate training and preparation (e.g., Holter & Frabutt, Chapter Ten; Nicholson, Chapter Fourteen), course-based CBR (e.g., Parroquin & Geiger-Medina, Chapter Six), and multicampus and global partnerships (e.g., Ruebeck, Chapter Seven; Tryon & Steinhaus, Chapter Eleven). In a transparent and somewhat vulnerable fashion, the authors engender trust with readers as they share missteps alongside accomplishments, inviting them to more fully grasp the complexities and possibilities of CBR.
Finally, Part Three situates CBR in the context of larger, community-wide initiatives. In this part, Beckman acknowledges that CBR is one possible tool or means of contributing to positive local social change over time (p. 229). As such, it is in an ideal situation as it is aligned with the efforts of other initiatives in a community. Each of the chapters featured in this part locate CBR partnerships within a nexus of people working towards positive community impact. This includes The Poverty Initiative in Rockbridge County, Virginia, Neighborhoods@Work in Los Angeles, the evolving work of the Educational Collaborative Group in South Bend, Indiana, and Café COCANO Fair/Direct Trade Coffee Project that interlaces the efforts of sister dioceses in Miami Gardens, Florida and Port-de-Paix, Haiti. These multilayered partnerships underscore the ongoing and complicated nature of CBR and the need to form alliances around shared goals if broader community impact is the ultimate objective.
Community-Based Research is organized in a logical way, but readers who are already familiar with CBR might consider reading Beckmans concluding chapter first. Perhaps an unsettling approach for some, the benefit of reading this way would be that Beckman addresses themes, challenges, and final thoughts from the book and identifies particular chapters that fit within her reflections. These include CBR and the Disciplines (p. 307) and Incorporating CBR into Teaching and Learning (p. 309). Beckman ends with a valuable discussion of a systems approach to community change, suggesting that CBR could identify interrelated social concerns and redirect attention and resources to the most important issues. She urges CBR partners to recognize the dialectical tension between addressing the immediate need, which might overlook the system where an issue is embedded, and addressing the deeper need, which might allow social actors to tackle the underlying cause.
While this edited volume amplifies the diverse perspectives of individuals involved in CBR, the authors are clearly in dialogue with one another. The intentional placement of Pigzas POWER model at the beginning of Part Two, to which the subsequent authors make reference, and the continual nod back to Beckman and Woods discussion of the progressive effects of CBR (e.g., output, outcome, and impact) illustrate careful organization on the part of the editors and skillful collaboration among all of the contributors. Community-Based Research would be a good book for faculty members interested in designing CBR projects with students to enhance their learning and help them make connections between theory and practice. It could also help them connect the meta and lived narratives circulating in the literature and public spaces. As Long acknowledges, there is still much more work to be done in documenting student outcomes linked to CBR (p. 87), but this book contributes to this ongoing research. The text is particularly effective in the way it accounts for the unique roles students have played in CBR (e.g., as a change agent, active citizen, allied community member, and co-author). This book would also be a valuable resource for community members, students, and faculty members who want to work in solidarity with one another to strengthen the communities they share. It would also improve the lived conditions of one another and their neighbors both locally and globally.
Cushman, E. (1996). The rhetorician as an agent of social change. College Composition and Communication, 47(1), 728.