Community development in higher education: how do academics ensure their community-based research makes a difference?
Wood, Lesley Angelina
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Community engagement is positioned as a core strategic aim in higher education internationally, yet one could question how 'engaged' such endeavours are. Community-based research is supposed to promote the co-creation of contextually relevant knowledge to assist communities to improve their capacity for addressing issues they deem important for learning and development. However, it remains a challenge to conduct authentic participatory and democratic research within the restricted time frames and rigid ethical requirements of academia, traditionally geared towards a more researcher-driven form of enquiry. The adversities experienced by participants living in contexts of poverty tend to immobilize rather than encourage individual and collective agency. It is thus difficult to expose underlying structural barriers to development, unless academic researchers adopt epistemological and methodological paradigms that require meta-reflection on the process and foreground community definitions of what change is valuable. Drawing on my reflections of collaborating with an HIV and AIDS agency in a socio-economically challenged community, I discuss the underlying and inherent socio-structural inequalities that influenced participation, power relations and communication and threatened the emancipatory outcomes of the participatory action research (PAR) process. I explain how using a capability lens to guide a PAR process enabled me to assist participants to choose an alternative pathway to learning and development. Based on my learning, I offer some suggestions that other academics might find useful to help them promote the epistemological, practical and emancipatory outcomes fundamental to PAR designs if they are to contribute to lasting community development.
- Faculty of Education