If evidence matters, we must care about how it gets made and who gets to wield it. Production and use of research that starts from equity and inclusion must be representative and meaningful. It must engage the communities in which research is being conducted. These communities must see themselves in the research that is produced, and have a say in how the research will be used to affect their lives.
Funders play a central role in promoting dialogue, analysis, and practices that serve to democratize evidence. They do this in a number of ways including; convening all of the stakeholders to co-create agendas, making the public case for broad, representative participation, and centering the voices of those most closely affected by the issues under study.
Here we provide articles, tools and examples of funders engaging grantees and other stakeholders from the broader community.
Promoting New and Diverse Scholars and Perspectives
Expanding the Bench: Starting from the premise that inclusion of evaluators from historically underrepresented racial groups matters to the methods, analyses, and interpretations that evaluations produce. The Annie E. Casey Foundation promotes this initiative to increase culturally responsive and equitable evaluation.
Foundation for Child Development Foundation's Young Scholars program: This program supports the scholarship of early career researchers from underrepresented groups. Diverse backgrounds, methodologies, and disciplines are sought.
Centering the Margins: (Re)defining Useful Research Evidence Through Critical Perspectives: This piece discusses how critical perspectives help to reimagine what research can accomplish and to rethink the elements that make research more useful and relevant.
Training for Non-Researchers
Public Science Project Participatory Research Methods: The Public Science Project provides training in methods and approaches that demystify quantitative analysis, provide training in participatory methods, and make the research process transparent to everyone.
Students-at-the-Center Research Collaborative Fellows Program: Drawing on the experience and practice wisdom that teaching practitioners bring to the production and use of research, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation has piloted a fellows program for educators to shape the research projects of the research process and products of the Research Collaborative.
Centering the Voices of Those Most Affected
Integrated Data Systems and Youth Co-Creating Racial Equity: This presentation explores what it takes to apply a racial equity lens to outcome-oriented integrated data systems analysis and policy development. The premise is that those whose lives intersect with the data being reviewed are centered in the discussions about what the data means.
Making the Case
These resources help foundations make the case for expanding participation in evidence production and use.
The toolkit for grantmakers serves as a hub on evidence-based policymaking and includes both resources on making the case for evidence use in policy, as well as articles about the processes of engaging a range of stakeholders in evidence making.
The site also includes strategies for reevaluating funded research and RFP processes.
Participatory design-based research continues to expand and challenge the “researcher”and “researched” paradigm by incorporating teachers, administrators, community members, and youth throughout the research process. Yet, greater clarity is needed about the racial and political dimensions of these collaborative research projects, and what they mean for expanding participation in evidence production and use.
We are reaching the realization that to work within a model where expertise comes from above, without the wisdom and knowledge that sits in the experience of everyday life, makes much of what is produced as a result ineffective.
- María Elena Torres, Public Science Project
Shifting the Gaze: Bringing Non-Researchers into the Research Process
In the recently released Why am I Always Being Researched?, a guide for engaging communities in research, the authors raised many critical questions: Is the research accessible? Can those being researched hear the research? Are those closest to the issues engaged in identifying, framing and shaping the use of research evidence? Are their perspectives embedded and voices centered in what is produced? Do these communities have opportunities to move out of the dominant gaze that shapes much of how evidence is interpreted?
Communities across the country are grappling with these questions. In Broward County, Florida, the local Children's Services Council has initiated convenings with diverse stakeholders in various human services systems to look at data together and engage in courageous conversations about what it means. Using a community participatory action research (CPAR) approach, youth whose data are in child serving systems like child welfare and juvenile justice, are co-researchers with frontline workers, system leaders and researchers. Together they undertake a process of co-design, data collection and analysis. By listening to and centering the lived experiences of youth throughout the research process, new insights and solutions are co-created while fostering positive youth development and research skills and energizing the service and research staff with a richer understanding of the data. The CPAR process has yielded improvement strategies for communication, training and it has also enhanced the review of policies that penalize system-involved youths when a lack of access to resources may be at the root of the problem.
In the Northeast, the Nellie Mae Foundation invested in two pilot projects to bring the practice wisdom of teachers and principals into the production and use of research. The first project provided fellowships to principals and teachers to embed in research teams funded by the foundation. Working alongside researchers, the fellows brought their practice perspectives to protocols, training products, and implementation recommendations.
A second pilot, launched with its first cohort last year, brought youth together as researchers. Youth raised new -- and often brave -- questions to the table, including those related to the immigrant experience in schools, gender identification and district sex education policies. These questions were proximal to their experiences, and often pushed adult researchers to consider new questions and methods.
These non-research perspectives have helped change the nature of key research questions, the methods used to address the questions, and the ways in which researchers understand the complex topics that individuals living the experiences under study must navigate.
Inclusive Engagement Strategies
Funders can support inclusion of these diverse stakeholders when they invest in a range of engagement strategies, including; decision makers who understand policy, practitioners who can assess classroom implications, recipients of the services under review, community members who live out the questions the research inquiry poses, researchers and technical experts that can communicate strengths, weaknesses and limitations of data.
Here are resources that summarize and provide place-based examples of these engagement strategies:
CPAR: Broward County, FL engaged child welfare, juvenile justice, and behavioral health clients to give feedback to the data that affects their lives in the county's integrated data system (IDS). The CPAR process is described in an executive summary and longer report.
Participatory Grantmaking: Participatory grantmaking mirrors many of the strategies of inclusive evidence-building and is part of an overall movement in philanthropy toward inclusive decision making.
Research-Practice Partnerships (RPPs): The effective partnerships engage a diverse set of stakeholders, including; non-traditional actors, attend to power dynamics rooted in history, and demonstrate capacity for addressing equity.
Network Improvement Communities (NICs): NICs harness the power of networks to collaborate using the tools of improvement science to solve problems of practice. New understandings of how to effectively implement networks are increasing communities' capacity to act on evidence collectively.
Research Training for Non-Researchers: When non-researchers gain research tools to engage in the research process, they demonstrate the powerful difference that lived experience and practice wisdom brings to the production and use of research. The Nellie Mae Education Foundation piloted a fellows program that included education practitioners in the Research Collaborative to shape the production and use of research. The Public Science Project provides stats-in-action training to demystify quantitative analysis by making the process transparent.