Working toward equity in research

By Erica Quintana
December 10, 2019

What does equity in research really mean? How do we design and engage in research that honors this core value? These are just some of the questions I was prompted to reflect on during a Collective Impact Forum in Chicago.

“Collective impact” can be thought of as a framework for tackling large, complex problems in society like homelessness or family and child well-being. Typically, collective impact initiatives bring together many large organizations, agencies, and influential people in a field of work and then the group identifies goals to tackle to achieve progress. The group also comes to a consensus about data collection and how it will measure progress toward the goals.

The Collective Impact Forum touched on many concepts and practices that make collective impact initiatives successful, but the topic I found most inspiring and challenging was the idea of inclusion, justice, and equity in collective impact work and in research generally.

Liz Dozier discussed the lack of equity and justice in research during her closing remarks. Liz is the founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond, an organization that invests in organizations fighting to create a more equitable future for the young people of Chicago. Chicago Beyond provides multi-year funding and works alongside its partners to support them as they develop an idea and expand their capacity and impact. Chicago Beyond invests in everything from education, to community development, to youth safety. During her closing remarks, Liz shared information with us from a recent Chicago Beyond publication titled, “Why Am I Always Being Researched?

Chicago Beyond works hard to remind people of the varying dynamics between vulnerable people and those in power. In her remarks, Liz spoke about community organizations, funders, and researchers that have the power and influence to make decisions for and shape conversations about communities. For example, philanthropists and foundations that grant money to nonprofits can influence which programs are selected for funding. These well-resourced groups may prioritize and fund workforce skills training, for instance, instead of safe spaces for children to play. Similarly, researchers shape the conversation by defining which topics are “problems” and informing how money and services should be allocated to address the problems.

The component of the power dynamic that resonated most strongly with me relates to researchers. Liz and Chicago Beyond asked the conference attendees to recognize the implications and lack of equity that is involved when work in the community is not guided by community members and their direct experience. For me, this is important because my passion involves research and policy analysis that focuses on vulnerable populations such as children, homeless individuals, and people experiencing domestic violence or substance abuse. With these populations, it is important for me to remember that my choices, the way I write survey questions, who I interview, and how I spot patterns during analysis will influence the final results.

During her remarks, Liz introduced seven inequities that get in the way of “authentic truth” and seven opportunities for change. Chicago Beyond works to address these inequities and incorporate the people and residents of Chicago every step of the way in their projects and investments. Fortunately, Chicago Beyond also shared a guidebook it produced that can help prompt researchers to stop and think about each stage of the research process and how equity and inclusion can be incorporated.

The message of Chicago Beyond struck me profoundly. I hope more researchers work to incorporate this approach into their design, implementation, and analysis so that research truly reflects the people and communities it examines.

Here at Morrison Institute, and within the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, we strive to produce community-inspired research that can be put to good use. We all know that research has an impact. But research that partners with those being researched and centers them throughout every stage of design, analysis, and interpretation has the power to be truly transformative for all involved.

Morrison Institute blogs are intended to further public discourse regarding key and timely issues via diverse voices, expertise and experiences – including, when appropriate, in pro-and-con format. Blogs do not represent any official position of Morrison Institute for Public Policy or Arizona State University.