The ultimate goal of community engagement is to vitalize research with a view to producing knowledge that is usable to the relevant groups of end-users. Unfortunately, this key component of research is often seen as something scholars do at the point of knowledge mobilization – developing the findings of our research for and engaging end-users.
The integration of community engagement into all phases of a research project should not be confined to community-based research or methodologies such as participant action research. Holistic community engagement is crucial for the following reasons:
- The community is the main site for knowledge; the ivory tower, research centres, and similar agencies are, for the most part, knowledge processing factories. The knowledge that social scientists in particular generate often comes from the world outside the academy. For instance, the literature we review amount to accumulations of studies of our social world over time. Even the theories on which we anchor our research stem from the patterns of human behaviour or social trends identified in scholarly debates established over time. In other words, the community, however construed or conceptualized in any research, constitutes a site of knowledge that researchers should do well to carry along.
- The community, in many cases, is the ultimate funder of our research projects in two respects. First, the government (local, provincial or national) is often the largest funder of higher education and the research that goes with it. As a public good, this cost is met through taxes and other assets the government may hold on behalf of society (e.g. mineral resources, businesses, properties, etc.). Second, the underlying aim of publicly funded research is for the public good. Even in the cases of alternatively funded research, the allocation of these funds comes with a responsibility to those for whose “good” or advancement of wellbeing the fund was provided. In other words, scholars must consider both local (and when applicable) global demand for knowledge as an integral facet that should inform their research questions and the knowledge it generates. The community could be meaningfully engaged by giving members agency in the identification and prioritization of possible social problems to address, development of research questions, involvement in the research itself (e.g. advisory committees), and knowledge mobilization.
- Community engagement at various stages of research projects (when possible and applicable) is crucial for developing appropriate research questions, research methodologies, end-user knowledge and avenues for its dissemination. Indeed, scholars cannot address local and global demand for knowledge without due consideration for community engagement. The funds disposed by society or any of its agents deserves carry with them the expectation that the public good will not only be served but if possible – met in robust ways. In essence, scholars are not expected to study whatever comes to their minds or captures their fancies.
Write a short reflection (less than 500 words) on what you have learned about community engagement. Make sure you address the following questions in your reflection:
- How will your research respond to local (and possible global) demand for knowledge?
- What steps will you take in engaging community to further this goal?