Research Methods for Community Change

This reading critique was written by Monet Spells for Educational Technology (CS 6460, Fall 2014) at Georgia Tech.

Research Methods for Community Change:
The Goose Approach to Research (Chapter 2)
by Randy R. Stoecker

In this chapter, Stoecker explains the goose approach, named after flocks of geese flying in unison towards a destination. In this method, researchers perform research with communities, rather than on them. The motivating factor in this method is giving back and enriching the community instead of exploiting them for scientific gain. I am conflicted on participatory research; on one hand I believe it is good and on another I believe it is an unsustainable scientific method.

The goose approach relies on relationships and developing a strong bond of trust within a community. Developing a connection with a community leads to increasingly open and honest answers that can surface important scientific findings. For example, Stoecker recalls an example of a deadly disease within the Navajo community in 1993. The Centers for Disease Control investigated the issue but without an understanding of cultural customs around death and illness, they received faulty data from community members dismissing their researchers. In a subsequent study, a public health researcher connected with the community, taking the time to understand cultural differences and Navajo beliefs. This resulted in discovery of the problem and established methods for to solve it.

The chapter, and presumably the book as a whole, is a casual account of a Stoecker’s journey through participatory research projects. Some of his experiences and pieces of advice are so uniquely specific to the population he was working with that it seems difficult to apply them to other studies. It seems the best approach to analyzing and applying this knowledge is to focus on the higher-level concepts and fill in the circumstantial components unique to each individual study. However, the idea that generalizing participatory research for other contexts isn’t something we can rely on makes me wonder how applicable the study results are.

In participatory research, as Stoecker defines, it is important to incorporate the community in every step of the scientific process. This means, for example, not having a concrete plan or hypothesis before meeting the community, because the participants should contribute to the creation of the study. Participatory research seems important for the community but unsustainable for the scientific process. How important is it to create studies that can be reproduced or reported with a high level of statistical significance? For example, if conducting participatory research at a women’s shelter required establishing strong bonds, would a male researcher be equally suited to conduct a successful study as a woman researcher? How stringent should the scientific community be on matters of non-scientific factors contributing to the results of the study?