wbc children seed bomb 2019

CBPR and the Value of Community-led science projects

It is critically important for minoritized communities co-lead science projects. Communities are strong! Communities are made of people who care about the wellbeing of their community and who know what’s best for them. Communities historically excluded from the sciences are more than capable of engaging in science, if institutions create a more equitable and inclusive environment and if scientists recognize the use of community-based participatory research (CBPR) as valid scientific research. 

Community knowledge is valuable and it enriches science and scientific institutions. CBPR can change white supremacy culture that is so prevalent in the sciences and in traditional research.

The scientific enterprise prides itself in achieving a higher purpose — in problem solving and helping satisfy basic human needs and making life easier for mankind. We live science and we need science.

In order to do good science, scientific researchers see themselves as objective, rational, and as having the credentials to do science in the way that has been traditionally taught in academia. This mindset could be problematic.

When we learn science, we develop our ability to ask questions, collect information, organize and test our ideas, solve problems, and apply what we learn. 

What happens when science opens up to different ways of doing research in more inclusive ways? What happens when a group of individuals from minoritized communities engage as science practitioners? 

This is the story of our experience when we, at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, began a journey with our community partners and engaged in Community-based Participatory Research (CBPR). Our goal was to understand how large science institutions and community-based organizations could engage in meaningful and equitable long-term collaborations. To this day, we are still learning so much. This has been a transformative experience, one that I value like no other.

Some of the benefits that doing this work has brought to the Lab are: 

Better decisions. Communities know what’s best for them. When they are part of the decision making, There IS BETTER decision-making.

More creativity.  The Lab would not have come up with one science project good for all the communities participating in the project. They each  have different strengths, priorities, interests, and knowledge that they want to explore to benefit their own communities.

Learning experience: We have gained educational experiences that are not taught in academia. The communities we are working with have trained the people working at the Lab – this has been a learning experience. An example of this is the development of cultural competence.  You can’t study this on campus. We, at large institutions, pay a lot of money to solve problems, get training and advice from experts who, in the case of EDI or cultural competence, do not necessarily represent the perspective of the audience we want to engage..

Better communication: We have learned that we need to be more culturally competent, committed to creating a process that allows for a safe space to work together to co-create successful, productive and efficient collaborations.

Better dissemination: Our partners share with others our collaborative work and other communities want to join and replicate what we are doing. We have incorporated a universal shared language: clarity, arts, and humor. Our dissemination language comes from the community.

More community knowledge/expertise – as an institution we are getting more knowledge from our community partners about how they engage their communities and we learn where we have to improve. Our leanings are coming directly from the source, spelled out clearly, in a practical way, in context of the realities from the communities we want to work with.

Better research results: Equitable scientific research that is  community-led, inclusive, and co-created with both community-based organizations and science institutions, brings about better outcomes, more balanced research, fewer blindspots, and more  impactful levels of engagement.

When science includes people who have been historically excluded, through CBPR, it brings new perspectives to problem solving from practical and lived experiences. Science becomes whole.

Photo above: Celebrate Urban Birds community-led activity at the WorldBeat Cultural Center in San Diego © Marilú López Fretts