Community Based, Youth Participatory Action Research

The Collective Impact efforts will be informed by a research phase, modelled after the community-based, youth participatory action research methodology. This approach to research centres youth voices, and encourages community participation and ownership throughout the research process, from identifying the questions, to developing data collection tools, to analysis, dissemination, and implementation of findings.

It will be community-based, meaning the research will be grounded in the needs of the community, and the organisations which serve them; participatory, by enabling youth and community stakeholders to directly engage and take ownership in the process; and action-oriented, by ensuring the research outcomes tangibly lead to strategic action that enable community transformation and social change (Burns et al., 2011).

In recognition that youth are the experts of their own lives, and are thus best fit to identify and understand challenges they experience in pursuing post-secondary opportunities, the primary research team will be made up of Youth Community Engagement Researchers, or Youth Leaders/Researchers. These Youths will be trained by our academic partners, and will be Co-Researchers, whose perspectives, ideas, inputs, and participation will be centred at every step of the research process.

We hope this methodology will redress conventional power relations between the ‘researcher’ and the ‘researched’, and ensure that ownership and control of the project is with the youth and community members to the greatest extent possible.

The intended outcome of this research is to not only to enable greater accessibility to existing literature and community knowledge on barriers to equitable educational attainment in the community, but also ensure that these findings are acted upon, as informed by the Collective Impact framework.  

Collective Impact

The collective impact approach is a model of social change that calls for collaboration amongst a multi-sectoral group of stakeholders to agree on a common agenda, use shared measurements to track progress, implement mutually reinforcing activities, engage in continuous communications, supported by a set of ‘backbone’ organisations to help coordinate the process (Kania & Kramer, 2011).

This approach attempts to address siloed programming by encouraging stakeholders to become familiar with each others’ initiatives, and collaborate to achieve shared goals. This will ultimately encourage greater collective capacity building, and enable resources to be used more effectively.

A  growing body of literature has critiqued Collective Impact due to insufficient attention to the role of, and engagement with, the community (and existing grassroots efforts); excessive focus on short-term data and an imposition of shared metrics; lack of evidence to its effectiveness and considerations of other collaborative models (with a tendency towards top-down management); lacking elements of equity and social justice at its core; and neglecting policy and systems change as intentional outcomes (Wolff et al., 2018).

In response, there has been an evolution towards ‘Collective Impact 3.0’ which prioritises movement building that seeks to reform/transform systems as opposed to simply improve existing ones; developing shared community aspirations (as opposed to finding common ground based on specific interests); emphasising learning and evaluation (versus focused on measurements and indicators); pursuing high leverage opportunities (rather than solely on coordination); emphasising authentic and inclusive engagement (as opposed to only engaging institutional leaders); and cultivating greater understanding of the ecosystem and interrelationship of various factors and stakeholders, as opposed to solely focusing on mobilising the logistics of the framework (Cabaj & Weaver, 2016).

In this project, we hope to use the Collective Impact approach as a loose framework, adopting elements of the framework the community finds useful, and discarding other elements which may not be suitable for the existing context.

Other Frameworks

In addition to the project methodologies, we are also inspired and influenced by a a set of theories and ideas, which we hope will inform some of the values and intentions of the project.

Critical positive youth development

The critical positive youth development framework views youth as assets rather than deficits to be fixed, contextualised by intersecting systems of privileges and oppressions, which they have the power and ability to influence. The critical approach to positive youth development  is explicitly oriented towards social justice, and seeks to empower youth to identify and redress systemic inequalities. (Nicols, 2015; Hower, n.d.).

The critical positive youth development framework views youth as assets rather than deficits to be fixed, contextualised by intersecting systems of privileges and oppressions, which they have the power and ability to influence. The critical approach to positive youth development  is explicitly oriented towards social justice, and seeks to empower youth to identify and redress systemic inequalities. (Nicols, 2015; Hower, n.d.).

Informed by the critical positive youth development framework, we hope the youth-led participatory action research methodology  will respond to recommendations calling to build youth leadership (Jane Finch TSNS Task Force, 2016) and meaningfully involve them in research, policy, advocacy, and program planning (St. Stephen’s Community House and Access Alliance, 2016).

Right to Research and the Capacity to Aspire

We hope the participatory action research process can help encourage youth and general community members to demand their right to research — i.e. the right to participate in all steps of the research process, and access tools and information necessary to gain strategic knowledge about their communities, to fulfill their capabilities (Appadurai, 2006). This also involves demystifying research as a technically complex activity accessible only to trained specialists,  to conceptualising research as simply a process of asking a question, and having the capacity to answer it in a systematic way.

Relatedly, we hope the Collective Impact process will help cultivate youths’ capacity to aspire — i.e. “the social and cultural capacity to plan, hope, desire, and achieve socially valuable goals” (Appadurai, 2004). Through youth engagement and leadership with a diversity of stakeholders from multiple sectors during the collective impact process, we hope youth can aspire towards not only higher education and further training, but also towards aspirations which may otherwise have been perceived to be inaccessible due to lack of social, financial, cultural, or other capital.

Unconventional, Creative (Arts-based) Methodologies

While specific research questions (and subsequently, the data collection methodologies) are yet to be developed in collaboration with community partners, we hope to explore the use of less conventional research methodologies (surveys, interviews, focus groups) which may also act as community development and youth empowerment exercises. This includes activities like community asset mapping (Amsden & VanSynsberghe, 2005), photovoice (Wang, 2006; Wilson et al, 2007),  digital storytelling (Lambert, 2013) body mapping (Gastaldo, 2012) and more (Ollner, 2009).

We hope these methods will not only mitigate some of the research fatigue youth and the broader community have experienced (Connecting the Dots, 2014; St Stephen’s Community House & Access Alliance, 2016), but also further enable youth to secure their right to research, by recognising that knowledge can be expressed in a diversity of ways, and that they already hold a vast amount of talent and skills which can be used towards knowledge mobilisation and social change.  

Prioritising Community Benefits and Ethics in Research and Practise

The history of research, programming, and projects in the Jane-Finch community conducted by external partners have been fraught with tension, given negative experiences with oppressive behaviours and attitudes which have perpetuated the stigmatisation of the community (Connecting the Dots, 2013).

The relationship with York University researchers in particular, have “perpetuated patterns of systemic oppression, rooted in unequal power dynamics, and inequitable and unethical practices” (ibid: 30). A resident-driven response to protect the community from further harm resulted in the Connecting the Dots Coalition (formerly known as the Jane-Finch Best Practices Table), which in collaboration with York University and others, produced a series of reports, best practises, and events discussing ethical research in the community.  (Jane Finch Community Research Partnership, 2016; Jane Finch Community Research Partnership Symposium Report, 2016).

Thus, the methodologies and project design reflected above are suggestions informed by these various reports and resources, as well as the community partners and residents we have spoken with, who generously shared their knowledge and input for the project.  Some other learnings and processes we hope to explore and potentially implement include:

  • Enabling autonomy and control of the project by residents and longstanding community partners to the greatest extent possible (via co-construction of research agenda and Collective Impact efforts); prioritising community benefits and impact
  • Practising transparency, respect, humility, and open and inclusive participation for all those who may be interested in learning about, and/or getting involved in the project.
  • Supporting existing community initiatives enabling access to research and knowledge mobilisation
  • Respecting the right to refuse participation, and valuing efforts to full, informed, and ongoing consent; developing an ethics protocol in collaboration with community