For Better Science: The Benefits of Community Engagement in Research
by Ana Bracic, University of Oklahoma
Field research can be challenging. There are several moving parts and many hurdles to clear before the data-gathering process begins. Questions relating to members of the researched community—regarding the level of their involvement in planning and carrying out the research, and about sharing the results—can be seen as a dreaded inconvenience, and, sometimes, as an obstacle to good science. Community engagement and good science need not be in tension, however. Leaning on my research on Roma/non-Roma relations, and the process through which I came to understand the importance of engaging the researched community in research, I describe a few ways in which such engagement can prove invaluable. Community members can help us identify and correct errors in interpretation, leading to new insights. They can help with study design, by helping us adjust our tests to better fit the local contexts, and by helping us conduct our study in a way that is effective as well as appropriate for the community. Involving members of the researched communities in the research process therefore may not only be an ethical imperative but also a scientific one.