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Rooting Research in Community Needs and Values

June 12, 2018
Julia Vazquez

There is a familiar assumption that researchers are academics who work in silos. Conducting their studies in labs, such researchers proceed without input from the community. When it comes time to share findings, they set their sights on peer reviewed journals rather than local forums. As a SPIN Shinnyo Fellow working at Redwood City 2020 and the Gardner Center, I observed how researchers can champion a new model. I learned firsthand about strong research-practice partnerships, also known as RPPs.


Collaborating to Use Research in One Community

Through RPPs, cross-sector partners — individuals representing universities, schools, community-based organizations, and more — can collaborate to use research in one community. These individuals can learn from one another, grow, and motivate positive social change. Further, such partnerships encourage mutualism. Each participant can give and receive both support and perspectives. Participants co-create a holistic view of the greater context of their shared work. The book From Data to Action describes this brand of research as field-building. As such, it employs thorough methods and anchors itself in community needs and strengths.

Stanford Researchers & School Districts Leaders Join Forces

One example of a field-building RPP that I have worked on this year is the Stanford-Sequoia K-12 Research Collaborative. The Collaborative joins the Stanford Graduate School of Education with neighboring school districts. Together, researchers and practitioners are studying the experiences of English Learners across all nine districts. They are focusing their joint inquiry on key indicators that predict postsecondary success.

As a member of the research team, my main task on the Stanford-Sequoia K-12 Research Collaborative was to clean and analyze data. It was not until I participated in the research-practitioner conversations that I began to challenge long-held assumptions about research. RPPs like the Stanford-Sequoia K-12 Research Collaborative “push the current notions of scholarship in ways that can be uncomfortable to academic institutions and the researchers within them” (Data to Action, 166).

As I learned about RPPs, I gained insight into the greater social, cultural, and political factors that envelop the data I work with.

When Researchers & District Leaders Convene

The Collaborative convened three times this year. Their goal was to share analyses and preliminary findings of school districts’ data. At these meetings, there were several tables, each with eight chairs. A mix of researchers and school district leaders occupied seven of the chairs, and a facilitator sat in the eighth. As a facilitator, I brought everyone’s voices into the conversation. I saw how data can provide a chance for researchers and district leaders to engage in collective inquiry. People participated with the intention of learning. They were eager to work together towards a common goal of improving practice, policy, and, ultimately, student outcomes. Participants discussed the current literature documenting English Learners’ experiences. They joined forces to unpack their data, including demographic shifts influencing student populations. Together, they examined district policies and shared classroom practices.

From this experience I learned that working alongside others to use and interpret data is an integral piece of an RPP. By rooting research in community-identified needs and values, RPPs are a force for reciprocity and positive social change. Further, they challenge traditional assumptions about research. They show how researchers work together with communities to use data in meaningful, mutualistic, and accessible ways. The goal? To improve our society.