A Common Dilemma: Results that Reflect Badly On Community
It is not uncommon for results of research to reflect badly on a community. Has your partnership encountered examples of research that might be like this?
Studies might find, for example, that a particular community has an elevated rate of crime or gang violence. A community might be discovered to have high rates of chemical contamination, thus potentially reducing the market value of the homes of people living in that community. Parents might be shown in a study to be uninterested in the schools or uninvolved in their children’s educations. A study might find high rates of corruption in the public sector. In short, there are many different findings that could come out of research that could reflect badly on a community, be it a community defined by geographical boundaries, ethnic links, religious bonds, or something else.
Because studies tend to be problem-focused, it should not be surprising that they often have bad news to share or present a community in a negative light. But what do we do about this?
First, it is important to realize that this problem of “bad news” is far from limited to communities. Right now there is a movement afoot among the editors of medical journals, to require that all drug trials being carried out by pharmaceutical companies and other groups be registered. Such a step will reduce the likelihood that companies won’t report the results from drug trials when those studies don’t show positive effects for the drug being tested. So, communities are not alone in being concerned about results that reflect badly on them.
So, what do partnerships do when results do reflect badly on the group being studies? The Massachusetts AFL-CIO statement on research partnerships, for example, says that they would not attempt to suppress data nor would they agree to participate in any research in which the company could have final say on the interpretation of the data or whether the data were made public.
What partnerships are thinking about at this point in time is inventive ways to involve all partners—well before any data are collected—in thinking through what the results might look like and how those results could be used? A couple of considerations:
How would you overcome the obstacle of most partners having too little time? Talking about what the data would look like takes time. What strategies would you use?
Would you tie “next steps” to these discussions? In other words, would you consider facilitating a discussion in which partners were asked to think about the data in terms of how they would use them rather than merely in terms of what they said about the level of a problem?
Back to the Issue of Who Starts the Partnership
We are discussing here the difficult dilemma of findings that reflect badly on a community. But, earlier in the workshop we shared materials about WEACT. WEACT in Harlem, New York very much wanted to understand the level of the environmental health problems that existed in their neighborhoods. WEACT was, in effect, seeking to learn more about a problem that existed in the neighborhoods and was affecting the health of children.
One might look at this example and see that the information collected to reflect badly on the community. But, we may be missing something in that interpretation. Think a bit about the fact that is was community leaders who, in effect, started the partnership. They sought out the researchers. They (the community leaders) were focused on creating a plan for change.
Partnerships are starting to give consideration to the possibility that who starts the partnership may be important in terms of responses to the data and uses to which the data are put.