Research Part II

You made it through yesterday’s marathon post about participant-led research? And you still want to know what we learned throughout this whole process? Here are some thoughts that might be helpful to other organizations, whose primary task is not research but who want to layer a research agenda onto their practice and advocacy work. Below I’ve linked to the survey instrument we used (it’s in Spanish, of course), the 2006 survey report, and also a report from a youth survey that we did, also in 2006, at the request of some of the parents among our client leadership as well as our grassroots youth leaders.

  • Be accountable to your survey participants–for us, this meant continually trimming the survey so that it took as little of their time as possible, bringing the results back to them for feedback, and also taking the results into account in our own programming and advocacy decisions. We started citizenship classes because they were cited as a need, and we ranked our policy priorities as a direct outcome of the survey.
  • Be militant about confidentiality–I only allowed people to administer the surveys using standard color ink, for example; we locked the surveys in file cabinets; when it was time to shred the originals, I did it myself. People need to know that you are taking maximum precautions. We were also very clear that people had the right to refuse to participate, and that nonparticipation IN NO WAY impacted their eligibility for our services. This may have reduced our numbers, but it is the only way to ethically conduct research.
  • Use your data fully–once we had this rich resource, we used our results in our legislative testimony, grant applications, conversations with policymakers, even interviews with potential staff hires! Don’t overstate what the data tell you (be honest about its limitations), but acknowledge its full value, and be creative in its application.
  • Be timely–I worked like crazy in September and October to get the results ready, because, when you’re dealing with applied research, something is ‘old news’ after several months. The long lag between research and publication is one of the limitations of academic participation in policy debates, and we wanted to avoid it. It was funny, really, that by the time Families in Society went to press with the article, I had already left El Centro, Inc.!
  • Similarly, the context should drive some of your analysis, to make it relevant–we always added questions about how specific policies were impacting people’s lives, and also asked questions that we knew we could use for our policy campaigns (about goals to send children to college, for example, or having a driver’s license). In 2006 (see report below), the debate over immigration was raging, so we added some questions about people’s participation in the campaign and also their views on specific policy proposals being tossed around.

    Detrás del Debate–El Centro Survey Report 2006

    Youth Survey Report, 2006

    Survey Instrument, 2006

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