After months of serving as a volunteer van driver for the local Independent Living Center, conducting interviews with individuals with disabilities, and organizing a community group interested in working together to increase architectural accessibility, we were ready to “go live” at a meeting called to construct a focus for our first advocacy project. I came to that meeting with a terrific idea! Wouldn’t it be great to have a Town Hall style meeting, inviting local and state politicians to meet with us to discuss the importance of increased accessibility? WRONG! The other members of the group made it quite clear that this wasn’t what they wanted to do. They discussed their issues and concerns and decided that working to make the local shopping mall more accessible would be our focus. I don’t know how obvious my disappointment was, but I do know that I had the good sense to shut my mouth and listen to my community partners. And they were absolutely right. This was before national legislation mandating architectural access and in a part of the country where winters are harsh and make mobility difficult for an individual using a wheelchair. Being able to visit and move around a large public space like a shopping mall allows an opportunity to get out and socialize during the long months when snow and ice make it impossible for those using a wheelchair to navigate on the sidewalks and streets of the community.
We learned about the state architectural barriers code, filed complaints, attended hearings in Boston and after many months (actually a few years!), we won a State Supreme Court case forcing the owners of the local shopping mall to install a wheelchair accessible elevator. This lesson in listening to people to who know more than I do has stayed with me over the past twenty five years as an action researcher.
So here are some questions to ask yourself as an action researcher as you begin to work with your community partners to construct a meaningful research question:
Beneficence: What direct benefits will studying this question have for the members of your group?
Justice: Will studying this question contribute to positive social change and greater social justice?
Respect: How does the process of constructing your research question demonstrate your respect for your community partners and their knowledge?
Transparency: Is the process of creating your research question open and clear to all participants?
Democratic Practice: How have you insured that all of your community partners have an opportunity to contribute to the process of identifying and deciding upon a meaningful research question?