Community-Based Action Research

Community-Based Action Research

We need much better ways — beyond the piecemeal analysis of criminal justice agency data — to bring the right information together to inform criminal justice system transformation. Better data from local justice, health, and human services systems, in particular broken down to the neighborhood level, is a part of the solution, but it’s not enough. Better local cross-sector data must be paired with, and analyzed alongside, direct research and input from the community members most impacted by crime and safety issues.

Such direct research was among the recent recommendations from the Council on Criminal Justice, and reflects a nascent movement within criminal justice research to use more community-focused research methods that reflect methodological pluralism – research designs that intentionally involve power-sharing in a co-constructed, collaboratively designed inquiry that engages historically marginalized groups.

These are approaches that have been effectively used in other fields, most notably public health, but are woefully underutilized in justice research. These  tools, known collectively as Community-Based Action Research techniques, can provide startlingly different evidence, and lead to different problem framing, analysis, and solutions than only crunching ‘big data’ could ever yield. Primarily influenced by anthropological fieldwork techniques, a variety of research methods are available, including but not limited to individual stakeholder interviews, constituent focus groups, oral histories, and narratives.

CJRI will develop its Community-Based Action Research (CBAR) efforts on two levels: Through a national workgroup of experts, and through direct, on the ground development of CBAR within our Justice and Governance Partnerships.

Nationally: We are now assembling a national working group of experts on justice research and community-based action research methods. The National Workgroup on Community Based Action Research for Justice Reform will make recommendations about how justice reform efforts can put community members with direct experience of the justice system—and who have the most at stake—into the driver’s seat when defining what safety and justice means to them and how to take action to address the most pressing problems.

Locally: Simultaneously, CJRI’s new Justice and Governance Partnerships are setting out to support communities that want to construct this more complete view of justice and safety. In combination with the deep, local work of bringing together data from across government agencies, community organizations, and neighborhood residents through jurisdiction-wide Justice Audits, our CBAR efforts will work to integrate community-centered research approaches that reflect methodological pluralism into JGP’s Justice Audit data gathering process, and ultimately influence JGP jurisdictions’ Justice Reinvestment Plans.

CBAR teams established in each JGP jurisdiction will:

  1. Elevate the importance of community voice and agency in practices, public discourse and policy options/frameworks in ways that will transform criminal justice reform at the local level, and influence work at the state and national levels.
  2. Enable more participatory governance in justice policy making in a manner that reflects the full spectrum of stakeholders associated with the wider justice ecosystem (e.g., from health, education, social services, and other sectors).
  3. Build social capital and the collective efficacy of local leadership through cross-site collaboration among CBAR teams.

Read more about our rationale for and approach to Community-Based Action Research here.