Research is a powerful tool to determine fact from fiction. Policies, programs, and solutions are grounded in these facts, making researchers agents for shaping how the world works.
However, long-standing values and practices rooted in racism, ableism, and classism are ingrained in the fabric of research, leaving many researchers unaware of the harm they are causing. Researchers can counteract harmful aspects of these practices by sharing power with the people and communities they study.
Harmful values and practices include the following:
- Objectivity. This is the distance between the “researcher” and “researched.” It is based on the belief that neutrality on a subject is the best way to determine its facts. Objectivity allows researchers, intentions aside, to define themselves as experts without learning from people with lived experience. Objectivity also gives researchers grounds to claim they have no motives or biases in their work. Racism, sexism, classism, and ableism permeate US institutions and systems, which, in turn, allows for research that reproduces or creates racist stereotypes and reinforces societal power differences between who generates information (white cisgender people) and who is a subject (Black, Indigenous, and other people of color at the margins of class and gender). At best, objectivity curbs how impactful research can be, and, at worst, it irrevocably harms a community.
- Rigor. Rigor measures whether research is reliable, accurate, and trustworthy. It’s a standard asked for by funders and research institutions alike. However, researchers often define rigor as following an established research protocol meticulously instead of ensuring data are contextualized and grounded in community experience. Rigor in this sense does not guarantee trustworthiness or accuracy.
- Exclusive funding. Funders help drive the creation and shape of research, but they often fund white-led research institutions before or instead of funding communities of color directly. Without stipulations on whether to dedicate resources, or how much, to community collaborators, funding white-led institutions excludes people with lived experience and organizations with invaluable community connections who don’t meet the prerequisites or capacity to receive funding.
Read the full article about equitable research methods by Lauren Farrell at Urban Institute.
Gender Equity is a complex topic, and others found these selections from the Impact Giving archive from Giving Compass to be good resources.
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