Attention to Context

Attention to context is vital at all stages of CER projects. Since CER happens in and with community, factors such as history, culture, language, current events, and geography comprise the context in which the study occurs, and inevitably influence all aspects of the research, including design, recruitment, methodology, and dissemination.

The context in which CER projects take place is of particularly high importance in comparison with traditional research paradigms. The reason for this is due in part to the embrace of different ways of knowing, diverse forms of expertise, and less controlled research environments. With CER’s focus on locality, the attention to cultural, historical, temporal, socioeconomic, and geographical contexts becomes paramount. In research involving Indigenous communities, the right to self-determination and emphasis on local governance means that “First Nations community authorities must approve data collection in their region” and that local and regional protocols must be respected (FNIGC, 2011, p. 4).

Tips & Considerations

Consider cultural traditions and appropriateness

“All study activities and protocols must be culturally appropriate and not stigmatizing.” (Khodyakov et al., 2016, p.54) 

Seek and uphold local knowledge

Researchers should have an understanding of and connection to the local context in advance of the study. Knowledge can be expressed and shared in unique ways depending on the community context, and thus community engaged researchers should heed these modes of knowledge sharing and also aspire to them in dissemination processes.

Reflect on the role of place and geography

Isler and Corbie-Smith (2012) emphasize the importance of a “change of place” as a departure from traditional research that is carried out in the ivory towers of academia. CER that is based within communities “eliminates logisti­cal and practical barriers to research participation, particularly by individuals and groups in under­served communities” (2012, p. 906).

Attend to the temporal location or “moment in time” in which research occurs

Current events and temporal moments often have tremendous impact on research. There is no more poignant or recent example of this than the events of 2020 and the “double pandemic” arising out of COVID-19 and the enhanced attention on systemic anti-black racism. Conducting CER in 2020 means doing research and community engagement in a drastically changed landscape from that of previous years.

Research and reflect on the history of the community

Each community is a present-day result of countless previous generations. Community engaged researchers should attend to the histories of both the people and the place in which research is taking place. The historical context of a community may prompt different approaches and lead to different outcomes of the research.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • What are the diverse elements of context that are at play in this community (e.g. geography, culture, language, race, history, socioeconomic status, etc.)?
  • To what extent has the primary researcher integrated and accounted for cultural norms that are acceptable to the people who are most affected by the research?
  • What current events are most discussed by this community? How do those current events impact the people and the livelihoods in this community?
  • How is knowledge typically shared in a local context? (e.g. through books, dance, music, poetry, storytelling, newspapers?) Does the primary researcher engage diverse forms of knowledge sharing that are relevant to the local context?