Power Examination and Active Redistribution

Key to CER is the research team’s attention to issues of power, privilege, and positionality. In addition to an examination of power, a community engaged research team has the responsibility to commit to action that aims to redistribute unequal power relations.

Key to CER is the university researcher’s understanding of, exploration of, and attention to issues of reflexivity, positionality, and power. Without an inclusion of these components, knowledge continues to be conceptualized in positivist, empirical paradigms that position the researcher as a potentially objective individual who can bracket out biases and access absolute truth. In addition to an examination of power, the community engaged researcher has the responsibility to commit to action that aims to redistribute unequal power relations. In research with Indigenous communities, this means active labour to decolonize the production of knowledge as per the First Nations OCAP Principles (Ownership, Control, Access, and Control). The active redistribution of power may mean that the community engaged researcher leverages institutional resources to better support underserved community organizations, or it may mean that the research is used to advance institutional or systemic policy changes. Whatever the case may be, power in CER is simultaneously examined and actively redistributed.

Tips & Considerations

Share power in all phases of research

"Academic and community investigators [should] actively collaborate in all phases of research and equally share power, resources, and responsibility for the study and its outcomes.” (Khodyakov et al., 2016, p.54)

Spend time and effort examining researcher positionality

University researchers should engage in ongoing critical reflection regarding their identity, biases, assumptions, and associated implications. CER requires that the researcher examines their own attitude and considers how power plays a role in the research processes (Wilson, Kenney & Dickson-Swift, 2018).

Critically examine Western epistemologies and assumptions

Western epistemologies were created by and for non-Indigenous peoples…these epistemologies and related research approaches reinforce existing paternalistic relationships and do little to aid in the goal of self-determination” (Assembly of First Nations, 2009, p. 7). 

Communicate openly about power relations

“Reframing engagement as a relationship between aca­demicians and community members allows specific attention to issues of power, control and trust that have received limited attention in traditional approaches to research” (Isler & Corbie-Smith, 2012, p. 905).

Take upReflexive Evaluation”

“Reflexive evaluation involves a critical reflection on the positionality of participants in relation to the processes they are engaged in and attempting to influence.” (Goemans, Levkoe, Andrée, Changfoot & Christopherson-Cote, 2018, p. 61)

Consider populations that are historically, persistently, and systemically marginalized

Community engaged research often takes up the goal of generating or enhancing empowerment for systemically marginalized individuals including refugees, rural populations, Indigenous people, people living with addictions, people living with mental health challenges, and people living in poverty (Bacon et al., 2013; Boilevin, 2018; Chou & Frazier, 2019; Stoecker, 2012).

Take action in redistribution of power

“Collaborative insider-professional researcher knowledge generation and application processes in projects of social change that aim to increase fairness, wellness, and self-determination” (Greenwood & Levin, 2003, p. 145).

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • In what ways has the primary researcher examined their own power and positionality vis-à-vis the community with whom they are working?
  • How do key community partners and individuals understand the power relations in this project? (It is not unusual for an institutional researcher to have a very different understanding than the community partners in terms of power relations).
  • How and when do open conversations about power arise throughout the project?
  • How can issues of unequal power be addressed and discussed without reinforcing those differentials and/or exacerbating them?
  • How does power show up in each phase of the research? How might power relations affect processes such as recruitment, planning, data collection, analysis, and dissemination?
  • In what ways can this research project contribute to the redistribution of power in the research process itself?
  • In what ways can this research project contribute to the redistribution of power in the ways that the findings are disseminated and used?