• Reflections on Connecting Community Outreach and Research

    Posted on June 27, 2014 by in Blog, Research


    by Josephine McKelvy

    In the midst of all of our preparations for the next round of interviews and wrapping up our community celebrations in Harnett, Lee, and Wake County, have we forgotten to give back to the community?

    These past few months have flown by in a flurry of community celebrations! Our weekly meetings show how much we’ve done and so quickly. It feels like just last week that we were talking about fun ideas for the parents and kids. Then we were sorting out who would do what at each event. Before we knew it, Marissa was bringing different homemade treats, sweetened with Greek yogurt or peanut butter, to thank us for our help!

    The VIA team was also preparing for our new round of interviews! Each week, we worked through what kinds of topics matter most to the moms we chatted with in the first year of interviews. We also discussed what we should ask them about this year. The “homework” for these meetings involved reading about things like how parents feed their kids or how parents may depend on others for help and studying how other people have asked similar questions.

    We also attended monthly meetings with the Community-Based Action Groups in Harnett, Lee, and Wake counties. Sitting in on these meetings helped us find out what other local events were going on and what issues matter to the residents of these counties. It was important to hear about actual experiences of people to see how what we had read matched with real life.

    The community celebrations that we held in each county gave us a chance to get out and share what we’ve learned from our first year of conversations. But now that I’ve gotten out of the office (or conference rooms) and started going to the community meetings and celebrations, I’m left wondering, what have we given back to the community?

    I’ve been told that a lot of researchers, who don’t look like the residents, often come into a community, do our research, and then leave without making any real change in the community. For instance, we know the statistics for things like how farmers feel about the success of their farms, but it is true that we could use more ideas on how to connect them to people who could use the fresh produce and meat. That’s why we had a station at the community celebrations for suggestions from the community.

    Most of our work as researchers does involve reading, meetings, and presenting that work to other researchers—but that’s not the only place you’ll find us. Some of our team members have been presenting our findings at committee meetings of the North Carolina House of Representatives. From those meetings, another team member published an article in the News and Observer about the importance of forming partnerships between residents, business owners, and the governmentin the hopes of starting more conversations about access to healthy food. Though we may have different personal experiences from people in the communities we serve, we are committed to hearing their voices and we are trying to put their suggestions into action.

    But we also have more to do if we want to connect our research to outreach in meaningful ways. One of our big tasks is to listen in this upcoming round of interviews with local mothers and grandmothers. Another is community engagement. We, as researchers, can’t know what does or doesn’t work in Harnett versus Lee versus Wake County. That is why listening to the community is so important and why bridging the gap between research and outreach is one of our goals as we move on to our next phase!

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