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J Empir Res Hum Res Ethics. 2010 Dec;5(4):3-11. doi: 10.1525/jer.2010.5.4.3.

Community research in other contexts: learning from sustainability science.

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  • 1Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469, USA. Silka@maine.edu

Abstract

In health research, community based participatory research (CBPR) has seen remarkable growth as an approach that overcomes many of the ethical concerns raised by traditional approaches. A community of CBPR scholars is now sharing ideas and devising new approaches to collaborative research. Yet, this is occurring in isolation from similar efforts using different nomenclature and occurring outside of health research areas. There is much to be gained by bringing these parallel discussions together. In sustainability science, for example, scholars are struggling with the question of how stakeholders and scientists can coproduce knowledge that offers useful solutions to complex and urgent environmental problems. Like CBPR in health, sustainability science is denigrated for perceived lack of rigor because of its applied problem focus and lack of positivist approach. Approaches to knowledge creation in sustainability science involve "new" ideas such as wicked problems and agent-based modeling, which would be equally applicable to CBPR. Interestingly, sustainability research is motivated less by recognition of the corrosive effects of the inequality of power than from frustration at how limited the impact of research has been, a perspective that might be useful in CBPR, particularly in conjunction with the use of some borrowed tools of sustainability science such as wicked problem analysis and agent-based modeling. Importantly, the example of sustainability science has the potential to keep CBPR from entering into a new orthodoxy of how research should be done.

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