Three Tips for Better Research

Low-wage workers conduct rigorous research with support of groups like UCLA-LOSH and DataCenter. Photo Credit: UCLA-LOSH

This May, DataCenter joined more than a hundred grantees from throughout California at The California Wellness Foundation’s (TCWF) annual Work & Health Conference in Los Angeles to share experiences and learn with each other. DataCenter and the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program (UCLA-LOSH) partnered to create a dynamic panel where community and worker organizations learned about community-driven research and how powerful it can be for bottom-up worker advocacy for healthier workplaces.

Panelists Joann Lo of the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA), Lisa Fu of the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative (HNSC), and Lucas Zucker of the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) described their use of community-driven participatory research as part of broader worker and community campaigns and shared a number of lessons learned through these experiences.

Workers are the ones with the stakes in their own struggles; there is no worker justice without workers as leaders.” — Joann Lo

The research goals and methods discussed by the panelists were diverse but all shared a common thread: the belief that workers have experiential expertise that can be gleaned through community-driven research approaches. Panelists also emphasized that community-driven research paved the way to worker empowerment, leadership development, and campaign impact. What’s more, they all expressed how research is instrumental in strengthening broad-based movements for social justice.

Worker-leaders team up to generate hard-hitting data to affect their conditions. Photo Credit: UCLA-LOSH

Here are some additional highlights of what the panelists had to say. We hope you find these tips useful if you’re considering community research—and if you’d like to learn more, contact us!

1. Infrastructure for community participation is key.

Having a partner like DataCenter or UCLA-LOSH ensures oversight, structure, and process throughout the research life cycle from goal identification to project design, to execution and dissemination of data. Technical expertise adds rigor to the research, increases organizational capacity, and, most significantly, increases the chances of success for campaigns. Take the example of the recent report titled The Hands That Feed Us – a result of a two-year research partnership between the Food Chain Workers Alliance and DataCenter – wherein farm and restaurant workers were trained to carry out their own research and produce the first-ever data on their working conditions. The results garnered coverage in the national press and dramatically shifted public perception of food workers.

2. Organization-wide commitment to grassroots leadership development is critical.

Often, prioritizing grassroots leadership in a research project is considered “inefficient” and “costly.” But research done without grassroots leadership is less effective in producing solutions that last. Developing grassroots leadership does take more time and consideration, but, once in place, it becomes the backbone of the research project. With the support of grassroots leadership, a research report becomes an organizing tool to help achieve both policy change and self-determination.

3. Ensure community participation in analysis of the data to generate unique knowledge owned by workers!

Research is typically done behind closed doors by certified and trained “experts.” The data analysis that results from this is often disconnected from the experiences of the community. But when data analysis includes the community, a unique and more powerful analysis is generated. With an analysis that more accurately reflects their lived experience, community members develop ownership and confidence in making data-backed arguments – and their unique knowledge is what makes for their recognized expertise!

Community-driven research has steadily gained popularity in the recent years. It makes for more relevant, accurate information. Community-driven research also empowers the community to advocate for solutions to the issues they face.

This year’s panel at the Work & Health Conference drew many participants eager to build power of their communities from the ground up. Ramon Ramirez of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noreste (PCUN) said in the plenary to the conference, “An informed and organized worker is a powerful worker.” We can’t agree more. When workers and community members organize and lead the research on their experience, the power of knowledge for social change  is unlocked!