The missing link for SDGs – Community-based researchers

Community-based participatory researchers from universities and civil society organisations from 10 countries gathered in New Delhi in India in mid-November to kick off the Knowledge for Change or K4C Global Consortium.

The K4C, an initiative of the UNESCO Chair in Community-Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education, has as its goal training the next generation of community-based participatory researchers.

The critical missing step in the implementation plans for the UN Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs is a process whereby academics and community-based knowledge workers can co-create knowledge that is locally contextualised and globally significant.

Without attention to the particularities of the local, the grand goals of the SDGs will not gain traction in local life. As the phrase goes, “you may hitch your horse to the wagon, but if the wheels do not touch the ground, you will not move forward”.

Participatory research is an approach to knowledge creation, learning and action that generates knowledge in response to the issues and challenges articulated by the community itself. Community-based participatory research recognises that universities do not hold a monopoly on knowledge creation and that, in and of themselves, traditional approaches to research will prove insufficient to the challenges of the UN SDGs.

As leaders of the K4C, we made the case that this critical element will be necessary if we are to have a chance of reaching the ambitious UN SDGs.

Shigeru Aoyagi, director of the UNESCO India office, noted in his opening remarks that the UNESCO Chair in Community-Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education was “the or one of the most active of all of the UNESCO chairs in the world”. His office and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO have been enthusiastic supporters of these new initiatives.

The organisational support for the chair is supplied jointly by the University of Victoria, located in British Columbia, Canada, and the Society for Participatory Research in Asia, headquartered in New Delhi, India.

A previous global study of training opportunities in the field of community-based research undertaken by the chair with support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada provided evidence of a strong demand for learning how to do community-based research, but a frustratingly limited supply of locations where such learning can take place.

A different pedagogical model

The K4C Consortium has been designed using a transformative pedagogical model that combines online distance provision with opportunities for field work and intensive face-to-face workshops. K4C mentors bring a depth of experience in diverse settings, cultures and languages, which is another key element of the learning model.

The first step towards building the K4C Global Consortium will be a Mentor Training Program for those with significant community-based research experience. The mentors will be nominated by the initial training ‘hubs’ and will be responsible for creating a series of local community-based participatory research training in their own local linguistic, cultural and organisational contexts.

The second stage of the K4C, which will be led by the mentors who complete the Mentor Training Program, will be the creation of local training hubs. The hubs will consist of partnerships between universities and civil society organisations, an organisational principle in line with the practice of community-university co-creation of knowledge.

Dr NV Varghese, vice-chancellor of the National University of Educational Planning and Administration in India, who hosted the launch event, noted that “our aim is to produce more than 1,300 community-based researchers and mentors in the first phases of our work”.

Professor SK Pandey, vice-chancellor of Pt Ravishankar Shukla University in Raipur, India, said that “either universities find a way to give back to society or society will have little interest in their continued existence”.

Dr Andrea Vargiu of the University of Sassari in Italy added: “This approach to the co-creation of knowledge allows us to transcend two dominant challenges of higher education research, unifying the global and the local and achieving a transdisciplinary process.”

Budd L Hall and Rajesh Tandon are co-chairs of the UNESCO Chair in Community-Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education. Budd Hall is professor of adult education, community development and community-based research at the University of Victoria, Canada. Rajesh Tandon is founder-president of Participatory Research in Asia. Among the universities and organisations that met in New Delhi to plan the next steps in the K4C Global Consortium were: Sunan Ampel State Islamic University Surabaya, Indonesia; OP Jindal Global University, India; Manipal University Jaipur, India; Pt Ravishankar Shukla University, Raipur, India; Gulu University, Uganda; Durban University of Technology, South Africa; University of Victoria, Canada; Open University of Catalonia, Spain; University of Sassari, Italy; and Participatory Research in Asia, India.