The Future We Imagine: Reflections from the Autumn School in Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR)

The climate crisis – and growing uncertainty and vulnerability of all systems supporting life on earth – requires a localized approach, drawing on local community knowledge and strong leadership in local governments. Research, policy and impact in a perfect triangle, with the device “leave no-one behind” at the core – is that possible? A growing movement says CBPR gives us a chance.

Community-based Participatory Research (CBPR) is a bottom-up approach to research, driven in all phases by the community most affected by the topic of interest. CBPR is participatory, inclusive and action oriented. It lifts up voices often overlooked – informing local governments of community needs while empowering the communities themselves. ICLD’s CBPR autumn school took local governments and development researchers on a deep dive into the approach.

Behind the scenes video edited by Maeva Gauthier

Thus 30 participants from Tanzania, Kenya and Sweden learned arts-based methods for community dialogue during two months. After an initial phase of theory in weekly digital classes, they gathered in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to put theory into practice and produce a joint project exploring “The Future We Imagine”. Methods as photovoice, participatory video and community mapping are ways to gather community data in a democratic and inclusive way, and can inform both municipal projects and research – including joint projects such as monitoring SDG progress. “It is about acknowledging the lived experiences of people on the ground”, explained Crystal Tremblay, who is facilitating the course. The in-person training provided an essential learning that brought the methods to life, and gave confidence in how to facilitate and adapt in other settings and contexts. With 246 years of collective experience in different development professions, the group has tremendous expertise to utilize the new skills to improve community engagement and bridge the gap between research and practice.

Patricia Nzioka, researcher for Kajiado County, Kenya, in the storyboarding process. Photo: Ida Edvinsson

The Autumn School was a partnership between ICLD and University of Victoria/CiFAL Victoria, UNITAR and University of Dar es Salaam. “We are very happy to act on the MoU between ICLD and University of Dar es Salaam, which was signed a year ago this week”, said Dr. Roland Ndesanyu, acting Director of the university’s Institute of Development Studies in his opening remarks. “This is an important step to provide tools for community perspective to local governments, which is where development really happens.

Dr. Colman Msoka, Director of the Institute of Development Studies at University of Dar es Salaam, and Clara Orstadius, Research Officer at ICLD, after discussions on how to maximize impact of the MoU between IDS and ICLD. Photo: Ida Edvinsson

Arts-based methods for dialogue

Researchers and local government officials collaborating on creating a participatory video themed “The Future We Imagine”, with the assistance of Dr. Crystal Tremblay, course facilitator. Photo: Ida Edvinsson

In an exercise on Photovoice, participants took snapshots around campus that represent the future they imagine, and what is needed to get there. The photos were then basis for discussion where the associations of both the photographer and the viewers’ perceptions on the issue were captured.  

Just as visual associations is a way to formulate needs and perceptions, storytelling as means to transmit knowledge is a core feature of CBPR. In Participatory Video, the group got hands-on with storyboarding, interviewing techniques and editing programs to capture the perceptions of students and fellow contributors on four priority issues to reach that future of social, economic and environmental sustainability.  

The benefits of using CBPR

Alois Porokwa, project leader of the partnership between Strängnäs, Sweden and Emboreet,Tanzania, emphasized the benefits of using CBPR with his Maasai community. Where text-based information is not a viable option, these methods make it possible to engage the illiterate part of the community.  

Roots of commute-based participatory research are practitioner-driven rather than academically driven. Knowledge mobilization, or the integration of research findings in policy, is therefore an integral step. Patricia Nzioka, research consultant in Kajiado County, Kenya, is convinced that governing bodies must be informed by research in order to build policy on reliable community data.

Before leaving Dar es Salaam, Nicholas Wanjiru, Ruiru Municipality Kenya, reflected on his participation in the course:

“We are way ahead of other counties which have not been part of this program. Before we started, I wondered how much participation is public participation? What is enough, how do we ensure it gets through? I now have a way to capture grassroot perceptions and make sense of them such that is directly benefits them back.”

Local Democracy Talk: “The future we imagine” – making change happen with CBPR  

Participants of the CBPR Autumn School during the Local Democracy Talk. Photo: Ida Edvinsson

To conclude the training – an ICLD Local Democracy Talks was arrange the 17th of November 2022.
The talk aimed to create a constructive dialogue and exchange experiences among policymakers, researchers and civil society to strengthen community engagement – the foundation of participatory democracy. The topic was community-based research for democratic policy transformation: what are communities’ vision of the future they want and how can researchers and local governments work to make change happen?