You might wonder what has happened with the Dissertation Research Abstract . I used to think that I would like to do a community-based research (CBR) on transportation. What I have learned from my recent CBR project with The Natural Step Monona was that transportation is not on their top priority list. As a result, there is no strong basis for conducting CBR in transportation because transportation is not a pressing issue for Monona residents and therefore there is no immediate needs in addressing it.
Another learning point from this is that when a researcher wants to conduct a CBR, a topic becomes secondary. CBR is a methodology that aims to address whatever we learn from the needs assessment process. Community will identify a set of local community issues and then rank them to see what is the most important for them to asnwer. This can be anything from a chicken in someone’s backyard to as complex as Wisconsin’s collective bargaining issue. It is imperative that CBR follows community’s interests.
So here it is, my new direction of my dissertation research.
How does a grassroots community group focused on sustainability influence the attitudes and practices of their neighbors and change government policy? How can a university-community partnership help answer the many questions the group has about whether and how their efforts are effective? Once the answers to some of their questions have been uncovered, how can they follow up on their findings, and what kind of impacts on the community can we see as a result of their actions? This dissertation research is about the recent university-community partnership between The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and The Natural Step Monona (TNSM).
TNSM is a grassroots community organization in the city of Monona that promotes environmental, economic, and social sustainability. They base their work on the Swedish sustainability framework called The Natural Step. Through TNSM, community residents have worked collaboratively in increasing environmental awareness and sustainability practices. Further, TNSM makes every effort to provide equal opportunities to all citizens to participate in voicing their desires and hopes for the development of Monona, particularly in relation to the environmental impacts of different development options. This includes identifying and engaging underserved social groups in Monona, to gather a diversity of perspectives and help balance the unequal power distribution in society.
The university-community partnership that we initiated, funded by The Nelson Institute through the Community Environmental Scholars Program (CESP), resulted in two sequential community-based capstone courses offered in spring 2011 and fall 2011. A total of twenty-one undergraduate students enrolled. As part of our community-based research efforts, we collected more than 600 household responses from our citywide community survey. Partly motivated by the survey results, TNSM and the City of Monona organized a series of events for 2012, proclaimed to be the Year of Water by the Mayor of Monona. The partnership also provided assistance in recruiting other community-based organizations to take on water use and conservation projects during 2012.
This dissertation research will document these efforts based on the three following research questions:
- How is a university-community partnership model implemented to address environmental issues at a local level and what can we learn from this implementation? In answering this question, I would like to elaborate on the processes, from initiating the partnership to executing community actions. Since there were multiple stakeholders involved in the partnership, I would like to discuss the outputs from this partnership, particularly how they enriched students’ learning and enhanced the capacity of the community partner. In addition to a review of the literature, weekly student reflections will be analyzed, and interviews with key members of our community partner will be conducted.
- How has the Monona public perceived the community efforts put together by TNSM and in what ways could they be supportive, or not, to TNSM visions and missions? Based on the survey responses collected, I would like to analyze how the public perceives TNSM as an organization and how TNSM has influenced their daily sustainable, or unsustainable, practices. The analysis will also include public perceptions of community actions happening in the city of Monona.
- What kind of community impacts can be observed from a series of community actions organized for The Year of Water? The survey results indicated that clean lakes and clean drinking water were the top two community issues for Monona residents. Partly motivated by the survey results, The Year of Water is designed to help improve the city’s use and handling of water so that can become more sustainable, and to motivate residents to do their part, as well. I would like to observe a series of community events organized as part of The Year of Water. In addition, interviews with Monona residents will be conducted after The Year of Water is concluded. This will be an assessment of how much impact resulted from community events.