Happy 20th Anniversary, Mogridge Center for Public Service


Yesterday was a major event organized by the Morgridge Center for Public Service, UW-Madison. Also attended by the Morgridges who have been all along from the beginning strengthening UW-Madison’s public service initiatives.

I would like to address one of the questions asked by a faculty member during the students’ lightning presentations. The question was something like what a faculty member should do if a graduate student quits finishing up an action-research dissertation research.

My version to address the question is that, similar like when we do participatory research, community partners have to have a genuine motivation causing their participation. It could not just be academics telling/asking them to do so. Similarly, in the graduate student case, graduate students have to have their own motivation to conduct an action-research  initiative (a.k.a. CBR).

Two possible causes that led graduate students to give up.

  1. It was the faculty members’ desire that his/her students conduct CBR because they believe the value for both the scholars as well as community members. However, they fail to transmit that desire to their graduate student advisees, including help these grad students make informed decision to conduct CBR. CBR is very different than the large majority of academic research. To be as clear as possible on the differences, including the challenges in addressing the differences due to many people unfamiliarity with CBR, is crucial. Otherwise, grad students would be exhausted far before reaching the finish line.
  2. Secondly, it is possible that grad students commit to CBR because it is just so cool. Just like many other practitioners or academics conducting participatory research, we could ask what kind of participatory process they organize, and what roles that their community partners are playing; remember the Arnstein’s ladder of participation below? The idea of participatory research is certainly not the one that is considered as tokenism, where community members are pretty much being used for the purpose of academics, although they still “participate.” So in this case, grad students thought it would be a cool thing to do, but they do not have the full understanding in what is CBR really about. As a result, they are not clear on the kind of uncertainties presented to them, and unprepared to address them. They would be exhausted too soon.

The other part of the question from the yesterday’s event was about how the CBR presentation is relevant to their dissertation research. Some students responded to that question by saying that their CBR work is not really for their dissertation, while some other say yes although they did not go into details in how to. How would one write a CBR dissertation?

Let me share mine. There are two ways of writing a CBR dissertation research. There are two components, the research process (the action), the research findings (the research). One can focus on just one of them, no need to write both. The benefit is that we are not sure if all committee members would agree on the process (trust me, many of them would not agree), so it is much safer writing the dissertation about its findings.

Regardless, if your CBR done right, your community members would still be happy by the fact that students are willing to take extra steps to support their cause through real action. As for the findings, it would be an extra piece of information for community partners to continue their movement. On the other hand, this extra piece of information from the findings is really what the committee members are mostly interested from the dissertation; they just need to assess the scholarship piece of the CBR.