Community Development TIG Week: Activating Community-Based Participatory Research Methods in Immigrant Communities Impacted by High-Trauma by Ivonne Chand O’Neal and Lauren Shelton

“Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having a voice to be heard.” -Liz Fosslien

This year Community Development (CD) TIG’s sponsored week focuses on community development evaluation and how members are addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Research shows that diversity and inclusion in the workforce enhance organizational performance and creativity, and positively impact population health outcomes ( CDC; Science Direct Diversity Article). In the forthcoming week, the CD TIG will seek to highlight these efforts, as well as share Hot Tips and Tools with readers on how to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within the community development and evaluation workspace.


Hi AEA! We are Ivonne Chand O’Neal, PhD, of MUSE Research and Lauren Shelton, MA, of Butler Community Arts School.  During the 2018-19 academic school year, we collaborated with the California Alliance for Arts Education (now CreateCA) to study the outcomes of a $15 million investment in Arts Education and Arts Integration on a community two miles from the border of Mexico impacted by high trauma stemming from high rates of deportation, and threat of deportation to elementary-aged students and their families. Four schools from the Chula Vista Elementary School District, the second largest elementary school district in California, participated in a pilot study designed to examine the impact of varying levels of arts integration and discipline-based arts education on student creativity, engagement in school, and social emotional learning (SEL). 

This landmark pilot study was instrumental in demonstrating how artistic solutions increased student interest and engagement with school, cognitive flexibility, and identification of novel solutions, as well as increase emotional regulation and empathy, for students living in extremely challenging circumstances.  A key finding was that four years of sustained arts integration combined with five years of discipline-based arts learning served as a tipping point for student gains, emphasizing the importance of demographics and geography in determining how long it may take for positive results to emerge in high trauma environments. Additionally, the results underscored that the findings could not be interpreted without considering the level of trauma experienced by this community of schools and families, and understanding the importance of how this trauma was addressed by school administrators and teachers, and parents.  A key demographic finding revealed that though 299 parents gave consent for their children to participate in the research study, only nine parents opted to participate themselves. To disentangle the influence of deportation and threat of deportation on members of this community, we gained critical understanding on how to engage the community by incorporating these research pathways:

  1. Trauma-informed approachesAccording to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), trauma informed approaches serve as a framework for preventing and addressing childhood trauma and for building resilience in children and families.  Specifically, these research practices fully integrate knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices, and actively seek to resist re-traumatization.  By approaching community members with this understanding, a safe space was created for open communication with small parent, school administration, and teacher groups, with the inclusion of trusted community members serving as translators. 
  • Social Network Analysis: Developed by sociologists, this research method focuses on patterns of relations among people and groups, as well as short distances between arbitrary persons through immediate chains of acquaintances.  We invited the group of parent participants to share their reluctance in study participation which resulted in an understanding of the community social network that was often disrupted as these immigrant families dealt with the constant threat and reality of deportation on a daily basis.
  • Participatory Action Research: A key aspect of this practice focuses on reflection and reduction of inequities.  By inviting community members to participate as moderators and translators for parent focus groups, emotional barriers were reduced as participants viewed themselves as members of a single group or family.  Using this method, reluctant parents offered contacts of even more participants who  helped us understand how to engage additional community members, including elders, into the process of supporting these elementary-aged students through such artistic traditions as story-telling, music, and celebrations of traditional cultural holidays.

Rad Resources:

  1. Guidelines to Incorporate Trauma-Informed Care Strategies in Qualitative Research
  2. The position of the Culturally Sensitive Researcher
  3. Participatory Action Research Toolkit

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Community Development TIG Week with our colleagues in the Community DevelopmentTopical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our CD TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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