In the most politically neutral terms I can muster, we are living in a time of deep budget cuts that threaten many of the services our communities rely on. For program managers across the non-profit, medical and public health sectors, budget cuts raise fears of having to lay off staff, condense or cut programs, provide lower quality services as a means of making do with less, or even close up shop. For the people and families we support, budget cuts engender potential losses that will further exacerbate the structural violence that is life in America for so many of us. And yes, this is my best attempt at political neutrality, and the third time I've re-written this paragraph.
Interestingly, while there have also been funding cuts to scientific research, these decreases have been moving at much slower pace. Were I to give up entirely on writing a politically neutral post, I would have a lot to say about the gendered and racialized nature of these disparate rates, in that traditionally white men were the only ones seen as capable of producing scientific knowledge. And of course this history led to our current research institutions that are male and white dominated, with significant entrenched racism, sexism and ableism. In contrast, direct services are more likely to be lead by the people who will be most impacted by their budget cuts, and we all know that the work of caring for people and communities has traditionally but unfairly been regarded as less important, feminized work. It's a mess, in other words, and many of us still think of science and practice as separate and unequal silos, with research carrying more inherent value.
But here's the good news: research is democratizing, and the lines between research and practice are increasingly blurry. This is good news in my world for all the political reasons I tried to hold back on, but it's also good news in the larger world because it means that service sector agencies are increasingly able to qualify for research funding to study themselves and supplement their budgets. This is based on the common sense but also revolutionary idea that people and communities are much better positioned than researchers in far away offices to study the issues that impact their lives. Because this is such a radical idea, I will devote a future blog to barriers that service agencies and communities face in terms of believing that they are researchers, deserving of research funding. For now, I want to provide an overview of how service sector players can use research funding, and why they should:
*Are you providing innovative services or solutions to tired problems? Research funding to study your model will enable you to codify your knowledge, and prove that what you are doing works, potentially while funding service delivery. Publishing and then sharing your findings (i.e. that your model is cutting edge and effective) further establishes you as a leader in your field. And added bonus is that after publication, your model becomes an evidence based practice, which in turns may help you obtain additional funding. Typically, this kind of activity falls under grants for evaluation research. Additional materials about our evaluation research services can be found at: www.rgrcommunications.com/research-and-evaluation
*Do you routinely gather information about new and important trends, problems or issues in your community? Much of the time, activities that we think of as our bread and butter - connecting with people, keeping records, talking about an issue one on one or in groups, even making a community art project - are actually similar or identical to research activities. Research funding allows you to do what you do best, and also be the one to tell your own story. Because again, you know best. This kind of research is often qualitative, or narrative-based, and more information can be found here, under module 5: https://www.rgrcommunications.com/nechama-s-intro-to-research-class
*Are you looking to take action? As service providers and individuals, you know that all the information in the world never kept anyone's heat on, paid any bills or managed anyone's chronic illness. For many of us, gathering information is just one of the steps we take as part of the process of addressing problems and inequities. However, action research follows the same process and allow you to collect and analyze information needed for action in a targeted and thorough manner, with the same end goals. Involving clients and community members as key research team member qualifies you for participatory action research funding. Participatory action research works with communities to use information to spur needed action, and it is probably the most fun kind of research ever, at least for us aging activists. RGR Communications is happy to support participatory action research, with more information available here: https://www.rgrcommunications.com/stakeholder-engagement
Future blog posts will cover the nuts and bolts of research funding for service providers and communities, obtaining grant funding, barriers and how to cross silos. For now, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions. I can talk about this all day.