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What is community based research?

Watch the video about community researchers in action. The video features Suha Tutunji, Mezid Al-Shaher and Mona Hallak
Community research begins in the community so we need to be clear what we mean by a community. Sometimes it’s a particular area. Sometimes it’s linked to an organization. it’s also sometimes entirely virtual. In this course we’re concerned primarily with how communities can improve their own well-being and prosperity. So we focus most on communities in the particular place or area. That means you define what you mean by community or which community you want to focus on. Your research will begin because you’ve identified a problem or issue. You want to find a way to improve things, so it makes sense to begin by finding out more about the problem.
When we first started the aim was to work with the children who were out of school but as we started working with them and we realized that there is a lot of work that’s also needed at home because the work that the teachers do it’s really you a futile if it’s only one-sided. Suha was finding out what she needed to know to make a success of the project. it wasn’t just about the children but also about their social context. Meziad did the same he wanted to find out why students had such problems with learning maths so he developed his action research skills in order to find out.
which we sought both highly on avenues Now the problem has become obvious to me. Students study by memorizing and that is the traditional way that we used to learn in ancient times. I tried to think of a new way to motivate students to thinking in a creative way. My goal was to guide the students to thinking in a creative way. My research began, with a survey, This is questionnaire for students to determine where their weaknesses are. in this questionnaire I had a participation from the parents in, and this was extremely helpful. So involving the parents is important because they may resist the change to new methods. A questionnaire can be useful but you need more than that.
You need an understanding of what’s going on in the community around the activity you’re interested in and we have to build trust if we are to hear their most important stories. A community project in the city of Beirut conducted by an academic researcher Mona Hallak took the same kind of approach. Jean d’Arc Street as a pedestrian-friendly project originated with the idea of having an inclusive urban environment which is totally absent in Beirut so we thought that as thee AUB neighborhood initiative, it’s our duty to start proposing to the municipality, to the authorities, a pilot project that we would test and we would really see if this would improve the quality of life of these people. And we did.
How did they start such a community project? Mona began by talking to colleagues in different disciplines in the university to get an overall idea of how to pinpoint the problems they might be tackling. But that’s not all and then we went, vice versa, we went to the people we identified as stakeholders, we talked to the residents, to the businesses.
So we identified the stakeholders: the businesses, the residents, the institutions, even the clubs, the schools, even the major institutions like Banque du Liban, like the major bank headquarters, to see what is it that would make this place a better place. In all these cases the community based researcher began with an issue they were concerned about but in each case they began by finding out more about it from the children’s homes, from their parents, from the shopkeepers. Because in each case we have to understand our research question from the perspective of the members of the community. Then we can say we’re really doing community based research.

Watch the video about community researchers in action. The video features Suha Tutunji, Academic Director, Jusoor, Mezid Al-Shaher, Maths teacher, School of Hope and Mona Hallak, Director of the Neighbourhood Initiative, American University of Beirut. How do they approach the task of doing research in their community?We recommend watching the videos with English subtitles as they contain both English and Arabic.

In each case they have an idea of what the issues are that need to be tackled and changed, so their first task is to listen to the community, and what they think about the issue.

How would you go about getting an understanding of what goes on in the community you are interested in? What are the important stories the people will not think of telling you? One community based researcher told us the story of boy who did not attend school because his family could not wash their clothes easily and he thought his clothes might smell bad. It would be hard for a child or a family to tell that to a researcher, but it is of great importance to them, and it has the serious consequence the child often misses school.

This is why, as community based researchers, we have to work hard at building trust. Only then will we hear the stories we don’t know about. This means spending time being with people, seeing them in their own habitat, building trust.

What else did the researchers in the video do? In each case they thought about the community members who were the key people in relation to their issue they were working on.

As you are interested in this course, you may well have a community based research project in mind. If so, you can think about what defines that community, and the issue you want to work on. That’s all you need to get started. If you have no project in mind, then think about one you know of – what is the community? What was the issue being addressed?

Then, thinking about the issue – whom do you need to hear from, given that you want to understand the key perspectives on that issue? Who can help you build trust with the community?

Use the reading below to see how community members can make a difference to the success of the project.


Download the extract from Renders and Knezevic (1), who worked in Somalia. The article discusses using youth facilitators to build trust for their research in the community. The full article is also available to download.


  1. Renders M, Knezevic N. The Potential of Conflict-Sensitive Education Approaches in Fragile Countries: the Case of Curriculum Framework Reform and Youth. J Educ Emergencies [Internet]. 2017;3(1):106–28. Available from:

Over to you

In the discussion, below, describe an issue you’re thinking about and suggest whom would you want to listen to – who are the key people concerned with this issue? For example:

My issue is ‘why do children stay away from school?’ I would ask the teachers and the parents, both mothers and fathers, about children’s attendance at school.

Then read through some of the other comments, and reply to two of them to suggest other key people they might listen to.

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Community Based Research: Getting Started

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