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Digital Media and Community-Based Participatory Research: A Collaborative Project with the Bresee Community Center

MetaConnects aims to connect academic researchers with community organizations in a process that is often referred to as community-based research or participatory action research. You will notice in many of our toolkit resources a call to "Get Participatory!" in your research efforts. Here we would like to describe a project that did just that as an example of the value of community-based participatory research.

MetaConnects team member George conducted a community-based participatory research project with the Bresee Foundation Community Center and their annual Youth Film Festival on Social Justice. Bresee is a non-profit community center that works with and serves low-income youth and families in the neighborhoods of Mid-Wilshire, Koreatown, Pico-Union, and Westlake. Now in its 6th year, Bresee's Film Festival aims to train and engage young digital media-makers in creating short films on important social issues that effect youth in Los Angeles. Past festivals have focused on social justice themes that tell stories about urban housing conditions, immigration, education, the economic recession, and community heroes. To view some of the past youth films, visit the festival's YouTube page.

Together, George and Bresee worked to define what research questions the organization wanted to answer, and George conducted research to try to provide insights to help improve their work.

Research Question:

  • How does the festival address aspects of the 'digital divide' that effect urban youth in lower income neighborhoods? 

The research documented the ways that Bresee addressed these issues:

  • Bresee has created a community computer technology center and digital media program that increases access to youth during after-school programs designed to give youth access to technology for their schoolwork and other activities such as creating digital media for the film festival. .Bresee holds trainings with their youth, community organization partners, and schools to train them in technology and media literacy skills. 
  • The film festival is designed around youth-created content that meets both the needs and demands of disenfranchised groups by addressing social justice themes that impact the quality of living conditions of youth and their families in urban areas. . The festival also builds community capacity and relationships by connecting youth, schools, organizations, and the neighborhoods they live and work in. 

Research Question:

  • What have been some of the obstacles of programming the festival and reaching the program's goals? .

The research documented these obstacles:

  • Non-profit organizations are typically understaffed and the organization of the youth film festival can create stresses in time, emotion, and participation in Bresee and partner community organizations. .
  • Updated technology and media is a problem with many community organizations, including Bresee.
  • Youth face issues around time because of school and family obligations, and youth also cannot easily afford transportation to film in multiple geographies of the city. 

Research Question:

  • What are some lessons learned from the creation of community-based research partnerships between graduate student researchers and community-based organizations? . 

The research documented these lessons:

  • Respect, trust, and negotiation around the research goals must be the first goal of the community-based research partnership, or a successful collaboration will not fully develop.
  • The research outcomes cannot only be designed to be disseminated in academic contexts, but must also be designed in a manner where the research can be reported back to the community organization partner and the community that is the partner in the research.
  • The goals of the research should involve avenues that enhance the capacity of both the researcher and the community organization. In this respect, the researcher can learn more about a community program such as the film festival and gain research experience, while the community organization can gain a program evaluation that they can use to further assess and develop their program. 

Community based and participatory research can serve as a key piece of both the academic landscape and the world of community organizations for years to come. A strong partnership can provide benefits that independent projects might not be able to accomplish.

Return to our collaborations page.

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