Participatory Action Research, a Systems Perspective and the Formerly Incarcerated

Claudia Cohen, Teachers College, Columbia University

20-outcomes-star ClaudiaOver the last 5 years, I have led several Participatory Action Research (PAR) projects in partnership with a Community Based Organization (CBO) in NYC that provides wraparound services and supportive housing to formerly incarcerated men and women. The PAR paradigm embodies a systems perspective with its inclusive approach to both research processes and team membership. It privileges both the experiential lived experience of those who are most impacted by the research as well as the research guidelines and tools that academic researchers contribute; the research team is comprised of members with both kinds of backgrounds (please see Note 1). A recent project was the design, administration and analysis of a survey of CBO clients, created by a CBO client/ Columbia student and faculty research team. The data is currently being analyzed to identify relationships between the degree of exposure to CBO services (length of time, number and type of services) and client outcomes predictive of successful re-entry. Planning is underway for a new project evaluating the utility of a new tool for measuring client progress toward successful reentry, based on its correlation with both hard and soft measures of success (e.g., getting a GED.) The recently developed tool uses a participatory client-counselor assessment process, sharing power and responsibility between the client and the responsible staff member. The project includes a plan for systems mapping of the role of this outcome tool in the context of the CBO’s model of practice regarding successful post-incarceration reentry.

Note 1. Please see the following for further information on the PAR research projects: Cohen, C., Neshkes, R., Pryce-Screen, M, Hernandez, E., Lindner, M., & Doherty-Baker, M. (2014). Participatory Action Research, Conflict Resolution, and Communities. In M. Deutsch, P. T. Coleman & E. C. Marcus (Eds.) The handbook of conflict resolution: Theory and practice. (3rd Ed.)(Ch 52 on-line resource available at http://media.wiley.com/assets/7241/14/c52-ParticipatoryActionResearchConflictResolutionandCommunities.pdf). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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