Tell Us About It: Victim Research Convos


In this CVR podcast series, we talk with those doing research and serving victims and learn about the work they've done together.

Tell Us About It, Episode 11: Using Community Based Participatory Research in a Domestic Violence Context, Part 1

A convo with Lisa Goodman & Ronit BarkaiApr 05Time: 24:52

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This episode of Tell Us About It is the first of a two-part series focused on the Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) Toolkit. In part one, we speak with Lisa Goodman and Ronit Barkai about their experiences using CBPR as a researcher and practitioner respectively. Lisa and Ronit discuss why CBPR is valuable in a domestic violence context and the importance of including practitioners in this type of work.

Lisa Goodman is the lead author of the CBPR Toolkit and the co-founder of the Domestic Violence Program Evaluation and Research Collaborative. She is also a faculty member in the Counseling and Developmental Psychology program at Boston College.

Ronit Barkai is the co-founder of the Domestic Violence Program Evaluation and Research Collaborative, and a contributor to the CBPR Toolkit. She is also the Assistant Director of Transition House, a domestic violence agency based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

You can listen to the second part of our conversation here.

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Susan Howley: Welcome to Tell Us About It: Victim Research Convos, a podcast from the Center for Victim Research with support from the Office for Victims of Crime. On each episode of Tell Us About It, we talk to researchers and practitioners about their work, the tools being built for use in the field, and how we can work together to build an evidence base for victim services. Today we’re talking with Lisa Goodman and Ronit Barkai about their work as part of the team developing the Community-Based Participatory Research Toolkit. Lisa and Ronit, welcome. Can you each introduce yourselves and give a brief description of your role on the CBPR team?

Lisa Goodman: Yes I’ll go first. This is Lisa Goodman. Thank you so much for having us on this podcast. I am a faculty member in the Counseling and Developmental Psychology program at Boston College and a very longtime domestic violence researcher with a particular focus on how our systems and practices can better support survivors. I have also been a program developer, a consultant, an advocate, a therapist, and a board member of the DV program and was the co-founder, with Ronit and several others now 10 years ago, of the Domestic Violence Program Evaluation and Research Collaborative, which is an ongoing CBPR collaboration. And I’m the lead author on the Toolkit that we’re going to talk about today.

Ronit Barkai: Hello this is Ronit Barkai. I am the Assistant Director of Transition House. We’re domestic violence agency that’s based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The agency is 42 years old, but I’ve been at the agency for 17 years and have prior experience working with other domestic violence agencies and working around sexual assault too. And I’ve been one of the team members in the DVPERC group.

Lisa Goodman: So, throughout this podcast we will be talking mainly about the toolkit, but when we talk about the toolkit, I think for both Ronit and me, it’s hard not to also talk about the domestic violence, the collaboration that we’re part of the DVPERC – the domestic violence program evaluation and research collaborative that we were all part of. Because that is – over the last 10 years, that is our everyday lived experience of CBPR. And we tried to represent little pieces of that in the toolkit. But so did you know the entire network of authors that were part of the toolkit brought in their experiences as well. So in this podcast, I think we will mostly be talking about the toolkit, but we do keep referring to…We’ll probably keep referring to the DVPERC, which is our collaborative. And I want to make clear that our collaborative really focused on researchers and advocates. The, community of interest was advocates. In my prior work and in some of the work of other toolkit authors, we have done work with survivors directly, with survivors as our community partners. And so that is also represented in the toolkit. But that has not been my experience over the last 10 years, so much.

Susan Howley: Well we’re so glad you could both join us today. Lisa, could you give us a little bit about community-based participatory research. What does that term mean?

Lisa Goodman: Yes. And we will be calling it CBPR because it’s a mouthful. So at its very broadest, CBPR is an approach to research. It came out of public health. It’s an approach in which researchers and community members partner together. When I say partner, I don’t mean that community members offer up their sites for research or help recruit participants or provide consultation on a project. I mean that researchers and community members truly partner at every step of the process – from deciding what is to be research, to how it should be researched, to what should be done with the knowledge gained in an effort to improve the health and well-being of community members. And I will add that when we talk about community members who are partnering with researchers, that could be any group of people depending on the nature of the project. It could be people living in a particular place together. It could be people who share a particular challenge, like domestic violence. It could be people who share a set of identities, like race or class or immigration status or sexual orientation or some combination. And it could be people who are providing services and supports to any of the above groups. And so who the researchers end up partnering with really depends on the focus of concern.

Susan Howley: I understand. Ronit why is the CBPR approach valuable in a domestic violence context?

Ronit Barkai: Well for me 10 years ago, which is how we even formed and came together, we were looking at measuring our own work. We were very interested in seeing our mission to end domestic violence, our mission to empower victims or to protect victims of domestic violence, actually working. Are we doing what we’re setting out to do? And we were looking at our outcomes and really wanting to honestly take a good look at our work. And because we’re so busy putting out fires and protecting victims of domestic violence, we were looking at other people that had the tools and the ability to do that research and help us come to really objective views and data about how we’re doing our work and if we should improve some things or change some things. And that’s how we came to Lisa and to other researchers and said help us measure our outcomes. Help us measure our work. And that’s was, for me, a big need and something that I didn’t have the time or the ability or the skills to do.

Susan Howley: Lisa do you find the CBPR approach particularly useful in domestic violence?

Lisa Goodman: Yes I do and I just want to add that thank goodness Ronit came to me all of those years ago to talk about effectiveness and her program and outcome research, because it has produced just the most wonderful partnership of my whole career. So I think that CBPR is absolutely suited to domestic violence research for a couple of reasons. First of all, on sort of like a big broad level, its philosophy is really aligned with that of the domestic violence movement. First of all, it centers survivors and advocates and other community members lived experience and strengths and skills, rather than marginalizing community wisdom and then imposing research upon them. So in the domestic violence context that means that it is at its core, it’s an approach that really values and honors and even centers survivors and advocates, centers their experience. And that is a practice that is, of course, consistent with the DV movement’s foundational principle of survivor-centered-ness. So there is a real parallel there and a sort of thematic thread. Another example is that CBPR focuses a lot as – maybe we’ll get into a little bit later – focuses a lot on power and how power gets negotiated and navigated between members of a partnership. And this too is really consistent with how domestic violence work sort of is constructed. We also pay a lot of attention to power in the domestic violence movement – how abusers use it, how advocates manage it, how to help survivors restore power that they have lost in their own lives in the context of abusive relationships. So again these are sort of thematic consistencies. And then I guess a third thematic consistency is that CBPR really focuses on lifting up voices and perspectives that have been marginalized, in general, from mainstream research. And that is consistent with the DV movement’s efforts to sort of explore the marginalization of people through gender oppression and other forms of oppression. And then at a really practical level, CBPR starts with questions that are deeply important to community members and just in a concrete way will therefore be more likely to be adopted and used. So you know sometimes when you start with questions from the ivory tower for us researchers who are less in touch with what’s happening on the ground, we develop beautiful questions and beautiful methods that produce beautiful rigorous work that people on the ground can’t use. And so I think that you know with DV work as Ronit just said, is you know sort of runs at such an incredibly rapid pace and there’s a constant putting out fires and advocates and others who work with survivors or even survivors themselves are not going to take up research that doesn’t feel deeply practically useful right now.

Ronit Barkai: And I agree with that because in many ways our relationship, until we joined the group, was that we would sporadically – even if we had time – hear of some research (or maybe if we actually managed to get to a conference) that really didn’t describe our real life or our real work in the field, so we felt that people were describing things that were not even true or that were detached from what we needed. And we were hungry for people to actually know our struggles because in many ways research is the tool and the vehicle for other people to know about what happens. The struggles we go through, the struggles of our survivors, and really what is needed and so sort of the bigger world understands and provides for us and supports us.

Susan Howley: Ronit, what has been your experience and the experience of the survivors you work with and your staff? Have you seen this sort of empowerment and the lifting up of the voices and lived experience as you’ve participated in CBPR?

Ronit Barkai: I think there’s even more to happen but even now at least I can say for my staff, they’re very excited to be asked to contribute to the questions. Along the way, there’s been so many interviews and versions and consultations with us, so we use the right language. Lisa can maybe give an example of a question that we had that sounded to research-y, if that’s a word, where we change the question to really connect with someone that we’re asking, to connect with a survivor so they would understand it and actually give the absolute sort of true answer for them. So there was a lot of tweaking along the way, a lot of consulting with us, changing things according to things that we really wanted to know. So for sure I could say about my staff, to be a bit cynical, the survivors themselves are so busy trying to recover from the trauma of domestic violence that I don’t know if they’re so involved in is this research including them or not, or you know voicing their voice or not. But I’m sure that they’re very, very happy to be asked and to be part of something that tries to improve people’s lives. But in many ways I think their heads are more to the ground and really trying to recover from the domestic violence.

Lisa Goodman: I’m really glad you asked that question because people often think that CBPR is quote “just advocacy” and it’s not. It is an approach that can produce really high quality and rigorous research that is likely more relevant than other approaches to research. But it is not, per say, advocacy, though it may produce evidence that advocates can use. But in another sense, CBPR is inherently political in that it centers communities that are usually marginalized in the research process and also in that it resists the idea that researchers are the gatekeepers of knowledge and instead highlights evidence that comes from communities. So in some ways that’s a radical proposition that researchers are not the gatekeepers. And so in some sense, the whole enterprise is based on a sort of a different way of looking at research and is therefore inherently political. But it is not political or a form of advocacy in the sense of only doing the kind of research that can support one particular position.

Ronit Barkai: And I agree. I think this is true advocacy because it is about giving true voice to the people that are actually experiencing the experience. They are feeding us the data, they’re feeding us what’s happening.

Lisa Goodman: So in the sense of uplifting voices that are often silenced, it is political. In the sense of producing only one half of a picture that can be used for advocacy, it is not. In fact, you know we often run into very complicated dilemmas when we are say partnering with a program that wants us to evaluate the effectiveness of a particular practice. It might be that we have to have conversations with the group before we begin in which we talk about what happens if we don’t find what we’re hoping we find? What happens if we find that this practice is actually not particularly effective in producing the very outcomes that the community wants produced? We have to talk in advance about what we’re going to do with that and how we’re going to because it this has to be this is not something we can squash. This is something that we want to make known. And so there are a whole range of agreements that researchers and partners need to make with each other before entering into a research partnership to avoid that kind of research that is only going to come up with – only going to advertise one set of conclusions and not another. But in the sense that Ronit described, it is political in the sense that it lifts up voices that are often not heard.

Susan Howley: Ronit, I know we’ve talked a lot about the importance of including practitioners. Is there anything to add here? I know that we hear research criticized when researchers operate through what’s called “drive-by research,” where they just stop in, grab the data, and run. How would you distinguish what’s going on here from what has happened in the past?

Ronit Barkai: Well it’s completely different in so many ways. I mean I’ll give you an example: a couple of months ago, I used to get phone calls but I think with technology today, I get an email from a researcher somewhere in America (sometimes somewhere in the other parts of the world, but usually from America), sending me an email saying, “you’ve been chosen or we’d like you to be included in our research. Can we send you an envelope with some questions and can you please elicit the responses of your clients?” With no question is this even data that would that help you hear the results of later or do your clients really care about these things? Do your staff really care about these things? Without really forming any relationship with myself, my agency, or my staff. It’s really in many ways using us to feed the research and it’s very cold in many ways. An envelope arrives with questions. We try and elicit responses. In the best of cases, there’s some gift cards where we can actually compensate our clients for sitting down and completing those questions. And then we put it back in an envelope and mail it out and as best we might hear a couple of months or maybe a year later if some of the results if the researcher remembers us and sends back to sort of the conclusion. But it’s very cold, it’s sort of I would say in many ways, using the data and I don’t know if that data later how it’s even analyzed or what it was and sort of how it’s looked at. And you know and even what kind of data our specific population gave to that researcher. So again it is like a drive by.

Lisa Goodman: I just want to pick up on what you just said Ronit. I think that that is not neutral. That is harmful. That kind of research is harmful in that it reinforces the idea that you know the program and the survivors and the staff who work there are not valuable. They are invisible. So I think that not only does that research come from – is that research not built from the questions that people on the ground have, but it is disrespectful to people on the ground and therefore does damage to the possibility of research ever informing practice.

Susan Howley: Now Lisa, earlier you alluded to some of the challenges in doing CBPR in the domestic violence context. Can you expand on that? What are some of the barriers or hurdles or things people need to struggle through as they try to implement this form of research? I could see where it would be much easier to drop your questions into an envelope and mail them off to the provider.

Lisa Goodman: Yes indeed. And you know early in my career, I almost did things like that. So I understand the pull. I mean, I did do things close to that. So I do understand the pull. And you know I think that one of the biggest challenges of doing good CBPR research is that it takes quite a bit of time and that is a particular challenge for junior researchers who are struggling to get their research off the ground and they may be struggling to get tenure. But indeed, it does take time. I know that you know, we have – Ronit and I and others have an unusual collaboration in that it is 10 years long and it involves multiple programs, ten or twelve programs. But in the context of our own collaboration, again called the Domestic Violence Program Evaluation and Research collaborative, the DVPERC, Christy Thomas who is the main other researcher and ,I who have been involved for all 10 years, we have taken enormous time to get to know representatives of all the programs involved and indeed most of the programs themselves. We make multiple trips to these programs. I sat on the board of one of these programs, we have consulted to them, we have made trips out to help them with their own individual evaluation plans. We consulted with them in various ways. Our students have volunteered with some of them. And I think most importantly and this is a pleasure, we have gotten to know quite a few of the members of our collaboration as real people. We go out together, we have coffee or drinks together, we know when someone’s child is sick or when someone is going on vacation. And that allows for a level of transparency in our actions so that when challenges arise – which they do – they are honestly and easily addressed and we are able to sort of have good and quick conversations about power because we’ve already built so much. But as I said, there is a challenge there that takes tremendous time.

Lisa Goodman: Another challenge is funding. Although there is now more and more funding for specific individual partnerships for a particular project, there are no funding streams for collaborations that are ongoing the way I just described. There is no funding for that time of sort of trust building that comes between projects or before projects and that is critical stuff – that sort of time it takes to build trust and to develop agreements among each other. CBPR to include some of the smaller programs where there are very few staff and there is no time or sort of flex among staff to be able to participate in research. And what that means is often that there are fewer culturally-specific programs involved. That is programs that work with particular cultural groups because those are often the smaller ones. And that’s a big problem because those are the ones, in fact, those are the most marginalized voices, the ones who are least lifted up. So I would say that’s a big challenge. I think that another challenge is that sometimes no matter what kinds of agreements we make, or in some cases resources that can be applied, it is the case that advocates have to be responsive to their own survivors. And I’m talking about partnerships between advocates and researchers right now, rather than researchers and survivors directly. But advocates need to, you know, sort of put their own survivors and their programs first. And that means that research does not always, it’s not always able to follow the same rigid timetables that funders want us to follow. There has to be flex for that sort of thing. And that too is often a challenge that deadlines are not met because deadlines should not be set in the way that they’re set for mainstream researchers. And researchers are often stuck in a position of kind of finessing the deadlines but having to offer something, even though it’s doubtful that we’ll be able to get there, it’s sort of assuming no emergencies. So sometimes those are issues and challenges that we’ve faced as well.

Susan Howley: Ronit, you talked about the benefits of CBPR to practitioners, but do any of these challenges or other challenges occur to the practitioners as well? Do you have challenges with time involvement and funding and feeling like you’re pulled in two different directions between helping with the research and supporting your survivors?

Ronit Barkai: I mean, absolutely. I am the Assistant Director, so in many ways there’s a luxury to being in a non-direct service position, where I can afford to get in my car and go and meet with the researchers and with a group. I really try to be aware of the power I hold and to try and bring staff with me. We’ve recently changed even the place where we’re meeting to give more access to staff that is not in sort of a managerial role, so they’re able to come and give voice. But I think the way that we challenge that and try and improve things is by the fact that – with what Lisa was describing – as for them, that they’d make a lot of visits to us. It’s very hard for someone that’s on the ground doing the work, putting out the fires as we were describing before, to drop everything and just go and meet with a researcher and talk about their work. So I think what’s been really important for us is that Lisa and the team have come to us and have brought their students, and have really had sincere conversations with my whole staff. People that are doing even the night shift are invited to that conversation or people that are maybe just doing you know, less hours or maybe I’m working two jobs to make ends meet. We try and have them be able to come in and give voice and talk about their work. Because in many ways, they know much more even than I do. I have, the more that I’ve grown in the field and the less time in contact with clients on a daily basis, I even myself know less about what’s going on and there could be trends that I’m missing. So for me, I’m very excited when we have these group sessions and the researchers come and meet with my staff because I’m always impressed by the work they do and by new things that are coming out. So I think there’s an ongoing process really needs to – we need to make sure that we’re not going to meet and the meetings are not just as practitioners that are less connected to the day-to-day work because then we ourselves are disconnected from the reality of that’s happening on the ground.

Susan Howley: Yeah, I could see where that would be a challenge and also something that people might accidentally fall into because they’re looking for who has time to come to the meeting rather than where are the perspectives we need to include.

This concludes part one of our conversation with Lisa Goodman and Ronit Barkai about the Community-Based Participatory Research Toolkit. Tune in on April 19th for part two, where we discuss the specific offerings of the toolkit, the successes and challenges behind developing it, and more.