Participatory Action Research Website: Interview with Anita Chikkatur

12 January 2022
Anita Chikkatur
Anita Chikkatur

Below are excerpts of an interview with Anita Chikkatur, associate professor of educational studies, about the Participatory Action Research Website. This website came about as part of a multi-year, campus-community participatory action research (PAR) collaboration between Carleton College and community members and institutions in Faribault, MN and was funded through a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service. This past fall, professor Chikkatur received funding from the CCCE to hire a student public scholarship assistant, Ahtziry Tinajero, to help update and maintain the website. 

How did the Participatory Action Research Website come about and what goals did you have when creating the website?

The website came about in the second year of the PAR collaboration, and a lot of it was informed by our first year of experience working with Latinx and Somali communities in Faribault and specifically our experience working with parents. With the students, we had just worked in English but with the parent teams, we were working with them in Spanish and Somali. When we looked for resources about participatory research, we found quite a bit in Spanish (one of the best strands of influence of participatory research comes out of Latin America), but we really struggled to find resources in Somali and especially finding resources in Somali that were around the [PAR] process. I was really interested in creating a website that would both be a hub for resources that other people have already created, but also an opportunity to create new Somali language resources on participatory action research.

What obstacles did you encounter in reaching those goals? How did you address those obstacles?

One of the things that has been really awesome about working with students is that they get a chance to learn really practical skills. For example one of the student researchers who worked on this project came in without knowing anything about how to really develop a website. She worked with a former academic technologist and learned the skills. I love that a student got a chance to learn these really practical skills and because she’s a Latina student from Texas, was really motivated to create the Spanish page. The biggest obstacle was that we don’t have anybody on campus who has the kind of expertise in Somali languages to be able to produce these resources. For the English page, I took the lead on creating it with the help of about three students. The Spanish page was mostly created by the students, but for the Somali one, we needed to hire an outside consultant to translate for us and create some videos for us in Somali over the past two summers. Because we do not yet have the resources on campus to update the Somali language page, I’m hoping that Carleton will continue to invest in keeping this website updated because it’s a unique and important resource.

What are your favorite resource sections of the website and who might this website be useful for?

I hope that it’s mostly used for people to see the variety of projects that are possible. We have a page that talks about community-based research, teacher action research, youth participatory action research, and campus-community partnerships. It was really fun to pull together these resources and to see the variety of projects that people are working on. I think it’s helpful to show that PAR projects aren’t necessarily about any particular topic and they don’t use any particular method, it’s more about the process being participatory, which is the most important part. There’s also a lot of practical tools we tried to embed in the website in terms of the process of doing this research. We were able to pull in a lot of specific examples of what the teams in Faribault did. For example we show some of the community bonding activities they did and how some of the teams developed ground rules. There’s also a whole page of academic resources, because we’re trying to pitch this at everybody; university folks who want to do this work, community organizations who want to do this work, or community members who want to do this work. We’re trying to aim it at different audiences, and we hope that the different pages that we have will help them in different ways.

What are the different perspectives and roles of community partners that contribute to the knowledge sharing on this website and why are they important? How does this intersect with other work you see happening elsewhere at Carleton or in the broader community?

A lot of our examples on the website come from the Faribault project, so we have community generated knowledge and products all over the website. For example, the Latinx team did this video that was actually part of a workshop that I did on PAR at a conference, but we included that as an example of one way a PAR project product can look. When I think about the website, it truly is a collective knowledge base. There’s a lot of stuff that comes from academia, and from me, and from the student researchers, but a lot of it also comes from the 40+ community researchers that we worked with over the course of the past four years. A lot of their wisdom and ideas are on this website. One thing that came up recently, is that one of the members of the Somali young adult team was applying for a podcast internship, and the Somali young adult team had already created a short series of podcast episodes, so she sent them the page with the podcast episodes as a sample of her work. She ended up getting the position. In terms of intersections I see at Carleton, I think this work is very much in alignment with the work that the CCCE wants to do towards building equitable and reciprocal relationships with our community partners. I think that PAR is one potential way in which we could do research and work with the community in a way that is more reciprocal and equitable.

What are you celebrating about the outcome or process of creating this website? What’s next for Ahtziry’s role in the project and what are some future possibilities for the website?

Working with these students has been truly rewarding because of the passion and excitement that they’ve had for this work. They’ve really made the website into what it is. I certainly don’t have the technical skills to make this happen, and I think it’s really fun to see the students take on the challenges of learning how to do random things. It’s been great to see students flourish, thrive, and learn, but the ultimate goal is to benefit the community, so I think that’s been one of my favorite parts. For the rest of the year, Ahtziry’s role is to do a lot of maintenance and updating of the website and also troubleshooting things. Sometimes there are updates that the community would like, for example one of the Somali young adult team members wanted an updated, edited version of a podcast episode on the website. In terms of the future of the website, I think if it was a hub for resources in various languages, that’d be awesome. We don’t really have the capacity to do that at Carleton, but I think it would be super cool if people wanted to develop a Hmong language page for example or any other languages. One of the things we’re still figuring out is how to get the word out there that this resource exists, because I think we also hope that people will send us stuff to include in the future. That’s happened a couple of times, which is pretty cool.