The UNESCO Chair in association with Pandit Ravi Shankar Shukla Univeristy, Raipur, Chhattisgarh has organized a 4-day workshop on ‘Capacity Building in Community Based Participatory Research’. On the first day, the workshop witnessed participation by over 100 people, which included students coming from Raipur, Durg, Bastar, Sarguja, etc., faculty members, and representatives from the State Planning Commission.
The inaugural session of the workshop saw a welcome address given by Dr Rita Venugopal, Director, Centre for Women’s Studies, Pandit Ravi Shankar Shukla University. Further, the vice-chancellor, Professor S K Pandey welcomed the dignitaries and re-affirmed the commitment of the institution towards fulfilling its social responsibility. He emphasized on the important role of Higher Education Institutions in the society, and said that ‘Universities are places which attracts young mind, and therefore, as senior academicians, it is our responsibility to mentor and guide them in a way that when they pass out of the universities, they are capable of facing and solving problems of their society’. Dr Rajesh Tandon, Founder-President, PRIA & Co-Chair, UNESCO Chair, briefed the audience on the history of participatory research, and what processes went into the creation of PRIA. He said that ‘Unless we value local knowledge, we cannot create new knowledge’. He also added that ‘We need to redefine our university courses in such a way that community engagement enters the domain of teaching and research; and is not kept as an add-on activity’.
Dr Budd Hall, Professor, University of Victoria & UNESCO Co-chair, added to Dr Tandon’s reflections on CBPR. He shared that ‘Despite the western scientific knowledge over the last 500 years, still, we are lacking the intellectual tools needed to address the challenges we are facing today’. Therefore, ‘unless institutions of higher education find new ways of connecting to the society, our survival in the present challenging times will get difficult; and that collaboration between the worlds of theory and practice is the way forward for us.’. The last speaker in the session was Shri Sunil Kumar, Vice-Chairperson, State Planning Commission, Government of Chhattisgarh. As a governmental representative, he re-iterated the commission’s commitment to support community led initiatives in the state. He shared that ‘The major challenge of today’s time is that entrenched disciplinarians are not ready to borrow from knowledge democracy, and disregard the fact that knowledge can also come from sources which are different from the already established ones’. He said that the commission believes that ‘If we are to understand the problems of the state, we need to look inwards, and make most importantly, make our universities relevant and accessible’.
Pic 1: Shri Sunil Kumar, Vice-Chairperson, State Planning Commission, Chhatisgarh, sharing his reflections on ‘Community Based Research in Higher Education & its role in development’
The first technical session on context setting & CBPR started with Dr Rajesh Tandon, underlining the essence of the workshop. He said that, ‘ Over the next 4 days, we hope to work together with you all and develop an understanding of CBPR, and the required skills, so that at the end of the workshop, the students group have with them a specific research project, which they would work on, in the coming couple of months’. Dr Tandon further shared the findings of the global study undertaken by the UNESCO Chair on ‘Training the next generation of Community Based Researchers’. He shared about how there is a high demand for CBR was training across the world, while the training opportunities remained scarce. Dr Tandon also presented the five pedagogical principles which ideally characterize such training initiatives. Further to this, as the workshop was organized in the broad framework of supporting the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) in the state of Chattisgarh; Dr Alok Pandey, Deputy Director, PRIA & Mr Rabindran David Shelley, Senior Program Officer, PRIA presented a brief on the history, issues, challenges and innovations under SBM. They shared that the SBM guidelines categorically mentioned Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) as the one of the objectives, and about the best practice examples from the community, which can be used as models for ways forward.
Dr Budd Hall, further detailed on the tenets of research, and its principles and value-systems. He shared that ‘As no research is objectives, it is our duty as researchers to determine that which side are we on’.He also sang a short song, which said that ‘In academics, there are no neutrals there, you either work for status quo or for social change’.
Further to this, the students were given a short activity in the form of group discussions. They were divided into groups of 8-10, who were asked to discuss about their ‘experiences in engaging with the community and the challenges which they faced’.
Pic 2: Students engaged in group discussions during the first technical session
After this activity, there was an open floor discussion wherein the students came up with several issues and challenges, which were then answered by Dr Budd Hall, in sequence. Some of the important lessons he taught the students were:
- There was a need to build a rapport/relationship of trust with the communities, and for that you need to spend quality time with hem
- There was a difference between ‘research in the community’ and ‘research with the community’. What we emphasize in CBPR is ‘research with the community’, believing that ‘communities are capable of creating and sharing knowledge with or without the help of external researchers’
- Choice of methods can either restrict or facilitate the kind of knowledge you generate from the community. You need to have a proper selection of questions and also a variety of other tools, which you can use appropriately, in case the former does not help.
- You need not always be in an ideal position while performing research. In the research process, you may be faced with different situations, challenges, power differentials; it is your duty to adapt to the local context and engage in meaningful research.
Finally, the day ended with comments from Shri P P Soti, Member, SPC, Chhattisgarh, who appreciated the collaborative efforts of the university and the UNESCO Chair for having organized this one-of-a-kind training program on CBPR. He reassured the support of the SPC in the process, and also called on the students and other participants to contribute and provide feedback to the Youth Portal, which was one of the recent initiatives of the SPC.