Small steps towards the big goal of inclusion

Build solid relationships. Focus on slow, caring science.

Some of the insights that stayed with me from the Zoom calls on making our daily research practice more inclusive. The conversations were so rich (thanks to all 79 participants!) that I’ve summarized them in two parts:

  1. A summary of the presentation on inclusion in trauma research and clinical practice guidelines (published here)
  2. A summary of insights and resources shared (this post).

The starting point was our analysis of children’s voice and cultural representation in traumatic stress treatment guidelines. We found a strong adult-centered, white western lens.

The lack of inclusion is pervasive throughout research fields. So in the two Zoom sessions, we brainstormed tangible next steps for anyone doing research with humans. Obviously, the below is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully a good menu with suggestions for 2021.

We mostly talked about lack of cultural representation and racism, so the suggestions are geared towards that aspect of improving inclusion. But other topics came up as well. Including people with lived experience. Children as co-researchers. Addressing the still problematic gender gap in academia Supporting scholars from the LGBTQIA+ community. Shifting judgements about people from rural communities and low-SES backgrounds. The importance of intersectionality in everything we do.  

And even though we talked about small, feasible steps, it was clear that we want to take a long view: the last thing we want to do is something tokenistic. So planning ahead and slowing down in order to do things really right underpin everything.

Here are some of the specific things we can do:

Educate ourselves. There is plenty of material available, including this webinar on  the anti-racist imperative for public health data and this article on racism and publishing on health inequalities. High on my list is this book on decolonizing methodologies by Maori Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith.

Search actively for & cite literature written by scholars from underrepresented groups. There are tools to help with this, for example this list of authors of color in social/personality psychology. If you know similar lists for other fields, please share in the comments! Again, this should not be tokenistic: properly read the work and let it inform your thinking and writing. Also, our systematic reviews should assess to what extent the body of work reviewed is inclusive.

Invite speakers from underrepresented groups in a way that works for them. The most well-known scholars from underrepresented groups are overburdened with requests. Search further than that. They may be happy to suggest up- and coming speakers. Another solution is using videos. In this year’s Africa Science Leadership Programme (never a shortage of inspiring speakers, but we wanted to give additional materials) we shared this amazing talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the danger of a single story.

Stop talking about ‘hard to reach’ communities but connect with them; we often have unrealistic and unhelpful expectations of what it means to build relationships and trust in the context of research with underrepresented groups. “Really struggling to engage participants” is an oft-heard complaint by white/privileged/majority researchers. In this panel session on racism in mental health, one of the experts suggests (paraphrased): If you don’t have any contact with the community you study, how can you expect them to participate?

He had no issues with recruiting racial minority participants, because he had plenty of connection with the community he was studying. I’ve seen this in action many times, such as this fabulous work with Somali youth in the USA, and it was a key factor in the success of our study with young people bereaved by domestic homicide in the Netherlands. We had worked with many families long before we started the research; they knew we cared. One of the participants in our Zoom session said “I think it has to start with us genuinely assessing whether or not we are actually worthy of trust.”

Set up a community advisory board: not for one project but for the broader topic. An engaged community advisory board can provide essential input on design, recruitment methods, interpretation of analyses, any tools or products in development, and dissemination plans. An effective board needs time though. For example, children can be very effective advisors once they understand how research works.

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