Funding proposals are essential (and often intimidating) aspects of developing and implementing community-engaged research. Upon reviewing these weekly assignments, you might notice that many of them mirror the sections of a typical community-engaged research grant application. However, we added a twist: we want you to focus on developing your communication skills – that is your ability to communicate your research in terms that lay people can understand. After all, research is only as good as it can be understood by all people – inside and outside your area of expertise. Brevity, clarity, lack of jargon, and effective use of illustrations, videos, graphics, and other non-text based elements, are all important skillsets to have. Alan Alda shares some advice on how scientists can communicate more effectively with the general public.

Friendly note to the reader – we will continue to develop this assignment with feedback from you.

This assignment is about settling in – creating and personalizing our blogs and twitter profiles; familiarizing ourselves with Google hangout, twitter discussions, and community-engaged research in general. You should also be thinking about the topic you want to research for the next 8 weeks. You will be designing a community-engaged research project around it, so make sure it’s a topic you like. If you have a dissertation or master’s thesis topic or a main field of study at work, then you probably already know your research topic for this course.

Assignment:

  1. Reflect on what you want to research for the duration of this course.
  2. Write a blog post that describes the research topic and why you think it is important. For inspiration on the question “why” check out Simon Sinek’s TED Talk. The talk is focused on inspirational leadership starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?”. It isn’t at all focused on developing good research questions – we will talk more about that later. Be sure to check out expectations on blogging. Use “CuriousCoLab” as the category for this post and tag it as “research1“.

Grant Reviewer – As the grant reviewer, you will review the proposed research questions using the following questions below.

  1. Applicant provides a clear description of the research topic?
  2. Applicant demonstrates commitment and connection through the reflection on the research topic?
  3. Provides compelling and convincing reasons on why this research topic is important?

In your first CEnR grant proposal blog post you identified a research topic and described why it is important. This assignment will help you to begin to travel from a research topic to a specific research question. Soon you will write a literature review, but more about that later. Post your submission by Thursday, June 2 by 5 p.m. EDT. Use “CuriousCoLab” as the category for this post and tag it as “research2”.

 

Start with the end in mind

Read and consider key points from Asking Questions Well: The Role of Theory in Applied Social Research by Michael Sherraden.

Read and collect resources

  1. Read about your research topic and collect resources/references that help you clarify your thoughts on your research topic. You should show a preference for open access resources (e.g. journal articles, websites, white papers, reports, etc) that everyone on a CEnR research team could access. If you are working for or going to school in an academic setting, you may have already done this using journal articles that require someone to have an university ID to access. Here we will privilege open access resources. This will require you to judge the quality of information provided.
  2. Add the resources to the VCU CEnR Diigo site. Read this for guidance on how to do this.
    • Annotate and tag your articles as appropriate so that other people can understand why you added it to the collection. This will help you build your reference list for your literature review.
    • Pay attention to the roles that the community- and academic-researchers played in developing resources.
    • Review others’ additions to the Diigo site for ideas or information related to your own work, as this is the point of document sharing sites such as Diigo.

 

OPTIONAL: Listening about your topic

What you read can tell you a lot about the research topic, but it can’t tell you everything. It often is important to listen.

In this optional activity, it is up to you to decide to whom and how to listen. You can always do this later in another blog post. Here are two ideas, but there are certainly more:

  • Go to a place where the research topic or activity may occur e.g. a neighborhood, an organization, an event. Sit quietly or take a silent walk and make note of all the sounds around you. You may even record the sounds around you and create a 1 minute or less recording that captures the audio environment in a creative way.
  • Identify someone with a lived experience of the topic you are interested in researching. Develop questions to ask, and then ask them. Here are a couple hints: Be sure that you ask open-ended questions, note who is talking more (you or the person you are “listening” to). You may record the interview and create in a 1 minute or less recording or visual that captures a key idea (words, concepts, wisdom, advice, etc) that is shared.

 

CEnR Grant Proposal: Identify a (some) Research Question(s)

Propose one or more draft research questions related to your topic in a blog post. Limit your post to 1000 words or fewer. The post is due by Thursday, June 2 by 5 p.m. EDT. Use “CuriousCoLab” as the category for this post and tag it as “research2”.

In your post:

  • Present a rationale for why it is important to answer each question. How does each address a gap in what we know? How does each align with the guidance offered in “Asking questions well…” by Sherraden? (Reference and link to the materials you’ve discovered, read or created.)
  • Next, in a subsection, explicitly reflect in the same blog post on what you have learned during the course so far related to the CEnR dimensions of your topic and proposed question(s).

 

TIP #1: Remember to use hyperlinks in your post so that people can “click” to access your references. Hyperlinks can also be used to provide supporting or additional information beyond the text of your review.

TIP #2: You may find a mind map useful as you build and describe connections about what you have read, heard and learned. Feel free to use another visual or audio method of building and describing these connections.

Grant Reviewer – As the grant reviewer, you will review the proposed research questions using the following questions posed by Sherraden. 

Does the research question seek to find out what is both TRUE and USEFUL and point to an intervention that:

  • is simple, understandable, communicable and doable
  • is highly explanatory (ie has meaningful effects)
  • is adaptable to multiple forms in multiple situations, fitting a wide range of circumstances, people, institutions and conditions
  • can be framed in terms of core values in society
  • is ethical
  • is affordable
  • is politically within the realm of possibility
  • is subject to multiple tests
  • has benefits that exceed the costs of intervention
  • can be implemented by the average person or organization

Describe how the research question(s) addresses none /some / most /all of these.

You have already identified a research topic and developed draft research question(s). You have also started collecting and reflecting on what is known about your topic. Now it is time to draft a literature review. Post your submission by Thursday, June 9 by 5 p.m. EDT. Use “CuriousCoLab” as the category for this post and tag it as “research3”.

The literature review provides more detail about the research topic – what we know, and not know, about the particular issue. This VCU Libraries Research Guide provides tips on writing a literature review. Remember to add to and explore resources in Diigo.

Assignment:

  1. Write a literature review as a blog post. Write for a general audience.
  2. Highlight relevant prior research, outline the current state of knowledge, and identify specific gaps in the literature that your research aims to fill.
  3. Limit your literature review to 500 words. Rather than making your review long, make it thick – thick with hyperlinks to additional, accessible information that readers can choose to read when and if they need the additional information.
  4. Be selective about what you include. You should show a preference for open access journal articles that your hypothetical community partner could access. Be sure to use hyperlinks so that readers can “click” to access your references.

An Extended Note on Brevity:

This is not a long literature review. The assignment is designed for parsimony because funding proposal guidelines increasingly require brevity. Of course, dissertation literature reviews often prioritize inclusion, and therefore become expansive. See this assignment as an exercise in learning to write for different outlets and audiences.

Grant Reviewer:

  1. Applicant addresses a gap in the literature and in what we know about this topic
  2. Provides convincing reasons on why these questions are important
  3. Clearly demonstrates a thick literature review and convincing evidence of need

Now that you’ve (1) identified a research problem, (2) developed draft research questions, and (3) performed a literature review, it is time to reflect and bring it all together in a statement of need. Post your submission by Thursday, June 16 at 5 p.m. EDT. Use “CuriousCoLab” as the category for this post and Tag as “research4“.

Part 1:

Review your earlier blog posts and feedback. Consider the feedback you have given others. With that in mind …

Write a statement of need (under 1000 words) that tells a potential funder about the issue. Present key facts and evidence to support the need for the research. Clearly state and connect your research question(s) to the identified need. Establish why your university-community team is well-positioned to answer the research question(s). The information used to support the case should come from the academic and open-source literature as well as your partners in the community.

The statement must be succinct, yet persuasive. Like a good debater, assemble strong arguments and present them in a logical sequence that will convince the reader. Address the following points.

  • Build a case for why your proposed CEnR research is necessary. Do not describe your proposed research methods.
  • Describe how you [would] have used an engaged process to identify and collect evidence regarding need for research. (Given that you have not necessarily taken this step, imagine the process has gone the way you would hope thus far.)
  • Explain why this CEnR research will make a difference to the identified issue(s).

Remember that your statement may be reviewed by people who know very little about your research focus and perhaps nothing about your community. You must present a complex issue in a clear, direct and compelling manner. With this in mind:

  • Avoid jargon and acronyms.
  • Add enough emotion so the reviewer understands the issue’s significance to those it affects.
  • Cite at least 8 sources. Link to the ones that are online, so that readers can explore further.
  • Select a limited set of facts or statistics that best supports your proposal.
  • Use graphs and charts for data, but limit their number.

 

Part 2:

Create a 2 minute or less video in which you give an “elevator pitch” about your research focus. Keep the video simple. It’s intent is to prepare you to engage funders and to encourage them to want to learn more about your proposed work. This can also be a useful tool for those doc students who are networking at academic conferences. Or really anyone looking for a job. Post the video within the blog post.

 

Part 3:

In a clearly marked section at the end of this post, explicitly reflect on the key principles (week 1) that will guide your community-engaged research. Be specific about how they will inform your approach. Be sure to link to sources.

 

In your needs statement, you articulated research questions, argued for why the research is important, and asserted that your research team is well-poised to lead that research. Now it is time to describe how the research will be conducted. Post your submission by Thursday, June 23 at 5 p.m. EDT. Use “CuriousCoLab” as the category for this post and tag it as “research5”.

The methods section describes what will be done to answer the research question, describes how it will be done, and justifies the design choices. For more information, you may refer to your earlier graduate level coursework, or additional academic and open resources (widely available). Be sure to include your favorites resources in Diigo!

This course builds upon your prior coursework on research methods by incorporating the community-engaged research approach. You will propose a sound methodology, and highlight the CEnR aspects of the proposed method such as the specific role of your collaborators.

Use the same research method you selected for this week’s Intellection assignment (Methodology Presentation). For that assignment you chose either community-based participatory research (CBPR) or participatory action research (PAR). Keep in mind that while they are both research methods, the methods section of a grant proposal goes into greater detail about how exactly you will answer the research question using the techniques of either CBPR or PAR.

Assignment:

Write a blog post describing the proposed research methods. Be sure to connect this with your needs statement (connect through explicit reference as well as linking to it).

  • Explain why you propose to use this particular research method (CBPR or PAR). Consider the following:
    • What are the comparative advantages for using that method in your proposed research?
    • Why is the method appropriate for your CEnR partner community?
    • Why is the method appropriate given the current state of your research partnership?
    • How well does the method fit with intellectual traditions and/or values in your discipline?
    • How will this method help you to achieve the aims and enhance the implications of your proposed research?
  • In clearly labeled sections, describe the overall research design, key concepts and their measurement, sampling strategy, and considerations regarding research ethics (e.g., human subjects issues, necessary training for research team members to ensure study integrity, etc.).

Notes:

  • Remember to clearly describe the role of the community- and university-based research partners in any phase of the research in which they will be involved.
  • Do not include data collection and analysis (that is next week).

Updated: June 26, 2016 at 9 a.m.

Last week, you described the research methods and design of your proposed community-engaged research. Now it is time to describe how the data will be collected and analyzed. Post your submission by Thursday, June 30 at 5 p.m. EDT. Use “CuriousCoLab” as the category for this post and tag it as “research6”.

The methods section describes what will be done to answer the research question, describes how it will be done, and justifies the design choices. The data collection and analysis plan specifically outlines the who, what, when, where and how of the data collection and analysis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Community Tool Box pages describe ways for collecting and analyzing data. You also may refer to your earlier graduate level coursework. Additional academic and open resources are widely available.

This course builds upon your prior coursework on research methods by incorporating the community-engaged research approach. In CEnR, data can be collected 1) to help communities identify their strengths and assets as well as problems or issues to address, and 2) to study the problem or issue identified as an issue of interest. You will propose a sound data collection and analysis plan, and highlight the CEnR aspects of the proposed plan.

 

Assignment:

Write a blog post describing the proposed data collection and analysis plan. Be sure to connect this with your needs statement and methods section.

  • In clearly labeled sections, describe the overall the data collection and analysis plan, including the who, what, when, where and how of the data collection and analysis.
  • Explicitly discuss how the proposed data collection and analysis plan responds to the lessons learned outlined in the article The Power and the Promise: Working With Communities to Analyze Data, Interpret Findings, and Get to Outcomes.

Note:

  • Here are some specific considerations as you prepare your plan:
    • How are instruments decided upon and developed? ƒValid, reliable instruments vs. tailoring to local context? ƒDo “researcher” concepts/constructs need to be reworded/rephrased? ƒProcesses for creating instruments?
    • Who collects the data?ƒ Is it possible to hire and train community residents? ƒ Does using community residents slow down the study?
    • What are the institutional considerations? What are the IRB requirements (e.g., consent forms, research compliance training)? ƒWill funding source allow instruments to be modified and/or community residents to be hired? ƒ Are opportunities to publish diminished by modifying instruments?
  • Do not include dissemination (that is next week).

In our second week, you used Asking Questions Well: The Role of Theory in Applied Social Research by Michael Sherraden to help develop draft research questions. This assignment asks you to reflect on your research questions using the criteria outlined in that article. Post your reflection through your blog by Thursday, July 7 at 5 p.m. EDT. Use “CuriousCoLab” as the category for this post and tag it as “research7”.

 

“A scholar can address only a small number of questions in her entire career; and therefore — if she wants to make a meaningful and lasting contribution, and who of us does not? — she must choose her questions carefully” (Sherraden, 2000).

 

For this assignment, you are a program officer for The VCUMIR Foundation (this is not, btw, a real foundation). The Foundation has identified high-quality community-engaged research in *your* research area as its priority. The Foundation’s board has elected to use Sherraden’s as its initial screening criteria. The Foundation’s staff is responsible for assessing how well proposed research fits these criteria. The foundation’s policy is to invite a concept paper (see final assignment) when the criteria are clearly met. Given the Foundation’s interest in community-engaged research, it has added an eleventh criterion to Sherraden’s list.

 

Assignment:

Put yourself in the mindset of a VCUMIR Foundation program officer reviewing your research question(s). In a blog post reflect on the strengths and limitations of your proposed research questions for each criterion:

 

Does the research question seek to find out what is both TRUE and USEFUL and point to an intervention that:

  1. is simple, understandable, communicable and doable
  2. is highly explanatory (ie has meaningful effects)
  3. is adaptable to multiple forms in multiple situations, fitting a wide range of circumstances, people, institutions and conditions
  4. can be framed in terms of core values in society
  5. is ethical
  6. is affordable
  7. is politically within the realm of possibility
  8. is subject to multiple tests
  9. has benefits that exceed the costs of intervention
  10. can be implemented by the average person or organization

and

11. To what extent does the research question and approach reflect the best practices of community-engaged research?

This assignment asks you to write a concept paper about your proposed community-engaged research.. Post your concept paper through your blog by  Thursday, July 14 at 5 p.m. EDT Use “CuriousCoLab” as the category for this post and tag it as “research8”.

 

In the previous assignment, you were asked to put yourself in the role of a program officer reviewing your research question. Now reverse your role. You have been invited by The Make It Real Foundation to submit a concept paper summarizing your proposed research project.

 

Funders often ask for brief concept papers prior to submission of a full proposal to help them and you avoid submissions that are not likely to be funded.For tips on writing a concept paper, see this and this, and the many other resources that are widely available.

 

Assignment:

Write a 2 to 3 page (1000 – 1500 words) concept paper outlining your research proposal (adopted from here).

  1. Introduction – identifies how and where the your research and the funder’s mission intersect or align. It addresses the reasons why the funder should support projects in the given general area. Include a description of the research team (community- and academic-based researchers) and shows why the team members want to participate in the project.
  2. Rationale – outlines what others have written about the general topic and focuses on the gap in knowledge to be filled, the problem to be solved, or the need to be addressed by your proposed research. Similar to a literature review, this section allows you to state the purpose or need in such a way that the your project is the best possible solution to the problem. Also, this section should provide statements addressing the significance of the project (showing why the project should be supported).
  3. Research Description – addresses the unique, unusual, distinctive, innovative, and/or novel aspects of the approach, showing why the research team has the best solution and presenting a compelling case for funding. This section should include the research question(s), aims and methodology, timeline and anticipated benefits or outcomes.