A System's Approach to Sustainable Development

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Community-Based Research

Community is a group of people with shared interests, perceptions, and values. In our contemporary world broad historical trends, political and community structures, and the texture of daily life are all shaped by research, science, and technology in more profound and subtle ways than most people realize. The effects of science and technology extend from relatively obvious environmental repercussions, such as pollution, to critical social and political consequences, such as job insecurity, community atrophy, and ultimately a dysfunctional democracy. Science has solutions to offer on urgent issues such as energy, fresh water, food production, and health, but new approaches are needed to more effectively influence policy-making and involve all stakeholders in citizen science. In order to anticipate and avert the impacts of these issues, it is essential to interject community perspectives into science and technology decisions. Five E's Unlimited has adapted practical ways to enable people from all walks of life to contribute to science and technology choices, thereby improving people’s well-being and the well-being of their communities. But this requires emphasizing the ways of doing science as much as the means. The increasing importance of science in today's world calls for far greater interaction among all stakeholders and for a truly global perspective in research.

Community-based research, within the context of citizen science, differs fundamentally from mainstream research in being coupled relatively tightly with community groups that are eager to know the research results and to use them in practical efforts to achieve constructive social change. Community-based research is not only usable, it is generally used and, more than that, used to good effect. Community-based research also often produces unanticipated and far-reaching ancillary results, including new social relationships and trust, as well as heightened social efficacy. It may thus provide one constructive response to the growing concern that American civil society is in crisis and unraveling.

Promoting community-based research, by making empowerment through mutual learning universally accessible, can better direct our extraordinary capabilities toward our most urgent social and environmental needs. We can help alleviate suffering, revitalize democracy and community life, and bequeath future generations a world better than we found it. But a new social contract of science will be needed that encourages greater interaction in the conduct of citizen science (the public way of knowing coupled with the expert way of knowing). This greater interaction requires improved communication of science to the public and higher levels of scientific literacy in order for people to influence how science and technology affect their lives. Science has to meet the real needs of real people, respecting individual rights and empowering communities, to win public and political support. By building models for doing science in a more interactive and inclusive way, we can make active partners of all the parties involved and ensure the full participation of all potential stakeholders.

As science encroaches more closely on heavily value-laden issues, members of the public are claiming a stronger role in both the regulation of science and the shaping of the research agenda. Therefore, we should and can adopt a much more inclusive approach that engages many different sectors (communities) assertively in community-based research that emphasizes the meaning and usefulness of science. We must try to find common ground through open, rational discourse. And if the business sector takes note of the potential benefits of a new relationship between science and society, then public and private interests would converge, generating a force for progress powerful enough to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

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Last Update: 1/1/15
Web Author: Dr. R. Warren Flint