Missing the mark or moving the needle? Reflections on how to center equity in research

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Issues of race are deeply ingrained in every facet of our history and society. As researchers, we strive to promote children’s development and opportunities to succeed both in and out of school, but our work is not immune from a legacy of racism. Without an intentional focus on equity, we can miss the mark. Lately, we’ve been reflecting on, what is equity in research? And how can we more purposefully center equity in our work? We want to share the questions we’ve been asking and resources we are reading as we strive to integrate an equity lens into the work we do from beginning to end. This begins with the proposal and research question development to methods of data collection, analysis, interpretation, and dissemination.

What is equity in research?

Equity is fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups (University of California Berkeley, 2009). As researchers, we get excited about using data as a powerful tool for addressing inequities. However, we recognize that data can and have been used to harm, instead of help, minoritized racial groups and other historically marginalized communities, such as those with low household incomes. Addressing inequities, therefore, requires an understanding of the root causes of outcome disparities within communities. We are learning, particularly when conducting research with historically marginalized communities and when using research and data to help identify and reduce inequities, that it’s critical to center families and communities, listen to lived experiences of individuals willing to share, and integrate multiple voices into the research process.

How can we more purposefully center equity in our work?

Conducting research with an equity mindset requires reevaluating what may be considered typical practice and reflecting on choices throughout the research process. Centering equity therefore does not happen after one meeting or conversation but must be an extended process of inquiry. Below we have compiled a few initial ways, based on some seminal and recent resources, that research teams can be more purposeful in integrating equity into their work. This list is by no means exhaustive, and as a research team dedicated to removing barriers and optimizing outcomes, we strive to learn more on our own journey to equity-centered work.

Key Considerations

How to Take Action

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Research team formation, knowledge, and training: Boost awareness and learning of ourselves and our teams about anti-racist, culturally responsive research.
  • Bring together culturally responsive, anti-racist research teams that are representative of multiple voices and viewpoints. If possible, staff projects with members of the community being studied.
  • Engage the team in ongoing conversations about how the research interacts with and impacts the communities involved. Partner with community organizations and learn from lived experiences.
  • Commit to personal growth and invest time learning about equity and anti-racism. Reflect on your unique position, personal background, and privilege as a researcher (Milner, 2007). One way to do so is to compose a personal statement about one’s backgrounds, personal experiences, assumptions, and possible biases.
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Research design and data use: Cultivate community-engaged research that elevates marginalized voices and perspectives. Center data sources and methods in ways that respectfully represent and document community strengths and barriers.
  • Plan at the outset for opportunities to engage community members in culturally responsive ways throughout the project. Create a safe environment and provide support for family and community members to feel comfortable asking questions, disagreeing, and making decisions. Collectively set ground rules and meeting norms to equitably distribute power in meetings.
  • Convene advisory panels with relevant community members and solicit their input and feedback at critical junctures during the project, including when formulating the motivation and purpose of research projects. Consult with community organizations on study purpose, design, and appropriate recruitment and data collection methods. Draw on and cite past community-based research (Urban Institute, 2020).
  • Use data collection methods that will help capture the lived experiences of community members. For example, use mixed methods that integrate quantitative and qualitative data collection. Check out the We All Count Methodology Matrix for ideas.
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Analysis and dissemination: Contextualize data on both disparities and assets with information on communities’ historic and current contributions and inequities. Commit to using respectful and inclusive language and images in all products.
  • De-center whiteness in data coding and analytic strategies. Do not default to reporting demographic outcomes relative to white groups. Incorporate analytic strategies that illuminate mechanisms and differential effects, such as mediation and moderation.
  • Provide context on structural inequities early and often when sharing findings to reduce misinterpretation (Gross, 2020).
  • Use inclusive language guides (for example, Early Learning Network Guide to Center Racial Equity) for all written products.
  • Engage with community members and advisory panels to interpret findings and to design meaningful and useful dissemination methods and products. Make sure both your content and medium are accessible to your target audience (We All Count, n.d.).

These considerations and actions are starting points meant to guide research teams’ initial steps incorporating equity into the research process. As our Student Behavior Research Team deepens our own understanding and actions, we will be adding to this series on how to conduct equity-focused research from formulating questions to disseminating results. Make sure to check back for future posts!

Additional Resources


Topics: Research design

Tags: Antiracism Equity