Budd Hall reflects on a career in community-based research

Budd Hall

Budd Hall has spent the past 45 years championing community-based research. A professor emeritus with the School of Public Administration and a former dean of education at UVic, Hall is a UNESCO Co-Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education. Hall has played a pivotal role in UVic’s history in community-engaged research, serving as founding director of UVic’s office of community-based research, Canada’s first such office on a university campus. In December, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. Here, he talks about his work, what community-based research can offer early career academics and its increasing relevance in higher education and society.

Part of your work as a UNESCO co-chair focuses on the initiative Knowledge for Change (K4C). Tell us a bit about K4C and why you’re raising funds for it for your 80th birthday.

The Knowledge for Change global consortium on community-based research focuses on capacity building and training young people in the global South and excluded North on community-based research methods. We now have 24 training hubs in 16 different countries. We’ve been encouraging the creation of these hubs since 2017 when we started the K4C program. Each K4C Hub is a partnership between a university and a practitioner or community organizations. Mentors are trained in our 21-week online training programs for mid-career people, who already have considerable experience with community-based research, to become trainers.

We have found that while university-based mentors are able to find the fees to cover their training, the community-based mentors have great difficulty in finding the money to cover their participation in the training.  We have decided therefore to create a crowd-funded Community Scholars Fund to generate funds to pay community knowledge workers in various parts of the world to provide scholarships for them to take the mentor training program. We have a goal of raising $100,000 for community scholars by my 80th birthday in October. I would love to see any contributions to help community workers have access to training.

How does K4C make a difference? Put another way, why is this program in particular important to you?

The K4C Consortium has as its goal the training of thousands of young people both in universities and in community organisations to create locally contextualized and action-oriented knowledge about the issues such as the climate crisis, gender justice, water resources and food security in their communities. Community-based participatory research is a decolonial knowledge-activism movement that mobilizes community knowledge to address critical issues.

How does community-engaged research differ from traditional academic research approaches?

The main thing it brings is application to real-life problems. For most researchers, their research very often ends up in a book or in a conference setting or in their own classrooms. Then the idea, the hope is that practitioners might draw on that research, read those books, and put some of what people said into practice. In community-based participatory research (CBPR), the research questions themselves originate in community, so there’s a direct link between community needs and the kind of work an academic in cooperation with community researchers can have. If more of our academics were working with communities on the kinds of issues they think are important, it would make a very positive difference to the lives of people in our communities.

How did you get involved in community-based research?

It goes back to 1970 when I was a young fellow and got a job at the University of Dar es salaam in Tanzania. I had finished all of my coursework for a PhD and had an interest in Africa. I’d been a student at a Nigerian university, so I was interested in working somewhere in Africa. In Tanzania in those days there weren’t many researchers, mostly expatriates. What we discovered, 15 to 20 of us researchers working in different parts of the university, is that a research process where the researcher created the questions, the researcher decided how to get information from people, analyzed the data and said what it all means, wasn’t a good way to proceed.

It would have been very extractive research. How would I find meaning in the information I was getting? I could only apply meaning based on what was in my head. What was in my head was not the experience of life in a rural community in Tanzania, so my ability to make sense and give meaning and apply what directions, policy and education should take place were severely limited.

It took some time to figure it out. It was a big change. A number of us felt that an alternative approach to research was needed. And the words participatory research were the words we coined in 1973. When I left Tanzania, I discovered there were people in Latin America, Asia, Europe, and all kinds of other places that were also concerned about research from the community-up rather than research from the university-down.

How did you become a UNESCO Co-Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education with your fellow Co-chair Rajesh Tandon?

The idea for our UNESCO Chair arose in the 2008-2010 period. The University of Victoria had supported the development of a global community-based research network called the Global Alliance for Community Engaged Research (GACER) in 2008. In 2009, UNESCO held the World Higher Education Conference where many of the ideas which Rajesh Tandon and I had articulated were taken up in the final communique of the conference. Following the 2009 world conference, the UNESCO higher education division invited Rajesh Tandon and myself to apply for a UNESCO Chair. The chair with its two co-chairs was formally inaugurated in 2012.

What advice would you offer to an early career researcher interested in this area?

I think for a young researcher, this kind of engaged scholarship is really a wonderful way to go. It doesn’t mean that other forms of scholarship aren’t also really important—they are. If you are somebody interested in community, interested in seeing your work make a difference in a more direct way… this kind of work is really attractive.

The main thing I would say to people is community connection is the key thing. Obviously, First Nations have a connection to their own community. If you don’t have a connection to any community organization, the first thing to do is to think about how you would like to be engaged in the community, find out about what organizations there are. Victoria is full of great organizations. Get to know an organization or two. Do some volunteer work, get to know these places. There’s no point training yourself up as an engaged scholar, it’s not like that. What you need is to learn to listen.

Would you say that community-based research supports decolonization?

Yes. There’s a word called epistemicide, which refers to the death of knowledge systems. The stuff that mostly we teach and read and construct our work around in universities is largely part of the so-called Western cannon, Eurocentric knowledge, created 550 to 600 years ago. When that knowledge moved out from Europe, often using missionaries as a channel … the job was to kill off knowledge systems that existed elsewhere.

What we call for in this kind of work is to be open to multiple ways of knowing, multiple systems of knowledge. On one hand, you’ve got ancient land-based Indigenous ways of knowing. There are also other knowledges that are excluded—the experiential knowledge of the homeless, of injection drug users, for example. There’s knowledge all these people have that has been disregarded compared to academic knowledge. We’ve privileged certain forms of knowledge.

Decolonization is the process of opening ourselves up to multiple ways of knowing and also including knowledge coming from community sectors and knowledge coming from specific groups of marginalized peoples. This kind of work is decolonial in intent.

How important is community-engaged research right now, as we’re facing big issues such as the climate crisis.

It’s even more important now. I think that the climate crisis is not going to be solved by reading the reports of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]. The climate crisis is going to move forward when people in Victoria, in Esquimalt, in Nanaimo, in Courtney-Comox, in Port Hardy, tackle these questions, and ask, ‘What knowledge, what resources do we have? What do we know from tracking the weather? What do we know from oral history from Indigenous perspectives that we can draw on?’ How can North Island College, VIU, UVic, how can these institutions facilitate processes of community people doing their own research on the climate crisis? When people do their own research, it’s empowering to them. By the harvesting locally contextualized, actionable knowledge generated through this kind of research process, we’ll have much more hope on how to move forward.