STPP to explore best practice in community engagement

August 1, 2023

As technologists and scientists increasingly engage with communities in order to enhance the societal benefits of their work, and demonstrate its public value, it is important to ensure that such engagements benefit the people they claim to serve. The Science, Technology, and Public Policy (STPP) Program is developing a “Community Engagement Playbook” to support more equitable partnerships between technical and community experts, thanks to an X Grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

“Community engagement efforts can perpetuate inequity and injustice,” according to Shobita Parthasarathy, STPP faculty director. “In some cases, researchers may treat the engagement as simply a public relations exercise, or use the information they get to do inadvertent harm. These practices not only harm communities, they also create distrust which makes it harder for the next generations of technical experts to interact and provide aid when needed.”

The playbook will seek to address those potentially extractive practices. STPP will call upon its experience and insights developed through its Community Partnerships Initiative (CPI), which was designed to bring community wisdom into decisions about technology, science, and related policies. That work is rooted in the understanding that regular people have important knowledge about how science and technology can benefit their communities and be fair.

In addition to input from current community partners, STPP will conduct a literature review on community-engaged participatory research and identify best practices. The Playbook will provide concise and clear guidance for technologists and scientists interested in working with community partners, and for community organizations to help them advocate for partnerships that will more clearly benefit their constituencies.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including advancing global climate solutions, decreasing nuclear risk, promoting local justice reform in the U.S., and reducing corruption in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program and the global 100&Change competition, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsive democracy as well as the vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago.