West Virginia University Research Corp

Contact Information

FY 2018 Community Conversations Research

Executive Summary

The proposed West Virginia Community Conversations project will complete participatory action research with three rural communities who are experiencing significant challenges in regard to economic transition and associated economic challenges and/or increasing opioid use. Meaningful engagement of residents is often a significant challenge for government and community-based organizations engaged in community development. Equally challenging is encouraging organizations to collaborate with one another to define and pursue shared objectives. Therefore, this project will convene and facilitate dialogue and deliberation toward this end to encourage fruitful engagement and collaboration. This project will employ a participatory planning and action approach that accompanies community collaborators on a proven developmental path of mobilizing and organizing, visioning, participatory strategic planning, and preparations for implementation and evaluation of shared efforts. The process will be open-ended in terms of the specific social, economic, and environmental determinants of health and prosperity each participating community prioritizes for action.

The West Virginia Community Conversations project responds directly to the notion that "research findings may identify ways to strengthen existing national service efforts and improve collaboration with ongoing citizen efforts." Specifically, we seek to: (1) strengthen existing national service efforts through enhanced professional development during the service year, (2) improve collaboration between organizational stakeholders and both ongoing and innovative citizen efforts by having national service members in facilitating those efforts, and (3) evaluate whether the approach used accomplishes these objectives.

The first objective will be met by recruiting specific AmeriCorps/VISTA members to placements co-designed by a team of national service year programs and the Principal Investigator. Specifically, the project will integrate professional development through enrollment in a Graduate Certificate in Community Development Policy & Practice with participatory research assignments that frame the three members' duties for the year of service. The second objective will be met by the AmeriCorps/VISTA members convening and facilitating organizational stakeholders and residents of three communities in collaborative, participatory assessment, visioning, and strategic planning toward program and project design, implementation, and evaluation. Action plans will be focused on each community's social and economic priorities.

The third objective will be met through ongoing process evaluation, including multiple forms of qualitative data collection and analysis. To learn more about successful civic engagement and organizational collaboration in social change efforts, the Principal Investigator will engage in participant observation, and AmeriCorps/VISTA members/students and their program sponsors will complete reflective process analyses of their action research activities. Together, the team will explore and contribute answers to the research questions laid out by CNCS in its FY2018 Community Conversations Research NOFO. In short, together, we will complete a participatory process evaluation of participatory research, planning, and action teams.

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