August 1, 2019

From Callie H. Lambarth, Research Associate and Amanda Cross, Senior Research Assistant, The Center for Improvement of Child & Family Services

The Center for Improvement of Child & Family Services (CCF) at Portland State University carried out a participatory action research (PAR) project, funded by the Oregon Community Foundation, to elevate the voices of leaders within culturally specific organizations working to advocate for the Early Childhood Equity Fund during the 2019 Oregon Legislative session. The resulting research product was a learning brief to be utilized as a tool to help advocate for public funds to invest in culturally specific early learning programs.

In this article we will highlight practices of PAR embedded in this project that reflect the values of democratic inquiry and co-creation of knowledge involving both researchers and research participants, and which link findings to action with the goal of ultimately contributing to people having increased control over their lives (Baum, MacDougall, & Smith, 2006).

CCF researchers, including the contributors of this article, worked closely with members of the Equity Fund coalition to develop research questions, complete interviews, draft and revise content based on the interviews for a learning brief, refine recommendations, and establish a review process throughout the project. We provided stipends to interview participants and reviewers to acknowledge and compensate those involved for contributing their expertise and time.

PAR Practices

At its core, PAR practices require upending power and assumptions of conventional research.  We did not approach this work as the “experts” holding all the knowledge, but talked and worked with coalition members and interview participants to identify the root causes of racial inequities in early learning and education and to co-create actionable recommendations. We built in multiple feedback loops with coalition members and interview participants, using multiple pathways, such as phone, email, and in-person conversations throughout the project process.  We centered the local, lived experience of interview participants and emergent interview themes, rather than following traditional academic orientations that often undervalue community expertise.

This project resulted in the creation of a learning brief that was among the collection of communication and advocacy tools used during the 2019 Oregon legislative session to invest culturally specific early learning funds. The Early Childhood Equity Fund was successfully passed due to the concerted, strategic, and ongoing efforts of parents, caregivers, and coalition member organizations to center racial equity within early learning and education systems.

Links to additional resources:


Baum, F., MacDougall, C., & Smith, D. (2006). Participatory action research. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 60(10): 854-857.