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In addition to the work that the CRC does in the community, we often collaborate with other Centers and Departments on campus to produce research that matters. To highlight one example, the CRC recently collaborated with faculty affiliate Nancy Erbstein (UCD School of Education) to complete the Community Futures, Community Lore (CFCL) online toolkit, now accessible through our website. The launch of CFCL intends to serve as a publicly-available, online youth participatory action research (YPAR) resource, documenting youth-led efforts over place and time and making previously inaccessible resources to support YPAR freely available to anyone and everyone.

Community Futures, Community Lore grew out of PI Nancy Erbstein’s work in Nepal and India over three decades ago. Her work focused on uplifting youth and elders’ voices in ethnic minority communities facing national education systems that did not value, reflect, or transmit their language, history, or identity. By 1990, she had recruited Kristen Zimmerman to integrate art into the curriculum and founded The Intercultural Oral History Project (ICOHP) where Tibetan refugee youth collected and documented oral histories of their elders and community change in the context of language learning. CRC Faculty Director Jonathan London joined this team in 1991 to adapt the ICOHP program in partnership with a Nepali NGO called the Annapurna Conservation Area Project, focusing on issues of cultural and ecological change with youth and elders in the community of Ghandruk, Nepal. These three co-founders developed Community LORE (Learning through Oral History Education) to extend the curriculum to other settings in California and beyond.

By 1994, they adapted their youth-led research model for use in youth-led research and program evaluation in the United States and applied it with a range of schools and community-based organizations, as well as at broader scales, such as the San Francisco juvenile justice system and Department of Children, Youth and Families. This approach became known as Youth REP (Youth-led Research, Evaluation and Planning). The belief behind these projects was that youth—particularly those populations disproportionately underserved—could bring critical insights to planning and evaluation of programs, organizations, and institutions intended to serve them. Community LORE was later re-named Youth in Focus, which operated as a non-profit organization with offices in Sacramento and Oakland until 2011, collaborating with a variety of youth-serving organizations and youth-focused social justice advocacy networks.

The fields of popular education and youth participatory action research (YPAR)—which Youth REP embodied—support the notion that all people, particularly the least powerful, can and should play a role in decision-making, planning and change processes that shape their lives. Participatory action research (PAR) came about to recognize power imbalances and the extractive nature of traditional research practices and it reframes the typical dichotomies between researcher and subject and between research and action. Research is framed as a democratic process that can empower participants—especially the most marginalized—to act as informed agents in improving their lives and effecting social change. Participatory planning has also contributed to our notion of planning by and for the people. Youth-led research re-positions youth from passive subjects of inquiry to arbiters of the topics and questions to be studied, and to what (and whose) benefit this knowledge will be directed.

Brandon Louie, Co-Project Director for CFCL and CRC Community Engagement Coordinator, took time to reflect on his time working on this project. When it comes to decision-making and community development, he sees youth often left out of these processes, even though they are important community members and stakeholders. Everyone benefits when young people are actively engaged and their voices are present. In addition, youth bring critical insights that adults often miss. Youth are often pushed into a narrative that they are the future, but YPAR recognizes youth as leaders today. One of Brandon’s fondest parts of working with CFCL has been working with the design elements and making the project come to life. Design was a fun process for him and he enjoyed developing a brand and aesthetic from scratch with very talented undergraduate artists from the UCD Design Program. Although web development is out of his area of expertise, Brandon appreciated working with the undergraduate web developers and other students who contributed their significant talents to this resource. He hopes the joy and creativity that went into the creation of the website and tools translates into an enjoyable experience for users.

Nancy also shared her thoughts about the CFCL website launch. She believes that, as a society, we have a lot of work to do to create just communities and youth-serving organizations. The insights and energy of all our youth—especially those experiencing oppressive, unsupportive conditions—are necessary to make change that makes a difference. CFCL offers a set of resources that youth and communities can engage with to utilize the tools of research and bring voices and perspectives to decision-making processes that affect their lives. CFCL tools were designed with the interests, needs and strengths of often marginalized youth populations in mind, including youth of color and low-income, Indigenous, LGBTQIA, immigrant and system-involved youth in mind. Therefore, the project team wanted to make it as broadly accessible as possible for a new generation. They also wanted to update resources and redesign their look and feel with input from youth and community partners.

Nancy believes there are a number of different ways for CFCL to be used to support more equitable opportunities and outcomes across many sectors—such as education, community development, youth development, health equity, juvenile justice, environmental justice—and by many constituencies—including young people themselves, their adult allies, university professors, advocacy networks, and foundations. CFCL can be used to inform advocacy, campaign development, organizational and community planning and evaluation processes, community-engaged journalism and social media, and community-based arts initiatives both on and off campus and in-person as well as remotely. One idea Nancy is interested in pursuing is translating the website and toolkit into other languages.

The CRC and Nancy are excited that these resources pair well with the UCD School of Education’s strong commitment to educational equity and may be useful for a number of faculty, students, programs and centers across UC Davis that facilitate or support YPAR/PAR efforts. This project would like to extend thanks to Professor Darnel Degand and Professor Glenda Drew, as well as the many undergraduate students who designed, developed, and coded the CFCL website and tools. This project also benefitted from a community advisory committee that included long-standing partners such as CalFresh Healthy Living, University of California and generous funding from The California Endowment. If you are interested in learning more about CFCL and our YPAR efforts, please contact our team at crcinfo@ucdavis.edu.

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