Collaborative Inquiry is a process of shared reflection and sense-making by members of a community on matters that are important to them. The following piece reflects on a Collaborative Inquiry workshop and its relevance to minority mental health. It’s written as a collaboration between two individuals, Alex and Nirali, as they reflect together through the perspectives of their own experiences. Closing reflections are given by Emily Bhandari, Strategic Learning and Evaluation Program Officer for the Hogg Foundation. Here is their story:
Nirali: Minority mental health begins by acknowledging that the minority voice was, and continues to be, excluded. As a graduate social work student, I quickly–and uncomfortably– learned that minority voices were on the outskirts. I was often told that my experiences mattered. In practice, though, I did not always feel safe in doing so. Sometimes, the safer route was silence. As I pursued research in search of answers, this realization reached a further depth. I saw that this exclusion was intentional, and quite pervasive.
Alex: Your lived experience is one of many that highlights a persistent gap in mental health, especially in academia. Minority underrepresentation leads to the silencing of minority voices. Lack of trust and safety makes it difficult for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other people of color) to be vocal about their needs and experiences. There are so many unheard stories of pain and resilience. We must create safer spaces, where communities can begin to heal.
Nirali: As I was losing hope on finding those spaces, Dr. Brown, Ph.D, MA, an assistant professor at Dell Medical School in the Department of Population Health, offered me a position to work under her team. I was lucky to find in the DISRUPT Lab mentors that saw, experienced, and worked to change this narrative. On June 4, we brought community members and researchers together for a workshop on Collaborative Inquiry. Our question: What would it look like for community members to be co-creators of research rather than subjects? And more importantly, how could co-creation begin to unravel the silence, building safety and trust?
Alex: As a practicing clinician in the community, I felt that this event was a rare opportunity to explore these questions further. I showed up to this space ready to collaborate with other people who share an interest in bridging the gaps between academia and the community.
Nirali: As a facilitator, I was equally excited for collaboration. Despite academia’s history of excluding community members such as those sitting around me, I saw potential in highlighting their voices. By challenging this historical narrative, could we bring forth more integrity and validity to research?
Alex: Many clinicians are questioning pre-existing systems of care. They are challenging the validity of so-called evidence-based practices and their applicability to minority populations. We can’t discount the impact that research has on mental health care and the work that is being done to support communities. The goal of having evidence-based practices is to meet a certain standard of care. Community members want to trust that the practices clinicians offer are effective and applicable to them. True evidence-based practice calls for us to revisit what “evidence-based” looks like for minority communities. If we want minority mental health to flourish, we need people of color to be a part of the conversations that impact service delivery.
Collaborative Inquiry: Where do we go from here?
Nirali: As we pursue academic success, it’s vital that we use our power to bring forth the excluded voices, and at every step of the way.
When developing the research question, ask community members. When writing a grant, write in time for rapport development, and involve leaders to co-learn the process. Evaluate not at the end, but rather often through a feedback loop driven by the community voice. Step up where your expertise is valuable, and step back to hear how it can be of value to others.
For community engagement to be intentional, it needs to give power back to the stakeholders that matter most. With it, we recognize that true healing doesn’t occur for and on the community, but rather with the community.
Emily Bhandari: I want to thank Alex and Nirali for their reflection. Now more than ever, we must ensure that the voices of historically excluded groups are included in research, evaluation, and the development of best practices. There isn’t time or money to waste on interventions that aren’t meaningful. We know that those most impacted are the ones who have the insight into practical solutions. Aligning with the values of trust-based philanthropy, the Hogg Foundation has adopted Collaborative Inquiry and equitable evaluation practices in our grantmaking and learning efforts. Those who work in this space must adopt a collaborative mindset and be willing to change policy and practices to support this work. That includes being open to longer timelines for research design, data collection, and sense-making. It includes funding for evaluation planning and community engagement before any research is even conducted. And it includes financial or in-kind compensation for communities who share their time and wisdom. As Nirali rightfully points out, true healing doesn’t occur for and on the community, but with it.