On Our Terms used critical participatory action research (CPAR) approach, centering the expertise and lived experience of youth, parents, educators, and activists in educational justice movements and in school communities using restorative justice.
Critical Participatory Action Research
Critical participatory action research (CPAR) is rooted in the beliefs that:
- We are all experts on our own lives and we should have a say in guiding the research and policy that directly impacts us.
- Diverse skills and knowledge makes research stronger, more relevant, and more useful for confronting real world problems.
- Research should drive action and support social movements; we are not interested in research for research’s sake.
- We must consider how power and privilege play out in our research, and in the research team–paying attention to the structural dynamics that shape our daily lives.
And in the context of this project, there is a deep resonance between restorative justice and CPAR, as both center relationship building, see conflict as a learning opportunity, value democratic participation, and the need to think about transformation at both individual and systemic levels.
In our intentionally diverse and intergenerational research team, varied forms of expertise (experiential, professional, academic) shaped every stage of our research: design, data collection, analysis, and turning our findings into action. Balancing the importance of deeply democratic research and the many responsibilities of the youth, educators, parents, and activists on our team, we used an “accordion” model of participation with a staggered series of gatherings tied to critical moments for collective work and decision making. Guided by this collective work, the On Our Terms co-organizers and a few team members would continue day-to-day research activities, preparing to bring back their work to the larger team at the next phase of the project. If participatory action research exists on a spectrum of participation, On Our Terms exists somewhere in the middle of the scale: while participation isn’t constant, it runs deep.
Some key features of our CPAR project included:
- A series of collective gatherings, like our foundational six-day Summer Institute (more info below!), working dinners, and zoom meetings in the context of COVID.
- Deep roots in grassroots organizations engaged with educational justice movements and school communities using restorative justice–building on ongoing school practice and advocacy efforts to enhance our relevance and impact.
- Intergenerational, non-hierarchical collaboration among youth, educators, parents, and activists, who are too often pitted against each other in narratives about discipline and safety in schools.
- An intentionally diverse research team, with respect to age (14 to 60+), race and ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, class, borough, language spoken at home, religion—and in many other ways, like background in education, activism, and restorative justice. (Check out Our Team for more info.)
- Grown through existing relationships: When we started On Our Terms, almost everyone involved knew at least one other person (and often more) from their organization, coalition, or school communities. As we focused on community building, we grew from a baseline of trust from these existing relationships, and the communal knowledge that comes from shared context and experience.
- Weaving restorative practices into our collaborative theorizing and research, using circle practice and restorative ethics in our work together, by leaning on the restorative justice expertise of some, and helping build capacity for others.
Below, you can find more detail about our Summer Institute. Check out Our Research for more detail on how our participatory process infused our research methods.
On Our Terms Summer Institute
We held our foundational Summer Institute in 2018, bringing together our research team for the first time, for six days of community building, theorizing, research design, and methods (facilitated by Talia & Rebecca).
During the Institute, the On Our Terms community:
- Unpacked the history of criminalization in schools and the legacies of communities rising up against it.
- Built collective theory and research questions based on lived experience, collective knowledge, and community dialogue about restorative and transformative justice, safety, accountability, discipline, and intersectionality.
- Trained each other in interviewing skills, using a “learn-by-doing” approach and building on community knowledge.
- Drafted, revised, and tested over 200 interview questions.
- Used qualitative analysis strategies to find themes in our work together so far that could guide our research questions.
- Hosted community dialogues with guest speakers who do restorative justice work in prisons and shelters for women fleeing intimate partner violence.
- Conducted “intersectional site visits” with social justice actors throughout New York City, each with a focus on key issues related to restorative and transformative justice work
- Built community!
Working Dinners & Zoom Gatherings
After our foundational Summer Institute, we held a series of in-person working dinners (pre-COVID) and online gatherings via zoom (since COVID) to continue our collective work. Each gathering focused on different aspects of the research, and included:
- Revising and testing our interview questions, by practicing interviewing each other.
- Exploring how restorative justice in schools is portrayed in the media, and whose perspectives are left out.
- Sharing successes and dilemmas in the practice of restorative justice in schools.
- Co-facilitating focus groups with students, educators and parents from throughout New York City.
- Collectively analyzing focus group transcripts to identify major themes in our research, and craft recommendations.