This article appeared in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on May 16, 2019 

In the report “Why Am I Always Being Researched?” published by Chicago Beyond, the authors call for an “equity-based approach to research.” Since its founding in 2016, Chicago Beyond has given more than $30 million to mostly small Chicago-area charities. 

Here are five steps, adapted from that report, to help nonprofit researchers incorporate the views and experiences of those being studied, whose firsthand experience can often lead to better solutions.

The guidance is written for researchers but also applies to big grant makers, grant recipients, and nonprofits involved in the research.

The way a nonprofit approaches a problem depends on the institution, the kinds of research it uses, and the experience of the researchers.

It’s important to reflect individually or as a group on how biases can flow into the research but it’s also helpful to get the perspective of community members to help you shape the study and come up with the research questions.

Construct timelines with room to build trust among community members, solicit their input, and test the survey.

When the research is complete, think carefully about which numbers and stories you highlight.

Changing your approach to research requires a willingness to break old habits and an openness to new perspectives. Humanizing the research process enables you to find the right fit between purpose and research design.

Here are five ways to make research more equitable.

Build trust. Spend time in the community you will study. Share what motivates your research and what you hope to accomplish. Be willing to share your data as much as possible during the study and after it is published. For many nonprofit managers, the instinct, based on previous experience, is “never give data to someone I don’t really know.”

If you skip this step in the rush to meet a deadline, your results could be flawed.

Share your agenda. Explain how the work fits into your research agenda and discuss the other types of research you conduct. Talk about your intentions for the work and your research institution’s priorities.

Share your previous experiences. Stories from past research can help illustrate how you will work with members of the community and the nonprofits that serve them.

Set goals for the research. Determine a few statements to help your organization “fill in the blanks” at the end of the work, and outline what you hope to achieve in doing so. Not all programs have immediate benefits. Establish methods for determining the benefits your study may have over the long term.

Identify the target audience. Determine whom the study is intended for and which type of data and research design serve your purpose, while placing the least burden on the organization or its participants.

This checklist is adapted from “Why Am I Always Being Researched?” published by Chicago Beyond. Download the full report.