August 12, 2003
involving kids in research
I'm busy trying to raise money for the Prince George's Information Commons, our project that helps local kids use the Internet for civic purposes. There's one specific grant opportunity that I want to go after, and it has a Sept. 2 deadline.
Given the terms of the grant opportunity ("research in active living"), I can imagine us doing these three things:
1. We could help kids to map the walkable streets, parks, and healthy food sources of the r community, so that we can investigate whether that kind of research makes adolescents more aware of health issues, more prone to healthy behavior, and more civically engaged. Our method would be to give them (and a control group) questionnaires both before and after the course, and measure the change.
2. We could help kids to produce public documents—such as maps, brochures, website materials—that advertise the health assets in the community, and investigate whether these materials lead to positive health outcomes in the school or community. Our method would be to give students in a set of classes a questionnaire, then expose them to the materials that our kids create, and then survey them again.
3. We could use the data that the kids collect to generate genuine research findings of value to other communities.
I'm convinced that the funder actually wants #3, and it's the hardest item for me to conceive. We could say that we will collect baseline data on walkability, nutritional quality, and crime, and use these data for research purposes—but I doubt that that's specific enough. We could say that we will investigate whether proximity to healthy assets correlates with good health, controlling for lots of stuff, but I'm not sure that kind of correlational research is rigorous enough. We could say that we will resurvey the neighborhood periodically to establish how much change occurs in walkability and other health variables. But I'm not sure how interesting the mere rate of change would be. Or we could say that we will use specific changes in the community as "natural experiments." But then I think we need to describe one likely change that we will be able to investigate. I haven't thought of one yet.