Fabienne Doucet: Centering the Margins: (Re)defining Useful Research Evidence Through Critical Perspectives

The William T. Grant Foundation has sought to support new research on ways to promote the use and usefulness of research evidence to improve youth outcomes for over a decade. They have funded numerous studies aimed at identifying and testing strategies to improve the use of research evidence (URE) in policy and practice decisions that affect young people. In the URE focus area, definition is key. They have defined research evidence as a type of evidence derived from applying systematic methods and analyses to address a predefined question or hypothesis. This includes descriptive studies, intervention or evaluation studies, meta-analyses, and cost-effectiveness studies conducted within or outside research organizations. As a human endeavor, research is inextricably implicated in the societal structures and systems that have served to maintain power hierarchies and accept social inequity as a given. Indeed, research has been historically and contemporaneously “(mis)used” to justify a range of social harms from enslavement, colonial conquest, and genocide, to high-stakes testing, disproportionality in child welfare services, and “broken windows” policing (Au, 2016; Jerrim & de Vries, 2017; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018; Wells, Merritt, & Briggs, 2009). Critical perspectives offer possibilities for repairing these wrongs and for reimagining the possibilities of what research can accomplish.

In this essay, Fabienne Doucet asks: What possibilities do such perspectives illuminate for rethinking the production of research with the objective of making research more useful and relevant? Here the idea of usefulness takes on a different quality than it has in the past because it interrogates and centers how well research evidence communicates the lived experiences of marginalized groups so that the understanding of the problem and its response is more likely to be impactful to “the community” in the ways the community itself would want. She argues that this shift requires focusing on the production of research and the ways it can be reimagined. Put another way, “improving the use of research evidence” will require ensuring usefulness–and use–toward ends that are congruent with the goals and visions that marginalized communities have for their self-determined benefits (Tuck & Yang, 2014).

Citation: Doucet, F. (2019). Centering the Margins: (Re)defining Useful Research Evidence Through Critical Perspectives. New York: William T Grant Foundation.

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Fabienne Doucet @bailabomba