Ethical Community Engagement


Increasingly, academic researchers are taking action to capture and preserve the voices and history of communities, including disenfranchised and marginalized ones. Recent scholarship on engagement with indigenous communities’ history and cultural memory emphasizes the importance of understanding and agency as being key to mutually beneficial teaching, learning, and research with communities. This careful attention to creating ethical community engagement adds a crucial human element of accountability into data-driven research that ultimately produces a better long-term digital project.

The Digital Scholarship Group’s recent national forum on Design for Diversity (D4D) and the resulting teaching and learning toolkit brings together tools and resources that are designed to support and empower people in community organizations, groups typically the “object” of archiving, data modeling, and information-gathering who want to “take on a role of partnership or leadership in their relations with archives and other information-gathering efforts.” D4D has also produced study paths, strands of learning that can help faculty, researchers, and those in pedagogical roles understand the social impact of interaction with marginalized groups, providing case studies that include models for emulation, warnings about how to avoid pitfalls, and precedent to build upon.

As it intends to “explore new ways of engaging scholars and the public in the collection, synthesis, and analysis of historical and current data,” the BRC is committed to encouraging projects to critically examine the impact their work might have on the individuals, communities, or populations being described (or their descendents). Without critical examination, projects’ design can reflect current societal power structures and risk further marginalizing already sensitive populations. The BRC is also committed to helping projects be community-informed at all points in the research process—design through dissemination.

Toward developing a framework for the BRC

During the BRC’s pilot phase, staff convened a group of campus experts to ask about ways in which projects could be critically informed and ethical community engagement might work at the BRC. Through one-on-one meetings and structured discussions, this group suggested theoretical, strategic, and practical methods of how to best support community initiatives through academic partnerships—addressing standards, best practices, and infrastructure. In a full implementation, these recommendations will be refined, made operational, and baked into every aspect of the BRC’s policies and procedures.

Campus experts consulted

Becca Berkey—Service Learning

Rebecca Riccio—Social Impact Lab

Johnna Iacono—University Scholars Program

Derek Lumpkins—Northeastern Crossing

Dan Jackson and Jules Rochielle Sievert—NuLawLab

Marty Blatt and Victoria Cain—NU Faculty, History

Moya Bailey—NU faculty, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Ellen Cushman—NU Faculty, English


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