Ethical Community Engagement

When academic researchers take action to preserve the voices and history of different communities, including those that are disenfranchised and marginalized, they must do so in genuine partnership, and develop mutually beneficial teaching, learning, and research. We believe that adding the human element of accountability into data-driven research is crucial in creating ethical community engagement, and ultimately produces a better long-term digital project. 

At the Northeastern University Library, we build on two areas of focus. First, our Northeastern University Library Archives and Special Collection’s ongoing commitment on community partnerships. Second, our Digital Scholarship Group’s commitment to building inclusive information systems, as seen with the recent national forum on Design for Diversity (D4D) and the resulting teaching and learning toolkit. We hope to empower people in community organizations undertaking digital history projects. These groups, who have typically been the “object” of archiving, data modeling, and information-gathering, want and should “take on a role of partnership or leadership in their relations with archives and other information-gathering efforts.” 

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 descendants). Without critical examination, projects’ design can reflect current societal power structures and risk further marginalizing already sensitive populations. We are 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 how 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. These recommendations continue to 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