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Embracing the local: enriching scientific research, education, and outreach on the Texas-Mexico border through a participatory action research partnership.

Cameron Park, Texas Cameron Park is a census-designated place (CDP) in Cameron County, Texas, United States. The population was 5,961 at the 2000 census. Geography
Cameron Park is located at  (25.970707, -97.478659)GR1.
, is a colonia (an isolated, unincorporated Adj. 1. unincorporated - not organized and maintained as a legal corporation
unorganised, unorganized - not having or belonging to a structured whole; "unorganized territories lack a formal government"
 rural settlement without municipal improvements) on the Texas--Mexico border in the Lower Rio Grande Rio Grande, city, Brazil
Rio Grande (rē` grän`dĭ), city (1991 pop.
 Valley, in Cameron County Cameron County is the name of several counties in the United States:
  • Cameron County, Pennsylvania
  • Cameron County, Texas
  • Cameron Parish, Louisiana
 near Brownsville, Texas Brownsville is the county seat of Cameron County, Texas, United States, the southernmost city in Texas. As of 2005, U.S. Census estimates put Brownsville at a population of 167,493. . Cameron Park Cameron Park is the name of several places: :
  • Cameron Park, California, United States of America
  • Cameron Park, Texas, United States of America
  • Cameron Park, New South Wales, Australia
 has a population of 5,961 residents, 99.3% of whom are Hispanic. The annual median income is $16,934, about one-half of the state median. Fifty-eight percent of families generally and 68% of those with children younger than 5 years have incomes below poverty level. Cameron Park resides geographically in a region where agriculture has been, and continues to be, a dominant industry, a fact consistent with the intensive use of pesticides and increased potential for air, water, and ground contamination. The practice of good environmental health is extremely difficult under these conditions. In 1999 the Texas A&M University Center for Housing and Urban Development's Colonias Program and the Center for Environmental and Rural Health teamed up to create an environmental health education and outreach Outreach is an effort by an organization or group to connect its ideas or practices to the efforts of other organizations, groups, specific audiences or the general public.  program called the Cameron Park Project (CPP cpp - C preprocessor. ). The CPP focused on how to reduce potential environmental exposures associated with human illness by providing residents with scientifically sound information on positive health practices and how to deal with environmental hazards 'Environmental hazard' is a generic term for any situation or state of events which poses a threat to the surrounding environment. This term incorporates topics like pollution and Natural Hazards such as storms and earthquakes. . In this article we discuss the research methodology used in the CPP, a methodology specifically chosen to address four challenges presented by colonias to conducting valid and reliable research. Key words: border health, colonias, environmental health education, participatory action research Action Research or Participatory action research has emerged in recent years as a significant methodology for intervention, development and change within communities and groups. It is now promoted and implemented by many international development agencies and university programs CCAR, as , promotoras, Texas--Mexico border. Environ en·vi·ron  
tr.v. en·vi·roned, en·vi·ron·ing, en·vi·rons
To encircle; surround. See Synonyms at surround.

[Middle English envirounen, from Old French environner
 Health Perspect 111:1571-1576 (2003). doi:10.1289/ehp.5771 available via[Online 27 May 2003]


Cameron Park, Texas, is one of approximately 1,800 colonias (unincorporated, irregular HEIR, IRREGULAR. In Louisiana, irregular heirs are those who are neither testamentary nor legal, and who have been established by law to take the succession. See Civ. Code of Lo. art. 874.  rural settlements lacking water, sewer SEWER. Properly a trench artificially made for the purpose of carrying water into the sea, river, or some other place of reception. Public sewers are, in general, made at the public expense. Crabb, R. P. Sec. 113. , and improved roads and extremely isolated geographically, economically, and socially) on the Texas-Mexico border. It is located in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, in Cameron County, and situated geographically within the Brownsville, Texas, metropolitan area. Cameron Park today remains an unincorporated settlement with little by way of physical, social, or economic infrastructure. Only within the last 5 years have safe water and hard-surface roads become a part of daily life in this community, which still lacks developed waste disposal and drainage drainage, in agriculture
drainage, in agriculture, the removal of excess water from the soil, either by a system of surface ditches, or by underground conduits if required by soil conditions and land contour.
. Cameron Park has a population of 5,961 residents, 99.3% of whom are Hispanic. The annual median income is $16,934, about one-half of the state median. Fifty-eight percent of families generally and 68% of those with children younger than 5 years of age have incomes below poverty level (U.S. Census Bureau Noun 1. Census Bureau - the bureau of the Commerce Department responsible for taking the census; provides demographic information and analyses about the population of the United States
Bureau of the Census
 2002). The community resides geographically in a region where agriculture has been, and continues to be, a dominant industry, a fact consistent with the intensive use of pesticides and increased potential for air, water, and ground contamination. The practice of good environmental health is extremely difficult under these conditions.

Environmental health hazards There are numerous health hazards that can affect people in their natural environment. Examples of environmental health hazards are :
  • allergens
  • anthrax
  • antibiotic agents in animals destined for human consumption
  • antibiotic resistance
  • arbovirus
 related to exposure to environmental contamination have been documented as a health and social concern along the U.S.--Mexico border. Garcia et al. (2001) noted that pesticides continue to be associated with increased risks of major congenital malformations congenital malformation Congenital defect A heterogenous group of structural defects, which are usually identified at birth Major CMs, US PDA, hypospadias, clubfoot, ventricular septal defect, hydrocephalus, Down syndrome, hip dislocation, valve stenosis , as reported in several extensive environmental monitoring programs in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Garcia et al. (2001) also noted that in a small-scale U.S. EPA EPA eicosapentaenoic acid.

eicosapentaenoic acid

EPA, See acid, eicosapentaenoic.

 study that monitored indoor and outdoor air, food, house dust and soil,
   low levels of pesticides were detected in each of the
   media sampled, except public drinking water, with
   higher levels of pesticides found in the summer....
   Mukerjee et. al. (1997) observed agricultural pesticides
   (e.g., malathion and chlorphyrifos) in both
   outdoor and indoor air, while the concentrations of
   household pesticides (e.g., chlordane, chlorpyrifos,
   diazinon, and heptachlor) were generally higher
   indoors than outdoors. They also found levels of
   volatile organic compounds, such as propane and
   butane, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons to be
   higher indoors (Mukerjee et al. 1997).

Responding to Environmental Health Concerns

In 1999, the Texas A&M University Center for Housing and Urban Development (CHUD v. t. 1. To champ; to bite. ) Colonias Program and the Center for Environmental and Rural Health (CERH CERH Center for Environmental and Rural Health (Texas A&M University) ) teamed up to create an environmental health education and outreach program called the Cameron Park Project (CPP). Both organizations brought a wealth of experience to the project. The CHUD Colonias Program had worked for nearly a decade helping to bring health and human services Noun 1. Health and Human Services - the United States federal department that administers all federal programs dealing with health and welfare; created in 1979
Department of Health and Human Services, HHS
 to colonias residents, and the CERH directed an active community outreach and education program dedicated to educating rural communities in Texas. This program focused on how to reduce potential environmental exposures associated with human illness by providing residents with scientifically sound information on positive health practices and how to deal with environmental hazards.

One objective of the CPP was to provide environmental health education based on solid scientific information and best practices for preventive preventive /pre·ven·tive/ (pre-vent´iv) prophylactic.

pre·ven·tive or pre·ven·ta·tive
Preventing or slowing the course of an illness or disease; prophylactic.

 health care. A second objective was to assess what Cameron Park residents knew about environmental hazards and health before and after the CPP education and outreach intervention A procedure used in a lawsuit by which the court allows a third person who was not originally a party to the suit to become a party, by joining with either the plaintiff or the defendant. . A third objective was to use a scientific research methodology that addressed challenges presented by colonias conditions to conducting valid and reliable research. In this article we report on the third objective and its outcomes.

Designing the CPP: Four Challenges

The creation of the CPP required considering a set of four challenging conditions in the colonias and finding a methodology to meet and embrace the challenges into the design of the research, education, and outreach. The first challenge was in the nature of colonias themselves. The U.S. EPA defines colonias as "U.S. rural settlements with substandard substandard,
adj below an acceptable level of performance.
 housing and poor living conditions living conditions nplcondiciones fpl de vida

living conditions nplconditions fpl de vie

living conditions living
 along the U.S.--Mexico border" that may lack some or all of the following: paved pave  
tr.v. paved, pav·ing, paves
1. To cover with a pavement.

2. To cover uniformly, as if with pavement.

3. To be or compose the pavement of.
 roads, sewer systems Noun 1. sewer system - facility consisting of a system of sewers for carrying off liquid and solid sewage
sewage system, sewage works

facility, installation - a building or place that provides a particular service or is used for a particular industry; "the
, electricity, gas, clean water, and/or health care services (Browne et al. 1994; U.S. EPA 2001; Ward 1999). Colonias are frequently in rural areas with low population density, a fact that helps explain why they are so often without infrastructure. According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 P.M. Ward (1999), colonias exist in an "administrative no man's land," and thus the communities fall through the cracks politically. They are not within the jurisdictional governance Governance makes decisions that define expectations, grant power, or verify performance. It consists either of a separate process or of a specific part of management or leadership processes. Sometimes people set up a government to administer these processes and systems.  of regional cities, nor are they attended to with any care by county governments. Only very recently has the state begun to put some funding into physical infrastructure. Without question, colonias have been, and continue to be, isolated and largely ignored geographically and politically. This fact alone made it difficult to gain trusted and legitimate access to conduct research in colonias communities.

Our second challenge was that colonias residents have little formal social, political, or economic agency, which only deepens their isolation. In Cameron Park, for example, 35% of the residents, although documented, are not U.S. citizens, and therefore cannot vote (U.S. Census Bureau 2002). Those who work with colonias residents estimate that approximately another one-third are undocumented residents, although no direct data sources substantiate To establish the existence or truth of a particular fact through the use of competent evidence; to verify.

For example, an Eyewitness might be called by a party to a lawsuit to substantiate that party's testimony.
 this number. Most colonias residents also feel the marginalizing effects of poverty and low levels of education relative to surrounding sur·round  
tr.v. sur·round·ed, sur·round·ing, sur·rounds
1. To extend on all sides of simultaneously; encircle.

2. To enclose or confine on all sides so as to bar escape or outside communication.

 populations. The majority of colonias residents have little to no voice politically and socially.

Another characteristic of colonias residents that presented our third challenge to designing the CPP was identified by Duncan Earle in "The Border Colonias and the Problem of Communication: Applying Anthropology anthropology, classification and analysis of humans and their society, descriptively, culturally, historically, and physically. Its unique contribution to studying the bonds of human social relations has been the distinctive concept of culture.  for Outreach" (1999). Earle was not a colonia resident but worked regularly with colonias residents in community development and conducting research with the community. One of his conclusions was that
   ... communication is not on the whole very good,
   either with outsiders or among colonia residents.
   Relations between residents and service providers
   are generally characterized by lack of trust, mutual
   suspicion, and the idea that the other side is hiding
   something or "pulling something over." This
   despite cordial interaction. This social rift is not
   ethnic for the most part. The vast majority of the
   informants interviewed were Hispanic, both colonia
   residents and service workers. The differences
   between them were class based, and notable in
   terms of amount of acculturation and degree of
   integration into the U.S. system.

For us, finding a methodology that provided reliable communication with wary residents was essential for the project to succeed.

Finally, the nearly 10 years of experience of CHUD's Colonias Program working with colonias communities and residents clearly indicated that the most effective (perhaps only) means of genuinely gaining the trust and engagement of residents was to work "from the inside out." In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently
, our fourth challenge was to find ways to engage residents by partnering with them and local organizations, both inside and outside the colonias, in a manner that honestly involved them in the discussions, planning, and implementing whatever program was under consideration. From the experience of the Colonias Program, we found that working from the inside out cohered residents, encouraged and facilitated engagement, generated interest and desire to participate, and developed skills and leadership within the community. In the long run, this approach enabled residents to invite outsiders to bring their resources into the community, for the benefit of the community.

Methodologic Issues: Philosophical and Practical

The conditions described above demanded that we choose our methods carefully both to respect the local challenges and to assure that the research, education, and outreach would be rigorously and successfully completed.

Gaining trusted entrance and reception was essential for the CPP; therefore, choosing effective means of communication was paramount. Communication media common in the larger society--TV, radio, printed brochures (even in Spanish), and other forms of printed announcements--did not interest and/or catch the attention of colonias residents. This fact was exacerbated when the persons or organizations using such means were from outside the community. Earle (1999) frames the problem as one related to communicating across cultural boundaries. Communicating within cultural boundaries enhances understanding without explanation, because the assumptions within which the communication originates are agreed upon Adj. 1. agreed upon - constituted or contracted by stipulation or agreement; "stipulatory obligations"

noncontroversial, uncontroversial - not likely to arouse controversy
   Outside our own culture, the assumption about
   communication (metacommunication) breaks
   down, and what one side sends is not received in
   the same way by the other side. They fail to share
   metacommunicative repertoires, common understandings
   about what constitutes legitimate forms
   and contexts and implications of communication.
   The result of such "ships passing in the night" frequently
   is mutual loss of respect and trust. Each
   side thinks the other stupid or crafty or both.
   (Earle 1999)

To address this, and other colonia-research--related issues, we chose to build on a program that the Colonias Program had successfully developed. Central to the Colonias Program's gaining an effective and trusted presence in colonias was the creation of a cadre (company) CADRE - The US software engineering vendor which merged with Bachman Information Systems to form Cayenne Software in July 1996.  of lay outreach workers called promotoras. Promotoras are indigenous lay community-health and outreach workers. They are selected from the colonias, hired by the Colonias Program as Texas A&M employees, and provided extensive training. Promotoras have proven to be knowledgeable intermediators between colonias residents and persons and organizations outside the colonias, for example, providers of many types of services needed by residents. Promotoras' work is diverse. In 2002, we (May et al. 2002) documented the effectiveness of promotoras in colonias and identified five general domains of practice in promotoras' roles: information and referral, education, emotional support, community and capacity building, and advocacy. Of special interest for the CPP were the roles of information and referral and education practices that we described (May et al. 2002) as bridging cultures. Promotoras bridge community residents in two ways: horizontally, by facilitating social networks within the community, and vertically, by connecting colonias residents with critical services from outside the community. Promotoras are translators This is primarily a list of notable Western translators. Please feel free to add translators from other languages, cultures and areas of specialization. Large sublists have been split off to separate articles.  and interpreters.
   They not only take knowledge of the community
   and translate with service providers; they take
   knowledge of the service providers and translate it
   with community residents. "Translating" between
   two, often contradictory, worlds requires that
   C-HWs [promotoras] have dual competency, capacity
   for understanding and communicating in ways
   few others have. (May et al. 2002)

Promotoras, it seemed, would be a natural choice for participating with us in both the education/outreach and the research parts of CPP. Education and outreach. To prepare promotoras to conduct community education and outreach regarding environmental health, the CPP primary investigator and co-investigators used a train-the-trainer model, as previously described (Ramos et al. 2001). Briefly, in 1999, the CERH, the CHUD, and the South Texas Promotora Association worked together to develop and implement a pilot program that would use research, education, and outreach in the evaluation of sustainable environmental health in the colonias. This program was based on an environmental health curriculum and used a "train-the-trainer" model of education and outreach. As we stated previously (Ramos et al. 2001),
   [The program] was designed to teach promotoras
   working in colonias about the environment and
   about environmental health and to prepare them
   to teach their neighbors what they have learned.

On the basis of data from the Texas Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), agency of the U.S. Public Health Service since 1973, with headquarters in Atlanta; it was established in 1946 as the Communicable Disease Center.  (CDC See Control Data, century date change and Back Orifice.

CDC - Control Data Corporation
) regarding environmental health conditions along the U.S.-Mexico border, a bilingual bi·lin·gual  
a. Using or able to use two languages, especially with equal or nearly equal fluency.

 curriculum was developed, with content based on a preintervention assessment of health concerns of colonia residents. The authors set instruction at the middle school level so that individuals with varying educational backgrounds would be more likely to understand the scientific and medical principles. The promotora training was carried out at colonia community resource centers (Ramos et al. 2001).

Once the promotoras completed the education/outreach training, the next step was to devise a plan by which they would educate their neighbors. In two additional training sessions, promotoras worked with the principal and co-investigators to create a community education outreach Education outreach is a variation of Cause Marketing and/or Strategic Philanthropy and other focused Public Affairs activities that are specific to education. These programs may include:
  • Community events that occur in local venues or online;
 strategy and a set of pedagogical ped·a·gog·ic   also ped·a·gog·i·cal
1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of pedagogy.

2. Characterized by pedantic formality: a haughty, pedagogic manner.
 tools to implement that plan. The community education outreach strategy developed in the first session called for promotoras to organize and implement a series of environmental health community outreach education seminars (COES COES College of Engineering and Science
COES Committee on Open Electronic Systems
COES Clinical Operational Equipment Sets
) throughout the community in the community resource centers, in meeting halls of churches and organizations throughout the community, and in homes. In the COES, the promotoras made presentations and led discussions that informed resident participants about environmental health issues in their community and possible positive strategies that would help protect against these health hazards health hazard Occupational safety Any agent or activity posing a potential hazard to health. Cf Physical hazard. . The second training session involved interactive activities for devising and practicing pedagogical skills to sharpen sharp·en  
tr. & intr.v. sharp·ened, sharp·en·ing, sharp·ens
To make or become sharp or sharper.

 teaching techniques and enhance self-confidence in making presentations and leading discussions. The promotoras' previous training and experience as lay community-health and outreach workers in the Colonias Program were valued assets in two ways. First, they had some communication skills and techniques upon which to build. Second, they already knew their community and therefore were invaluable in evolving a strategy of education/outreach that made sense.

That all parties recognized the personal benefits to be gained facilitated these sessions, as well as the entire training process. The promotoras valued the CPP because it provided a direct benefit to their community. Conversely con·verse 1  
intr.v. con·versed, con·vers·ing, con·vers·es
1. To engage in a spoken exchange of thoughts, ideas, or feelings; talk. See Synonyms at speak.

, the primary investigator and co-investigators valued the participation of promotoras because they were community residents and provided a trusted, indigenous means of engaging colonias residents in the community education/outreach and the research, something we as outsiders could not have done well. Promotoras as research team members facilitate strong partnerships among colonias residents, university researchers, public health specialists, and clinicians (Ramos et. al. 2001).

Essentially, the community educated itself from the inside out, using methods of communication that it understood and trusted.

Community-based research. Building outreach around indigenous educators improves the chances of reaching and educating community residents, we believe, but does not guarantee success. Therefore, to measure the extent to which residents had learned from the outreach, inclusion of an assessment research component in the CPP was important.

Given the challenges to the CPP described above, we concluded that, as outsiders, trying to conduct interviews ourselves would only heighten height·en  
v. height·ened, height·en·ing, height·ens
1. To raise or increase the quantity or degree of; intensify.

2. To make high or higher; raise.

 any barriers that already existed and, in the end, would call into question the validity and reliability of the research results. We chose, therefore, a research methodology called participatory action research (PAR). PAR methodology is constructed on four integrated processes--planning, action, observation, and reflection--that continue in successive cycles until research objectives are attained at·tain  
v. at·tained, at·tain·ing, at·tains
1. To gain as an objective; achieve: attain a diploma by hard work.

. Each successive cycle builds upon the previous one, integrating results from the former cycle into planning and action of the next cycle. Weissberg and Greenberg (1998) explained that this research methodology operates from an ecologic e·col·o·gy  
n. pl. e·col·o·gies
a. The science of the relationships between organisms and their environments. Also called bionomics.

b. The relationship between organisms and their environment.
 approach, involving practitioners, residents, researchers, and other active members of the research context. This assures that the research design and implementation take advantage of the strengths, competencies, and potential promises in the research setting. The outcomes are relationships and continued communication long beyond the actual research project, and richer validity of the research outcomes. PAR suits well the context of the colonias because it addresses the communication challenges and issues of trust presented to the CPP.

Using PAR also allowed us to address several important philosophical issues raised when conducting community-based research in colonias. One of those philosophical issues was how, in the context of the challenges presented by colonias, local, particular knowledge could be validly and reliably retrieved. Although this issue is always present in research, it becomes a major test in colonias. In part the question is one of gaining entrance, legitimacy LEGITIMACY. The state of being born in wedlock; that is, in a lawful manner.
     2. Marriage is considered by all civilized nations as the only source of legitimacy; the qualities of husband and wife must be possessed by the parents in order to make the offspring
, and trust among the residents; however, how to retrieve local knowledge with minimal distortion distortion, in electronics, undesired change in an electric signal waveform as it passes from the input to the output of some system or device. In an audio system, distortion results in poor reproduction of recorded or transmitted sound.  and/or reconstruction is also a concern. The epistemologic problem here is akin to an issue raised by Heisenberg as a problem of complementarity com·ple·men·tar·i·ty
1. The correspondence or similarity between nucleotides or strands of nucleotides of DNA and RNA molecules that allows precise pairing.

 in knowledge production (Heisenberg 1972a, 1972b, 1972c). The problem, Heisenberg asserted, is that the research "instrument" used to gather data has a potential transforming effect upon what is observed. Applied in the context of the colonias and gathering qualitative data for this research, the challenges were to a) identify those best suited to gathering and interpreting local knowledge; b) decide who qualified as an expert; and c) agree on the meaning of objectivity. Failure to address these issues could undermine the reliability and validity of the local knowledge gathered.

In traditional academic scientific research, the primary assumptions are that professional researchers are the experts, the seekers and receptacles of knowledge, trained to be objective through years of education and practice aimed at removing all that is personal and particular from the data, the context from which it comes, and the analysis. Further, the assumption is that knowledge gained in this fashion strives toward universality (i.e., is removed from its local context, stripped of its particularity par·tic·u·lar·i·ty  
n. pl. par·tic·u·lar·i·ties
1. The quality or state of being particular rather than general.

, and transformed into knowledge applicable beyond local and regional particularities). These assumptions are grounded in some form of a positivist pos·i·tiv·ism  
1. Philosophy
a. A doctrine contending that sense perceptions are the only admissible basis of human knowledge and precise thought.

 epistemology epistemology (ĭpĭs'təmŏl`əjē) [Gr.,=knowledge or science], the branch of philosophy that is directed toward theories of the sources, nature, and limits of knowledge. Since the 17th cent. .

In the CPP, and in deciding to use the PAR methodology, we privileged different epistemologic assumptions that better fit the CPP. Our understanding of objectivity gave primacy pri·ma·cy  
n. pl. pri·ma·cies
1. The state of being first or foremost.

2. Ecclesiastical The office, rank, or province of primate.
 to objectivity rooted in the concept of verstehen (Weber Weber, river, United States
Weber (wē`bər), river, c.125 mi (200 km) long, rising in the Uinta Mts., N central Utah, and flowing north and northwest to join the Ogden River at Ogden. The combined stream flows to the Great Salt Lake.
 1949), which asserts that objective knowledge is knowledge laced with local meanings and is produced from, rooted in, and connected to the local context. Privileging verstehen led logically to expanding the definition of "expert" in the context of our project. If verstehen objectivity incorporates the particular and its meanings, then locals can and should be recognized as experts in their own right, in addition to and distinct from the professional researchers as experts. As experts, locals are both the bearers BEARERS, Eng. crim. law. Such as bear down or oppress others; maintainers. In Ruffhead's Statutes it is employed to translate the French word emparnours, which signifies, according to Kelham, undertakers of suits. 4 Ed. III. c. 11. This word is no longer used in this sense.  and gatherers of legitimate knowledge. Pena and Gallegos (1997) captured the essence of this methodologic idea:
   Collaborative research must be governed by emic
   values, that is, the true claims and procedures for
   gathering knowledge that are generated by the
   community of local participants. Emic values are
   necessary for understanding the strategy underlying
   collaborative research, since local people are
   involved not as "informants" or "subjects", but as
   co-investigators who define the research question
   and develop methods for generating evidence. In
   the context of environmental action research, collaboration
   must be based on recognition of local
   knowledge as the fundamental basis for building
   an understanding of ecosystems and watersheds.
   The research procedures must go toward building
   the transference of research skills from the scholar
   to local participants.

Having made these points, it is important to note that in applying PAR and the methodologic philosophies underlying the CPP, we did not not lose sight of the traditional tenets of scientific research. First, the professional, trained researchers were still full research participants alongside the local collaborators, engaged and active at every phase of research. Further, we emphasize that PAR is a theory-based methodology, a central requirement of the traditional research paradigm. PAR intends to expand theory by holding the professional researchers, and their knowledge, in a tight, reflective Refers to light hitting an opaque surface such as a printed page or mirror and bouncing back. See reflective media and reflective LCD.  dialectic dialectic (dīəlĕk`tĭk) [Gr.,= art of conversation], in philosophy, term originally applied to the method of philosophizing by means of question and answer employed by certain ancient philosophers, notably Socrates.  with local knowledge and local experts. The PAR establishes a counterpoint counterpoint, in music, the art of combining melodies each of which is independent though forming part of a homogeneous texture. The term derives from the Latin for "point against point," meaning note against note in referring to the notation of plainsong.  relationship in which professional university-based scientific researchers with their penchant for universal knowledge work closely and collaboratively with community-based researchers and their penchant for particular knowledge. The process exposes professional researchers and their scientific knowledge to substantive incongruities, inconsistencies, and inaccuracies exposed in the context of local knowledge and experts. Conversely, the counterpoint exposes the locals' particular knowledge and experience to a broadening perspective of the professional researchers' abstract knowledge.

This, then, is the philosophical and methodologic framework under which the CPP research team was constituted.

The CPP in Action

The CPP research team consisted of eight promotoras from Cameron Park and three principal and co-investigators from Texas A&M. The promotoras were included in multiple stages of the research. The research design was developed around the education/outreach intervention, and as that curriculum was developed collaboratively with the promotoras, the content of the research design was also collaboratively defined.

An example of that collaborative process is the development of the research instrument--the interview protocol. The protocol questions were initially constructed by a co-investigator, after which it was reviewed and critiqued by the promotoras, who were the research interviewers. The process was as follows. One of the co-investigators and two local staff members of CHUD's Colonias Program designed a 3-day training seminar with three major objectives. First, the training seminar involved the promotoras in reviewing the protocol questions, inviting their feedback as to whether the questions were relevant to the project and whether they were well stated. The second purpose of the seminar was to train the promotoras in research interviewing techniques. The promotoras, now familiar with the questions, were required to conduct a series of mock interviews A mock interview is videotaped interview, and one of the very best ways to prepare for a real life employment interview. It allows you to gain experience and practice in answering questions which you are likely to be asked by the recruiter.  in which they were critiqued by the other promotoras and the trainers. The training provided valuable feedback about the validity of questions and about interviewing techniques in the specific context of a colonia, and revisions were made as consensus deemed important. Promotoras were clearly both learners and teachers throughout the training seminar, and the final interview protocol and process were rendered more reliable and valid because of their input.

After the interviewer training, the promotoras then participated with one of the co-investigators and a CHUD Colonias Program staff member in finalizing the design for carrying out the interviews. Promotora involvement included participation in sampling and in development of research strategies. For example, it was determined that promotoras would always work in interview teams. In addition to providing security for promotoras moving about the community, this measure also created a productive research strategy in which the promotoras alternated between conducting the interview and manually recording the answers. After each interview, the team would review and complete the interview narrative.

Research roles. Working with promotoras as research collaborators, we as professional researchers had to confront several aspects of conducting research we had not previously encountered, and we had to reconsider re·con·sid·er  
v. re·con·sid·ered, re·con·sid·er·ing, re·con·sid·ers
1. To consider again, especially with intent to alter or modify a previous decision.

 traditional views--specifically, regarding questions of research roles.

Involving promotoras as researchers meant that the role of local participants must necessarily be understood as more than that of informant informant Historian Medtalk A person who provides a medical history , because they were in fact full collaborators in the research process. They were participants in designing the instrument, shaping the field research agenda, interviewing colonias residents, and analyzing and interpreting the data. The professional academic researchers were trainers, confidants, project managers, and sounding boards, whereas local residents were interviewers, data quality control monitors, and research designers. Throughout this process, a partnership evolved whereby professional and local researchers each contributed their unique knowledge and expertise, alternately acting as teachers and learners with each other.

Such collaboration will continue into the data analysis and interpretation, which we are just beginning. Promotoras will provide input about analysis of the data they collected, just as they did in identifying the research problems and carrying out the interviews. The principal and co-investigators and/or graduate students will provide much of the direct analyses of data. The promotoras will review drafts of analysis results as they are produced and provide their interpretative in·ter·pre·ta·tive  
Variant of interpretive.


In addition to changing research role perceptions, involving locals in research roles also opened up two other philosophical issues. The first issue concerns who qualifies as an expert and how authority should be assigned as·sign  
tr.v. as·signed, as·sign·ing, as·signs
1. To set apart for a particular purpose; designate: assigned a day for the inspection.

. As inclusion of local participants as research collaborators proceeded, differences in opinion--sometimes sharp--had to be confronted and resolved (e.g., differences about decision-making authority on issues of research strategy, the scheduling of interviews, how community residents should be approached and what they should be told about the project, and how benefits to the community would be realized). From those problems and their resolutions arose the conviction that, in the research process, we should listen to two types of research experts--external/generalist experts and indigenous/particularist experts, both of which have their specialized spe·cial·ize  
v. spe·cial·ized, spe·cial·iz·ing, spe·cial·iz·es

1. To pursue a special activity, occupation, or field of study.

 competencies and contributions and both of which are crucial to valid and reliable knowledge.

Another issue concerned the matter of the control of research and of the knowledge produced. Who had authoritative control over the gathering, analysis, and ultimate dissemination dissemination Medtalk The spread of a pernicious process–eg, CA, acute infection Oncology Metastasis, see there  of knowledge? In the traditional research paradigm, the professional academic researcher possesses primary control over the research process and over where, when, and in what form knowledge will be disseminated disseminated /dis·sem·i·nat·ed/ (-sem´i-nat?ed) scattered; distributed over a considerable area.

Spread over a large area of a body, a tissue, or an organ.
. That model did not fit comfortably in the CPP. Because local residents and communities shared collaborative responsibility for research design, implementation, and analysis, local participants staked a claim to share in decisions about when, where, and in what form that knowledge would be disseminated. By no means is this claim exclusive; rather, the claim is to share determinations, because the uses and dissemination of what was once solely resident property (i.e., local knowledge and community) are at stake.

Judging the CPP as a Model of PAR

One measure of the success of CPP as a model of PAR is the degree to which we were able to create and sustain a working environment that simultaneously recognized and respected the legitimacy of locals and outsiders, of nonprofessionals and professionals, and of particular and universal knowledge in the research process. As a way of judging the CPP, we set out a logic model (Figure 1) as a measuring tool.


In Figure 1, the logic of the traditional scientific research process is expressed by the following elements: theoretical knowledge (scientific theory) [right arrow] research questions (hypotheses generation) [right arrow] data gathering [right arrow] conceptual generalizations [right arrow] and, finally, incorporation of the generalizations into, and thereby the expansion of, theoretical knowledge and hypothesis development. In this logic, research is tied inextricably in·ex·tri·ca·ble  
a. So intricate or entangled as to make escape impossible: an inextricable maze; an inextricable web of deceit.

 to a larger, abstract body of scientific theory generated by generations of scientists through formally designed and controlled research methodologies. In Figure 1, there are four other elements: local knowledge [right arrow] problem-based/action questions [right arrow] data gathering [right arrow] conceptual particularization par·tic·u·lar·ize  
v. par·tic·u·lar·ized, par·tic·u·lar·iz·ing, par·tic·u·lar·iz·es
1. To mention, describe, or treat individually; itemize or specify.

, and finally, incorporation of the particularizations into, and thereby the expansion of, local knowledge and community problem solving problem solving

Process involved in finding a solution to a problem. Many animals routinely solve problems of locomotion, food finding, and shelter through trial and error.
. Together, the two kinds of elements shown in Figure 1 are necessary for a genuine PAR methodology. But--and this is absolutely essential--the condition that those elements must generate is a sustained dialectic between and among the opposing elements in each stage of the research process logic model.

Using Figure 1 as the measure, the CPP can be judged as largely successful. In stage 1 (research questions/problem-based action questions) the dialectic worked well. The research questions generated further questions from both the scientific literature on environmental health and hazards and the social science literature on environmental policies and socioeconomic so·ci·o·ec·o·nom·ic  
Of or involving both social and economic factors.


of or involving economic and social factors

Adj. 1.
 and cultural variables related to environmental health and health conditions in the colonias. At the same time, problem-based questions were generated from community participants related to specific environmental hazards and conditions in Cameron Park specifically and the colonias more generally. The problem-based questions were in part an outgrowth of the collaborative work in the education/outreach part of CPP.

For stage 2 (data gathering), the narrative thus far clearly illustrates that a strong dialectic was established and sustained in the data gathering stage. But that is only part of the sustained dialectic. Just as important is the fact that between collaboratively generating research and problem-based questions (stage 1) and data gathering (stage 2), professionals and locals engaged in a prolonged pro·long  
tr.v. pro·longed, pro·long·ing, pro·longs
1. To lengthen in duration; protract.

2. To lengthen in extent.
 process of interview protocol development. This was an informative and formative formative /for·ma·tive/ (for´mah-tiv) concerned in the origination and development of an organism, part, or tissue.  experience for all participants, including the professional researchers.

We have just recently moved to stage 3 (generalizations and particularizations). The data are entered, cleaned, and ready for analysis. Over the next several months, graduate students, guided by the principal and co-investigators, will conduct descriptive analyses. At that point, local participants will enter the process. The descriptive results will be presented, and extended discussions of the results will follow. In part, these exchanges between local participants and professionals will focus on questions of descriptive content, noting discrepancies and returning to the data for further clarification. Iterations of this process will occur until all are satisfied that the descriptive data are understood. However, this process will also include exchanges of ideas about the meaning and interpretation of these data. These exchanges will produce further refinement of the research and problem-based action questions to be analyzed an·a·lyze  
tr.v. an·a·lyzed, an·a·lyz·ing, an·a·lyz·es
1. To examine methodically by separating into parts and studying their interrelations.

2. Chemistry To make a chemical analysis of.

. This, too, will be an iterative it·er·a·tive  
1. Characterized by or involving repetition, recurrence, reiteration, or repetitiousness.

2. Grammar Frequentative.

Noun 1.
 process, continuing to produce generalizations and particularizations.

During stage 3 of the process, considerations related to stage 4 (theoretical/local knowledge) will also enter the discussion. Together local participants and professionals will explore relevancies and applications of the generalizations and particularizations to both the larger body of literature and community-based problems. The professionals will have the primary leadership role in regard to literature, whereas the locals will hold leadership for the discussion of particular community-based problems to which the generalizations and particularizations apply. The intention is that in this process the local researchers will learn something valuable about the larger body of scientific literature and the professional researchers will learn something profound about the particular community-based problems and how the results of this research relate to them.

In addition to the model in Figure 1, the outcome of CPP as a model of PAR might be measured by another set of criteria at work in the research process. The first criterion pertains to who plays the role of an expert; the second criterion relates to the locus of the power to control in the research process. This latter criterion has three subdimensions: a) input control before any research is designed (i.e., whether research should be allowed at all in a particular community, and if it is allowed, who decides on how, when, and where it will be done); b) process control during research (i.e., decision making about research design, methodology, research personnel, data gathering, research questions, how data analysis and interpretation is done and by whom); and c) outcome control after the research has been conducted (i.e., decision making about how, when, and where knowledge is presented and used). Figure 2 illustrates these criteria as continua con·tin·u·a  
A plural of continuum.
. The poles of each continuum Continuum (pl. -tinua or -tinuums) can refer to:
  • Continuum (theory), anything that goes through a gradual transition from one condition, to a different condition, without any abrupt changes or "discontinuities"
 represent extreme positions, with the left poles representing conditions in which professional researchers are sole experts and solely in control of the research process, and the right poles representing conditions in which local researchers are in sole control. Hypothetically hy·po·thet·i·cal   also hy·po·thet·ic
1. Of, relating to, or based on a hypothesis: a hypothetical situation. See Synonyms at theoretical.

a. Suppositional; uncertain.
, the position that best represents PAR is the center of each continuum.


The reality, we discovered, is that a constant, sustained center position (zero point) does not exist in the research process. At best, the research process can strive for an average position in the center of the continuum. In the CPP, the balance of one or another of these criteria fluctuated in practice. In stage 1, the CPP started out heavily weighted to the left, with the principal and co-investigators firmly in control and acting as the experts. This situation prevailed through an initial writing of a concept paper and a proposal, after which the professionals started the process of entering the field and meeting with locals. (This all occurred in the early phase of stage 1.)

Once we entered the field, however, the dominance of professionals or locals alternated. For example, after the research and problem-based action questions were formulated for·mu·late  
tr.v. for·mu·lat·ed, for·mu·lat·ing, for·mu·lates
a. To state as or reduce to a formula.

b. To express in systematic terms or concepts.

 in stage 1, one of the co-investigators became the dominant expert, taking near total control as he developed an initial draft of the interview protocol. At the completion of the protocol draft, the locals became dominant as experts and controlled input as the protocol questions were refined and the instrument as a whole was designed. When disagreements arose regarding meaning, discussion persisted until a reasonable consensus was found. In stage 2, the locals were the experts and were very much in control of the interviews and interview processes. Their input and feedback to the professionals maintained quality control of the interviews and kept the data gathering organized and on track. Throughout the research process, tensions developed and disagreements arose, which in most cases were resolved by consensus building among the participants.


The PAR methodology worked well in the CPP. There is, however, one other value not yet noted. The earlier discussion of challenges to conducting research, education, and outreach in colonias identified ways in which colonias and their residents are isolated and have minimal political and social agency. PAR and its inclusion of local participants and knowledge engendered agency among residents, and particularly among the promotoras. The CPP brought new research and pedagogical skills to promotoras. The hope is--yet to be tested in the upcoming data analysis--that it brought new knowledge to community residents. As one promotora stated it,
   When we started the project I dreaded coming
   because I was sure it would all be in English. Then
   when I found out that we would be using both
   Spanish and English, I thought for sure that the
   information would all be information brought by
   you academics. Then I found out that we could be
   involved in saying what we thought was important
   for our community to know. I liked to be a part of
   this project and to be able to learn and share with
   others. I have learned a lot. I like doing interviews.

It is also significant that one of the promotoras involved in the CPP has been hired as the lead promotora in a replication In database management, the ability to keep distributed databases synchronized by routinely copying the entire database or subsets of the database to other servers in the network.

There are various replication methods.
 of the CPP in another colonia. She is assisting promotoras in the new community to design the project for their community.


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Address correspondence to M.L. May, Center for Housing and Urban Development, Texas A&M University, 4455 TAMU TAMU Texas A&M University
TAMU Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University
TAMU Tyler Area Macintosh Users (Tyler, Texas)
TAMU Tropical Aviation Meteorological Unit
, College Station, TX 77843-4455. Telephone: (979) 458-328. Fax: (979) 862-3174. E-mail:

The authors declare they have no conflict of interest. Received 16 May 2002; accepted 27 May 2003.

Marlynn, May Center for Environmental and Rural Health and

Center for Housing and Urban Development, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas College Station is a city in Brazos County, Texas, situated in Central Texas. It is located in the heart of the Brazos Valley. The city is located within the most populated region of Texas, near to three of the 10 largest cities in the United States - Houston, Dallas, and San , USA

Gloria J. Bowman Center for Environmental and Rural Health and

Kenneth S. Ramos Center for Environmental and Rural Health and

Larry Rincones Center for Housing and Urban Development, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA

Maria G. Rebollar Center for Environmental and Rural Health and

Center for Housing and Urban Development, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA

Mary L. Rosa Center for Environmental and Rural Health and

Center for Housing and Urban Development, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA

Josephine Saldana Center for Environmental and Rural Health and

Center for Housing and Urban Development, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA

Adelina P. Sanchez Center for Environmental and Rural Health and

Center for Housing and Urban Development, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA

Teresa Serna Center for Environmental and Rural Health and

Center for Housing and Urban Development, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA

Norma Viega Center for Housing and Urban Development, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA

Gregoria S. Villegas Center for Environmental and Rural Health and

Center for Housing and Urban Development, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA

Maria G. Zamorano Center for Environmental and Rural Health and

Center for Housing and Urban Development, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA

Irma N. Ramos

Center for Environmental and Rural Health and
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Title Annotation:Commentary
Author:Ramos, Irma N.
Publication:Environmental Health Perspectives
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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