Engaging underrepresented communities through Public Participation in Scientific Research (PPSR) involves finding common ground and bringing together the strengths of the projects with the strengths of the communities. PPSR, science more broadly, and the environmental movement can all be enhanced by the diversity of geographically, culturally, and historically grounded perspectives, interests, priorities, experiences, practices, knowledge, and skills that underrepresented communities can bring to bear on today’s most pressing issues.
To truly succeed, PPSR must find ways not only to respect but to tap into and provide additional outlets for the expression of these capacities. Examples of strategies that have been employed in this regard include creating opportunities to involve family and friends, speaking and presenting materials written in the languages spoken at home, reaching out through bilingual media, providing familiar points of entry to PPSR (e.g. art activities, community events), meeting and working in familiar locations, and using meaningful cultural references. Each of these practices can help bridge the gap between what potential participants are already familiar with and what might otherwise be a very unfamiliar, perhaps intimidating, PPSR experience.
Celebrate Urban Birds piloted a youth development program in 2012 at three locations in NY state. Syracuse was one of those locations. Cornell Cooperative Extension agents at each location assisted in coordinating the effort. The Syracuse extension agent decided to try advertising the program on a local Spanish language radio program (Nosotros Radio) where he was welcomed by program founder Fanny Villarreal, a familiar and trusted figure in the local community. Fanny agreed to incorporate the pilot project into her youth development program, L.A.C.E. (Latino students, Advancement, Commitment, and Excellence).
When asked how she was able to convince kids to take part in the program, Fanny responded, “I talked to them, made jokes, listened. I was flexible. I let them talk. Sometimes we had no time to talk about what I wanted to talk about—but that was ok. I gave them control. I asked them ‘what do YOU want to do?’ They began to believe in me and trust me.”