Conducting research on social justice issues may at times seem like a slow process that yields little change in the real world. Yet, through the process of research, social justice questions are answered and new social justice questions get asked. Research advances the way we think about social justice through knowledge as opposed to actions. While the change might seem slow, without research, there wouldn’t be awareness of many of the social justice issues currently being tackled by non-profit organizations and our government.
In research, change and progress can be seen through the different steps of the process. Immediate change might not be seen during the time of data collection, analysis, and writing, however, once publication is reached, the paper can tremendously impact the way of thinking on a specific social justice issue. For example, the research lab I am working at this summer spent months collecting data regarding immunization and fluoride refusal with the hope of finding a link between people who refuse them. During the time of data collection and analysis, not much changed regarding a social justice issue. However, once the paper was published and was read by more influential leaders as well as fellow researchers, it began gaining recognition for the breakthrough ideas it presented. Although progress is still taking place and follow up research is currently being conducted, the initial paper inspired change and further interest in the issue.
Throughout the process of conducting public health research and publishing a paper, there are many small steps that must be accomplished before tackling the larger ones. Reaching out to communities for data collection, collecting consent from potential participants, following up with research participants, distributing incentives to participants, managing the data, encrypting data and condensing the data are only some of the many tasks that must be taken prior to engaging fully with the data set and drafting the paper. Without these many steps, the research would likely be unethical, inaccurate and misleading both to the research participants and to colleagues reading the paper. These small steps enable researchers to tackle larger ones such as analyzing the data, reaching conclusions, writing the paper and submitting for publications.
Public health research is often conducted very similarly across different labs. At the University of Washington, it is no different. The process taken is often very similar, but the results can be different. The issues being investigated by the lab I am working for this summer might seem relatively small; however, once they fit in with rest of the research being conducted on the same and similar topics, it becomes clear just how valuable it is. Much of the published research coming out of the lab provides social justice leaders with new and interesting perspectives on topics previously covered, enabling for further discussion on ways of reducing the problems. The complexity new research brings to old and new issues allows for more accurate discussions and better understood solutions.