Community Based Research


Community-based research may be carried out by a faculty member working independently, by students in a community-based course or by a student in an independent study or honors project. In the latter model students, in consultation with faculty and community partners, devote a semester or academic year to a community-based research topic that builds on projects done previously in a class or provides the groundwork for future community-based course projects.

Community-based research differs from traditional academic research in its purpose, its intended audience and how research topics are chosen. It focuses on answering questions directly related to policy or practice, has decision-makers and community members as its audience, and is driven by agency priorities rather than theory. While it employs the same rigorous standards as academic research, community-based research works to provide the data and tools a community needs in order to effect change, and, thus, serves the local community while adding knowledge to the world of scholarship. Also, members of the local community frequently have a voice in determining the central questions and scope of community-based research.

At Bowdoin, most community-based courses engage students in some version of community-based research. In the following course, the community-based research constitutes the whole course, and is part of a long-term partnership to respond to issues of affordable housing and economic insecurity in the area.

Interdisciplinary Studies 240: Maine Social Research
Professor: Craig McEwen
Community partners: Brunswick Housing Authority, Oasis Health Network

Students in this hands-on, semester-long research experience in the local community designed and conducted interviews as part of a longer-term collaborative research effort by Bowdoin students and faculty—in cooperation with Brunswick Housing Authority and Oasis Health Network—to address questions about public housing community support networks and the challenges of living without any or insufficient health insurance.

For more information on community-based research please contact Janice Jaffe at or 798-4156.