Community Based Participatory Design Research

Voices of Food Insecurity: exploring barriers and strategies to healthy food access

We are in the middle of a Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) project where we are working with individuals to understand and better qualify their experiences getting food. CBPR is research conducted in a way that is inclusive of the voices and experiences of the members of the community in which the research is taking place. The participants are members of the community and are continuously involved in shaping the research and helping analyze the data so that the end result is the best representation of their experiences possible.

There is no uniform experience of food insecurity. Instead, food insecurity is a spectrum that ranges from consistently facing hunger to having to make trade-offs in order to feed oneself and one’s family.

People use a variety of tools and programs in order to get food – ranging from public transportation to food pantries and federal safety net programs. Technologies like desktop computers and mobile phones also play a role in helping people access food in their communities.

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However, even with these tools and resources, the statistics and everyday lived experiences of people suggest that food insecurity still persists for many people. An understanding of the barriers that people face in accessing food, and the limitations of current tools and resources will help us understand how to develop new approaches to improve community food access.

To explore this issue, we are using a community-based participatory research approach in which university researchers collaborate with people directly impacted by an issue to formulate a project that examines a public concern. Guided by values of equity and participation, projects using this approach collectively decide on goals and methods with the aim of producing public knowledge that builds capacity in the community and contributes to social change in an action-oriented way.

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We are using this approach to explore four questions:

1. What are the different experiences that people have with food insecurity?
2. What barriers prevent people and their families from accessing and eating healthy and culturally-appropriate food?
3. What does personal and family food security look like for different people?
4. What strategies, developed by the food insecure community, could support people in realizing their own personal and familial food security?

We plan to conduct three research activities to explore these questions:

The first thing we have done is a series of multimedia-enhanced interviews with 26 people experiencing food insecurity who either work, live, or access food in Boulder. We have seen their experiences getting food through their eyes. And through this, we have learned about their barriers in accessing food and the tools they use to make getting food easier.

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Second, we conducted a series of participatory data analysis workshops, where we have worked with people affected by food insecurity to analyze the transcribed interview data from the first activity. In these workshops, we looked for common challenges that people face and unique experiences described in the data.

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Where we are going next, is to use our results to develop community design workshops, where we will use design-based research activities to work with participants to envision new ways for how we could improve food access. The participants will be people who have experienced food insecurity and we will work together to identify specific, tangible ideas that can be implemented.