Community-based Research

**The material presented here is adapted from previous website guidelines and draws on a thoughtful and thorough paper generated by the students of CUST804 in 2021 under the guidance of Dr. Ayca Tomac; see their entire paper, including a list of published resources, here.**


A desire for a positive environment to support community-based social justice research was a key motivation behind the establishment of the Graduate Program in Cultural Studies at Queen’s in 2008. At that time, Dr. Richard Day coined the term “Community-based Research and Action” or “COBRA” to mark a form of non-extractive research done in and with community with the goal of contributing to positive change and empowerment. While we continue to hold these values, we have now adopted a term in more common use: Community-based Research (CBR).

Several other names, acronyms, and frameworks for community-based research exist (Participatory Action Research (PAR), Community-based Participatory Research (CBPR), etc.). The name is less important than the reasons for doing it and the way it is done. The emphasis in our program is on decolonial, grassroots, creative, and anti-oppressive modes of inquiry, knowledge production, and action. Continued, sustained, and expansive relationships shape CBR projects, in contrast to investigator-led “consultation,” “engagement,” or “participation” exercises.

Preparation and Practicalities

It can be difficult to fit CBR into the finite timelines and limited resources of a graduate degree. With this in mind we recommend strongly that students work with communities they are already a part of, or know well — or that their supervisor knows well. We encourage supervisors and students to think very carefully about feasibility, designing projects that are small enough and flexible enough to yield results even if relationships go in a different direction than first anticipated. MA students should be especially aware of the challenges involved. Given constraints of time, resources, and academic requirements, some projects may in the end be more accurately described as “community-engaged” than “community-based,” but we value work grounded in terms of community agency and researcher humility. Students who understand their work as CBR are encouraged to include a community representative on their examining committee (see Resources, below). 

Ethics Review (GREB)

The university requires formal research ethics clearance from the General Research Ethics Board (GREB) for all academic research with “human subjects.” A CBR project typically begins with a preliminary consultation phase with the community to define the terms and scope of the research project. GREB approval does not have to take place before this consultation begins, but students are advised to seek the guidance of their supervisor or the Cultural Studies REB before consultation to be aware of any ethical issues that may arise even at this preliminary stage. In some cases, community agencies and partners may have their own ethics procedures to be accommodated. Indigenous research has its own guidelines. GREB review can several months, but the project can also be adjusted after approval, so students are encouraged not to delay on this process. Preparation of the project proposal and GREB application should proceed in tandem; it is up to the supervisor which should be completed first.


  • CBR can be presented in the form of a conventional thesis (introduction, chapters, conclusion), or a portfolio of multiple modes or media of knowledge mobilization and research. See the SGSPA document General Forms of Theses for further information. 
  • whatever the format, an analytical/theoretical component is required, which should include discussion of choice of methods and a review of relevant theory and literature, and which could include or be in the form of autoethnography, field notes, etc.
  • documentation of ephemeral outputs or activities can be included as part of the final submission, described as part of a discursive or analytical component, and/or integrated into a creative or advocacy component


  • Some funding is available to PhD students via the Graduate Dean’s Doctoral Field Research Fund and the (FAS) Dean’s Award for Project or Portfolio PhD Research. MA students can apply for internal funding from Cultural Studies for some expenses.
  • The new Indigenous Community Research Fund (ICRF), administered through SGSPA, allows for various expenses such as food, venue rental, gifts, and honoraria for knowledge keepers in Indigenous communities. Contact Monica Corbett for further information.
  • Examiners outside an academic institution are eligible for a $400 honorarium through the School of Graduate Studies. Contact Rose DaSilva for further information.
  • The Cultural Studies Community-based Research Committee organizes various events and discussions throughout the year: watch for notice of their first meeting.