We believe that the people most impacted by an issue are best positioned to discover the root causes and solutions of that issue. They are the ones with the firsthand experience, social context, insights, and networks that are necessary to fully unearth the whole story behind a deep-rooted problem.
The Root Cause Research Center works alongside and trains community members to investigate and report community concerns. We bring together impacted community members and train them in community organizing, research, and design--all to help them tell their own data stories to the public, to policymakers, and to other connected stakeholders. We partner with local grassroots leaders to launch Community-Based Participatory Research projects. We also design inventive and interactive visuals that break down complex information for collective power building in communities.
The Root Cause Research Center is an abolitionist, grassroots-led institution grounded in Data Equity, Movement Science, and Abolitionist Planning (see Definitions below). We are actively building a new system in the American South that provides an alternative to the traditionally hierarchical and classist model of research. We lean into transformative justice by creating community-based alternatives to dehumanizing and inaccessible research institutions that use impacted community members as test subjects rather than co-investigators.
In practice, this work looks like: providing data and research training to impacted community members, community-led research initiatives into housing or other structural determinants of health, Community-Based Participatory Research projects, co-creating high dimensional reports and infographics with the community members most affected by targeted health disparity, adhering to the Global Data Ethics Project (GDEP) framework, equity audits of major institutions and programs, counter-mapping development projects in traditionally divested neighborhoods, creating community organizing explainers for canvassing or public forums, and so on.
Our Strategic Framework
We primarily work with people in the American South who have low opportunities and resources. We believe that dominant cultures create false narratives that pathologize the poor as the architects of their own harm to justify the extraction of wealth from marginalized peoples. The Root Cause Research Center focuses on challenging dominant institutional narratives and developing counter-maps in response to those narratives, with a particular focus on racial capitalism, racial banishment, and the criminalization and capitalization of poverty. Our work is rooted in scholar Ananya Roy’s concept of “a world with many souths.” We believe the conditions in the US South are an extension of plantation capitalism and are connected to the global south. Our research holds space for the radical traditions of subversive intellectualism, abolitionism, and militant research as fields of study in scholarly work. Critical to these traditions are the concepts of 1) Visibility, 2) Recognition, and 3) Representation.
We are focused on the US south because our cities and rural areas share similar problems and have faced violent retaliation in building institutionalized local power. Our approach is to let the people most impacted by policy problems be the ones coming up with the strategies for change. Instead of a “think tank” where a bunch of scholars comes up with solutions, we want to train and work with the people impacted to identify the problems, research the best solutions, and build local collective power. Our belief is that the “root cause” of most policy challenges is best known by the people impacted—and that any transformative change will be lead by them.
Data Equity is about creating an opportunity for all to reach their full potential by directly addressing systemic oppression. We do that by being:
Considerate (recursively evaluating your work in collaboration with the people impacted),
Cooperative (acknowledging power dynamics, sharing-power, and respecting the skills and wisdom of lived-experience at the table),
Inclusive (making sure the people most impacted by the issue are present from ideas to implementation),
Accountable (taking responsibility for your work and how it counteracts or is complicit with stereotypes, stigmas, and other systems of oppression), and
Flexible (We can not always have the foresight to do no harm, but we can have the integrity and agility to do better).
Analytically speaking, Movement Science is a discipline that uses data (qualitative and/or quantitative) to move people to progressive social and political action. This discipline is generally utilized by disenfranchised and systemically impacted community members who are compelled to develop deeply technical and/or investigatory skills in order to better illustrate injustices, aid self-definition, and ensure collective safety and survival. However, the term Movement Science does not have a fixed or restricted definition. The daunting complexity of social and political problems does not allow for a finite solution, approach, nor does it create a rigid, clear-cut solution-ist. Movement Scientists come from a myriad of backgrounds and generally have many skillsets that they employ in their work. This is why Movement Science, conceptually speaking, is a spectrum of practices in which practitioners employ a wide variety of communal, cultural, political, artistic, and technical skillsets in order to gain traction against convoluted systems of oppression.
The Urban Planning profession is historically rooted in white supremacist ideology that serviced 20th Century industrial and real estate capital by designing social stratification and segregation into US cities & policy. As the planning profession strives to be more inclusive, we believe this inclusivity does nothing to alter the fundamental role of professional planning in perpetuating institutional harm. In 2017, a group of UCLA graduate students in Architecture, Public Policy, and Urban Planning co-facilitated a course called, “Abolitionist Planning in Today’s Political Conjuncture” and published an abolitionist planning guide. Later that year, Geography Professor Dr. Deshonay Dozier published a response stating that “there is no room for professional planning in the abolitionist movement." Inspired by these conversations on the west coast, we want to expand the spirit and practice of abolitionist planning to the south. Dozier suggests a counter curriculum that will give students a strategy to circumvent harmful institutions. Using her suggestion: “We can divert from training students and ourselves from perpetuating institutional harm by changing the curriculum and strategy of professional planning,” we are launching the Southern Abolitionist Planning Curriculum. This curriculum will serve as a counter-narrative to institutionalized planning studies while emboldening citizens with technical knowledge in areas such as zoning, urban design, and geography to impact and protect their communities.