For the past year, community members here in Williamstown have been speaking up – on social media, in Select Board and other town meetings, and in conversations with their neighbors – about how safe (or unsafe) and welcome (or unwelcome) they feel in our town. These conversations are similar to those happening across our country as people consider what public safety means and how (and for whom) our society ensures it. At the same time, these conversations are unique to Williamstown, because they are about how people feel right here, in the place they call home.
Because we all want to live in a community where we feel safe and welcome, we want to learn more about what Williamstown does now to provide for public safety, how community members feel about their own safety, and what we can change in order to create a greater sense of well-being and belonging.
Community-based participatory research (CBPR) will help us move from these important conversations to evidence-based solutions by involving a broader cross-section of the community who might not feel comfortable speaking in public forums or on social media and analyzing community feedback as a whole rather than relying on purely anecdotal evidence. Content and thematic analysis of interviews with as many community members as possible will empower us to generate sound action plans and begin implementing them. In other words, the community’s input will fuel recommendations for changes to existing policies and programs to better and more equitably serve the community.
Like our nation as a whole, our community is increasingly recognizing that systemic inequities do not serve any of us. If we want to create a community where unrest and controversy do not threaten the well-being of citizens, we must work together to dismantle these inequities. Communities that cultivate and uphold more sustainable policies and practices produce enhanced well-being and outcomes for every citizen. We want to be this kind of community.