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Oral Histories as Critical Qualitative Inquiry in Community Health Assessment.

Health Educ Behav; 44(5): 705-715, 2017 Oct.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-28892652
Qualitative methods such as focus groups and interviews are common methodologies employed in participatory approaches to community health assessment to develop effective community health improvement plans. Oral histories are a rarely used form of qualitative inquiry that can enhance community health assessment in multiple ways. Oral histories center residents' lived experiences, which often reveal more complex social and health phenomena than conventional qualitative inquiry. This article examines an oral history research component of the Little Village Community Health Assessment, a collaborative research effort to promote health equity in an urban, Mexican ethnic enclave. We collected of 32 oral histories from residents to provide deeper, more grounded insight on community needs and assets. We initially used thematic data analysis. After analytic peer debriefings with the analysis team, we found the process inadvertently reductionist and instead opted for community listening events for participatory data analysis, knowledge translation, and dissemination of findings. Oral histories were most meaningful in their original audio form, adding to a holistic understanding of health by giving voice to complex problems while also naming and describing concepts that were culturally unique. Moreover, the oral histories collectively articulated a counternarrative that celebrated community cultural wealth and opposed the mainstream narrative of the community as deprived. We argue for the recognition and practice of oral histories as a more routine form of qualitative inquiry in community health assessment. In the pursuit of health equity and collaboratively working toward social justice, oral histories can push the boundaries of community health assessment research and practice.