UMass Boston

The Research Approach

The Women’s Pipeline for Change and UMass Boston’s Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy formed this research partnership to facilitate a deeper understanding of what motivates and sustains—as well as what inhibits—women of color from achieving greater levels of political leadership in Massachusetts.

The project developed through this research partnership aimed to chronicle the experiences of women of color community leaders and generate knowledge to ensure better alignment of resources to support the electoral participation and leadership of women of color in Massachusetts. A research fellowship program was established at the center so that women of color community leaders, drawing on their own experiences, could explore the topics that they identified as most relevant and pressing.

Out of twenty-five women of color who applied to the fellowship program, five were selected as research fellows reflecting diverse ethnicities, ages, geographies, and political trajectories. The Women’s Pipeline for Change recruited an advisory board comprised of well-known women community leaders which selected the fellows after a two-month application and interview process. The fellows were trained, supported, and guided by an Academic Team during each phase of the project.   

The principles of Participatory Action Research (PAR) guided this research partnership. While more of an orientation than a rigid method of inquiry, PAR engages participants in collective reflection and investigation that can inform action for positive change. As a way of collecting information that acknowledges, focuses on, and reflects the experiences of those living in a community, it draws directly on the perspectives and experiences of community members in all phases of research. PAR strives to be collaborative, experiential, and change-oriented—and this characterizes the essence of this unique project.


This innovative research partnership provided a unique opportunity for women of color politically active in their communities to:

Identify and explore a question that they considered important

Given the tremendous value placed on lived experience in this project, fellows immersed themselves in a topic that emerged from their own experiences. They selected and refined a research question to explore and designed a methodological approach that emphasized experiential information.

Carry out a small-scale study addressing this research question

The process of identifying a topic, developing it into a research question, and then developing and implementing a research design meant that these women became active researchers. A key element of this process was the fellows’ engagement in methodical reflection and examination of their own personal and professional experiences. Each also analyzed the multiple contexts and dimensions of their communities and political environment. While each pursued her own research question, these women—as a collective—addressed several broad topics and themes. The Collective Themes section outlines some of the major themes that emerged across their respective studies.

Analyze the information collected and develop resources that will inform efforts to expand the political leadership of women of color

The fellows analyzed the data they collected and generated final products that are both accessible and useful to other women of color leaders as well as organizations and institutions working toward expanding their representation in public leadership positions.

Develop a kind of ‘sisterhood’ which they found very valuable

The Fellowship Experience section provides more in-depth accounts of the transformative role of research and shared experiences of research and politics in the lives of these women of color leaders.

Become empowered to be more effective change agents within their communities

Research can be a tool for empowerment and the research process can be transformative. This project enabled greater access to knowledge grounded in the experience, perspectives, and examples of other women of color leaders. As a result, this project was experienced as empowering and transformative.