Latin American Studies ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 5-22-2019


Universities in the United States and Ecuador must meet various policy guidelines concerning research and teaching that address the needs of their local communities. In Ecuador, the higher education law requires that universities undertake research and public outreach projects that respond to societal needs. In the United States, Carnegie Research Classifications motivate universities to serve their publics by carrying out community-engaged research. However, evaluations of public outreach projects and community-engaged research have consistently demonstrated that the segments of society that are ostensibly served by these initiatives are not meaningfully engaged in them; members of the public are treated as, and accordingly act as, merely research participants or recipients of free services, not as collaborators or contributors.

At the same time, research conducted by science communication scholars, and about the practice of science communication, recommends that science communication scholarship not only should focus on disseminating scientific content to the public but also should explore how to develop sustainable relationships between academia and the broader society. Crucial to these relationships are participation and dialogue.

In line with these goals, this present study applies a combined qualitative and participatory action research approach to the exploration of two case studies of health behavior change programs, one in the United States (Eat Smart to Play Hard, abbreviated as ESPTH) and one in Ecuador (ACTIVITAL). Specifically, this study combines an interdisciplinary research approach through communication (specifically, science communication, health communication, and media theories) and community and regional planning theories and methods (specifically, decolonial theories, planning principles). This study has two research goals: (a) to determine how to develop better strategies for motivating public engagement in such programs and (b) to determine how to improve engagement among the intended target audiences and researchers of such programs through the process of working together to find new options for collaboration. To achieve these goals, this study recruited student collaborators. In the ESTPH case study, the collaborators were teens (ages 13 to 15) who volunteered as health educators for the children (ages 8 to 11) who participated in ESTPH. In the ACTIVITAL case study, the collaborators were former program participants themselves: at the time of the present study, the collaborators ranged in age from 19 to 21; while participating in the actual ACTIVITAL program their ages ranged from 13 to 15. In each case, the students collaborated with the scientists/researchers who were running the program to propose new communication strategies oriented to improve the program’s engagement with future audiences.

Building on the findings from the case studies, the present project then provides guidelines for science communication for public engagement in the Americas. As a health communication research project, this study demonstrates how the health behavior change models of socio-cognitive theory and social marketing can be applied to complement formative research criteria and to inform the design of effective health communication strategies. As a community and regional planning research project, the present study explores how to construct public engagement through participation for new collaborations among researchers and the public. Finally, unexpected findings of this study are discussed, revealing how the influence of funding agencies can affect science communication initiatives in the Americas.

Project Sponsors

Latin American & Iberian Institute




Science Communication, Participatory Action Research, Health Communication.

Document Type


Degree Name

Latin American Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

Latin American Studies

Second Department

School of Architecture and Planning

First Committee Member (Chair)

David Weiss

Second Committee Member

Judith White

Third Committee Member

Laura Harjo

Fourth Committee Member

Theodore Jojola