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Participatory Research for Guaranteed Income: In Her Hands

By Katie Ragsdale, Katie Kristensen, Dr. Leah Hamilton, and Dr. Latrice Rollins

The Social Policy Institute (SPI) seeks to shift to a participatory approach throughout its research and programming. Our working definition of a participatory approach draws on the theory and practice of Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR). While CBPR is not always feasible or appropriate for the projects SPI undertakes, we are looking to shift our research approach towards a participatory one in alignment with one of our core-values: power-sharing. This case study is one of several documenting the research that SPI is working on to lead us on our participatory approach journey. More information can be found on our website .

“I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective—the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.”

– Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Where Do We Go From Here?, 1968)


Fifty-five years after Dr. King began calling for guaranteed income, residents of Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward are still advocating for it as a solution to financial insecurity. Residents of the Old Fourth Ward, where Dr. King grew up, are now among 650 Black women in three Georgia communities receiving a guaranteed basic income as part of an experimental study called the In Her Hands initiative. Both the program and our evaluation began with listening sessions: community members shared with us what they have known to be true for a long time – that the simple approach of direct, unrestricted, stable cashflow will lead to their economic security.

“I would absolutely change the EBT/food stamp program. They’re not giving it to enough people that [are] actually working and trying to make it,” one community member said, citing a structural insufficiency of one of the largest public assistance programs in the U.S. “I would make it where everybody’s eligible to receive something.” Another participant explained the Catch-22 created by childcare assistance eligibility policies that require income or employment activities: “How can we get a job and we have kids at home? Why not give us daycare first and then we can find a job?” A solution may be found in guaranteed income, a form of support to provide a minimum income to individuals and families. Such unconditional support seeks to enable everyone to achieve a minimum standard of living and thus a base level of economic stability where food, housing, and family needs can be met.

In 2022, the Georgia Resilience and Opportunity (GRO) Fund and GiveDirectly launched the ‘In Her Hands’ initiative. The initiative was organized on the principle of centering the people most impacted by racial, gender, and economic inequality. Therefore, In Her Hands seeks to support Black women experiencing economic insecurity and generate knowledge about more equitable social safety net alternatives. Black women are the most impacted by racialized poverty: even though Black women have the highest participation rate in the labor force, they have the lowest levels of wealth and are twice as likely to live beneath the federal poverty line. The need for a project like this in Georgia and especially Atlanta is clear: the state has some of the most pronounced rates of racialized poverty and Atlanta has the worst income inequality in the nation.

Participatory Research Approach

SPI is partnering with Faculty Affiliate, Dr. Leah Hamilton, Professor of Social Work at Appalachian State University to evaluate the program. We are also partnering with two national experts, Dr. Latrice Rollins, Assistant Professor in the Community Health & Preventive Medicine Department at Morehouse School of Medicine and Dr. Naomi Zewde, Assistant Professor at UCLA who each bring expertise in community-based research, racial justice, and social policy.

Our evaluation of In Her Hands integrates a CBPR design, an approach that actively involves the community in all aspects of the research process. This approach can be found in two distinct yet interconnected aspects: the ideation and design of the program itself, and the design, implementation, and dissemination of the research. Informed by extensive community listening sessions, In Her Hands was designed to provide unrestricted cash assistance directly to Black women. Further, the program randomly assigned participants to either receive 24 equal monthly payments or a lump sum of $4,300 followed by slightly lower monthly payments. These tracks were determined as some community advisors suggested that a lump sum might be useful to overcome immediate needs such as housing down payments, auto purchases, small business investments, and so on. Ultimately, the initiative will see 654 low-income Black Women living in Atlanta’s Old 4th Ward, suburban College Park, and Cuthbert, located in rural southwest Georgia, receive monthly payments averaging $850 per month over the course of two years.

Our evaluation of the initiative continues this commitment to community expertise and decision-making. We meet annually with local Community Advisory Councils as partners to collaboratively design research questions, which are then examined via a mixed methods design including biannual surveys, interviews, and public credit data. Community members edited the qualitative interview guide to make interviews less intrusive and better build trust with participants. Not only does this approach create a redress to the often extractive and intrusive nature such questionnaires can have, but it also produces more accurate and relevant data allowing for greater use and benefit to both researchers and the community.

Progress and Challenges

The In Her Hands initiative is currently six months into its research journey. During data collection, researchers have received valuable feedback from participants, who have highlighted the positive impact of the initiative on their lives, such as being able to pay bills, save for a rainy day, and even home improvement. The impact on their financial stability is significant: women in the program have shared their plans to improve credit scores, pay off debt, and earn degrees. What’s more, many have found that the payments have helped them “[learn] to spend wisely with the help I get from this program” and that “it has really improved my life mentally and physically.”

A primary responsibility faced by both the program and our evaluation team is confidentiality. Some participants expressed concerns about revealing their participation in the programs. As one participant put it after reading the first wave summary of data collection, “I strongly believe in [privacy] and I too prefer to keep my business to myself. I won’t discuss this with anyone.” For community meetings, researchers make it clear anyone in the community is free to attend, but there may still be people who are concerned their participation in the program might be revealed should they attend. Similarly, while researchers would be interested in involving participants in the actual data collection, it would not be feasible to simultaneously maintain the confidentiality that program participants want and to which they have a right.

Instead, the SPI/Appalachian State research team is partnering with doctoral students at Clark Atlanta University, a Historically Black College and University, to collect qualitative interviews, participate in data evaluation, and take leadership on academic articles and presentations. Building the capacity of future research leaders is an additional critical component of the CBPR approach.

Future Directions

The Appalachian State/SPI research team was recently awarded new funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Washington Center for Equitable Growth to explore the debt and wealth outcomes of program participants as both are central components of addressing racial wealth gaps. We have also embarked on a partnership with Compton Pledge researchers to examine voting and civic engagement among participants. Further expansion of research includes a Photovoice project, funded by Appalachian State University. Photovoice invites participants to define success for themselves and describe how the program has impacted them through their own pictures and words.

As In Her Hands continues and expands its innovative action and policy research, there will be continued opportunity to look at how researchers have been able to engage in the participatory research process where they share decision-making power with those most impacted by the research. At SPI, we are on a learning journey with participatory approaches, and we expect the road to be perfectly imperfect as we grapple with how to move all our work toward greater participation. We invite all who are interested to come learn with us in future updates, explorations of other case studies, and learning events.