Profile picture of José W. Meléndez

José W. Meléndez

PhD Program Director
Assistant Professor
Phone: 541-346-2142
Office: 111 Hendricks Hall
Office Hours: By Appointment
Research Interests: Civic engagement, Design-based research, Designing for equity, Designing learning environments, Designing participatory processes, Discourse analysis, Activity systems, Latino/a/x immigrants, Collective & system level learning, Learning Sciences


Dr. Meléndez is Assistant Professor of Planning for Engaging Diverse Communities at the University of Oregon’s School of Planning, Public Policy, and Management and affiliated faculty for Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies. 

Trained as a learning scientist/urban planner at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Dr. Meléndez’ research interests center on the design of participatory and decision-making processes. Specifically, he focuses on how these processes can be redesigned to include historically underrepresented voices and foster meaningful decision making that results in more equitable outcomes.  His research investigates how language usage and tools, modes of participation, and the inclusion of new participants in these processes impact one another and influence process and policy outcomes. His analytical approach to deciphering the organization of these factors helps practitioners address and resolve contradictions and tensions they face when participants with a range of power relations are present in said processes. 

Dr. Meléndez’s research lies at the intersection of planning and the learning sciences, applying concepts and methods typically associated with the learning sciences to investigate planning contexts where findings inform and expand related practice and theory. His analytical orientation includes, for instance, discourse analysis of video/audio recording transcriptions. By using atypical methods in planning contexts, Dr. Meléndez can report on findings that describe and explain how groups of participants exhibit qualitative changes in their agency to engage in practices associated with planning activities. It is critical to show how groups of participants—especially those from underrepresented communities—change over time to assume more agentic roles in decision making. Given that these activities are situated within larger systems, the analysis of the interrelationship between collective changes by groups then connects these changes to their potential for transforming system-level practices—a prerequisite for achieving more equitable policy outcomes.

Dr. Meléndez currently has four research strands going:

1. Work being finished from his doctoral dissertation that investigated the collective and system level learning of participatory budgeting in Chicago’s 49th Ward. This was a 3-year ethnographic case study that used data collected from video/audio recording to then analyze the transcripts using discourse analysis methods. The research has yielded multiple findings, including the identification of civic capacities that are key to moving individual participants’ ideas into collaboration and the role of claims-making ability for predominantly Spanish-speaking immigrants. The research has also differentiated various aspects of what is referred to as expansive learning. Expansive learning moves beyond just new knowledge and skills, and into the creation of new tools and language by participants as they shift their cognitive awareness to now include traditionally-absent participants. 

To read more about this strand of research please see the following publications:

Meléndez, J. W. & Martinez-Cosio, M. (2021). Differentiating Participation: Identifying and Defining Civic Capacities Used by Latino Immigrants in Participatory Budgeting. City & Community.

Meléndez, J. W. (2020). Latino immigrants in civil society: Addressing the double-bind of participation for expansive learning in participatory budgeting. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 1-27.

Meléndez, J. W., & Martinez-Cosio, M. (2019). Designing for equitable civic engagement: Participatory design and discourse in contested spaces. In the Journal of Civil Societydoi: 10.1080/17448689.2018.1559471

Meléndez, J. W., & Parker, B. (2019). Learning in participatory planning processes: Taking advantage of concepts and theories across disciplines. In the Journal of Planning Theory & Practicedoi:10.1080/14649357.2018.1558748.

Meléndez, J. W., Radinsky, J. , Vossoughi, S. , Marin, A. , Bang, M. , Nolan, C. , & Schmidt, A. (2018). Community-based design partnerships: Examples from a new generation of CHAT/DBR. In J. Kay & R. Luckin (Eds.), Rethinking learning in the digital age: Making the learning sciences count. 13th International Conference of the Learning Sciences(ICLS) 2018(pp. 1312–1319). London, UK: International Society of the Learning Sciences.

2. The second research strand began in August of 2018, with a focus on immigrants and their communities across the state of Oregon. In collaboration with graduate level research assistants, Dr. Meléndez conducted a multiphase, cross-sectional study titled, “Oregon’s Decision-Making Bodies: Diverse and Equitable Representation.” Specifically, the study highlights findings related to boards and commissions involving members of the public at the city, county, and state levels. The research documented the role and function of the decision-making bodies inventoried in this study and the degree to which, during the time of the study, they were demographically representative of the various communities they impact. Additionally, the analysis of interview demonstrate that these groups offered immigrant members of the public opportunities to develop new skills, collaborate in ways that expand their networks, acquire new knowledge on the intricacies of how government works, and expand members’ concepts of the potential benefits and limitations of government work. Five graduate research assistants have worked on this project and three of them are co-authoring four journal articles with Dr. Meléndez.

To read more about this strand of research please see the following publications:

The Labor Education Research Center’s report “A State of Immigrants:  New Research on the Immigrant Experience in Oregon is now out. You can read Chapter 3 on “The Landscape of Civic Participation Among Immigrants: Documenting Service on Decision-Making Bodies as a Third Type of Civic Engagement Activities” Meléndez, J.W., Hoff, C.G., Rausch, L., Graciosa, M.K. & Renirie, A. (2021). 

3. The third research strand is a Participant Action Research (PAR) grant, funded by the Sociological Initiatives Foundation. The grant will investigate structural barriers that limit participation of Latinos in municipal government in Lane County (LC). This collaborative is with the Latino/a/x Leaders Working Group (Latino/a/x LWG) from across Lane County. Our research will investigate how the Latino community could gain more political representation, influence, and power. Centro Latino Americano, a local community organization, is the fiscal agent and has worked since the 1970’s to build bridges for a stronger community through its social and civic programing to the Latino population in LC. This study will examine how the design and structure of local government across different jurisdictions in Lane County, Oregon, create institutional system-level barriers for Latinos/a/x leaders who attempt to engage in the various political arenas. These barriers, we hypothesize, prevent the emergence of a political power base for the Latino community. Subsequently, the research will aim to show how the barriers identified perpetuate the disposition that the various access points for engaging with local governments is not meant for Latinos/a/x leaders.

Stay tuned for future publications emerging from this new strand of research.

4. The fourth and emerging strand of research builds on the innovative approach looking at decision-making bodies in Oregon and expands it to look at disaster and resilience planning. This National Science Foundation sponsored research is titled the Cascadia Coastlines and Peoples Hazards Research hub (Cascadia CoPes hub). It is a 5-year research grant that begins in the fall of 2021. The Cascadia CoPes hub will inform and enable integrated hazard assessment, mitigation, and adaptation—including comprehensive planning, policy making, and engineering—through targeted fundamental scientific advances and modeling co-produced in sustained collaboration with coastal communities. A comprehensive, inclusive, coproduced approach to advancing hazard assessment and mitigation will increase coastal communities’ adaptive capacity and broaden participation in achieving equitable and just disaster risk reduction.  Dr. Meléndez’ system level approach to community engagement that is taught in his PPPM 610 course will be used to translate STEM knowledge by decision-making bodies along the coastline to ensure under-represented communities have a voice in how to plan for environmental change and resilience. Collaborating institutions include: Oregon State University, University of Washington, Humboldt State University, Washington State University, Georgia Tech, Arizona State University, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

For more detailed information on the NSF Cascadia CoPe Hub Research you can visit

Stay tuned for future publications emerging from this new strand of research.

Additional research and applied work

Dr. Meléndez is constantly reflecting on how to train future professional public servants. His praxial pedagogical approach moves beyond just depositing knowledge and skills to students and instead focuses on the development of their dispositions towards new ways of seeing the world and their role in it as historical actors. As such, Dr. Meléndez has also published about his pedagogical approach:

Meléndez, J. W. (2018). Invited commentary: Aligning our pedagogy and practices with our cultural competency goals. In the eJournal of Public Affairs.

Lastly, Dr. Meléndez leads half-day professional development workshops focused on improving teaching effectiveness for instructors in the social and applied sciences at the annual Urban Affairs Association conference.