Community-engaged research describes a framework that engages community members in research development. Rather than a research methodology, it is an approach to research that prioritizes reciprocity and community agency.
Community-engaged research recognizes the strengths and expertise of those with lived experience in an issue or area. When employed effectively, it can improve the efficacy of outcomes while building trust among research participants. While community-engaged research is particularly prevalent in medical research, it is an approach that can be employed in any area of study.
Because the foundation of community-engaged research is in partnership, it requires the intentional development of relationships, collaboration and trust. Community-engaged research should also come alongside a long-term commitment to addressing local issues in the community, rather than using the research as a short-term study to inform solutions elsewhere.
Defining a Community
Community is a common word that can mean many things to many people. In the context of community-engaged research, the term "community" typically refers to a group of people with one or more meaningful characteristics in common. One of these characteristics is often — but not always — geographic location. Other shared traits may be age, ethnicity, race, gender identity or religion.
In the context of community-engaged research, "community" often refers to a group outside of academia, although this is not always the case. However, community-engaged research always goes beyond the traditional framework of academic research.
The Difference Between Community-Engaged Research and Traditional Research
While research in or on local communities is common, community-engaged research redefines this relationship to draw on community expertise and center community voices in the research scope and methodology. Rather than consider community members as subjects, community-engaged research frames community members as participants.
This is more than just a semantic shift. Community-engaged researchers work with community partners like nonprofits, community organizers, schools or health clinics to define, develop, conduct and analyze research. In traditional community research, academic researchers might go to a community to conduct research on a topic they had identified. In contrast, in community-engaged research, community partners will typically be involved from the project's inception and play a role in defining the study. They may even have initiated it.
Community partners may be engaged in any or all steps of the research process, from developing research surveys and writing funding proposals to gathering and analyzing data and presenting findings. When communities play an active role in shaping, developing and analyzing research, their involvement leads to greater participation, more substantial outcomes and long-term, systemic change.
Best Practices for Community-Engaged Research
Community-engaged research has a strong foundation in academic and public scholarship. As such, researchers have developed best practices to guide the development of community-engaged projects.
The Engage for Equity community-based participatory research (CBPR) model (adapted from Wallerstein et al., 2008 & Wallerstein and Duran, 2010) aims to capture the community and societal contexts that define partnerships, along with the range of processes and outcomes that community-engaged research projects produce.
Resources like the CBPR model help researchers develop community-engaged research projects founded on respect, reciprocity and equal power-sharing.
Using GivePulse to Support Community-Engaged Research
GivePulse believes in the power of community-engaged learning and research. We built our service-learning management platform to make it easier for educators, community partners and students to connect and collaborate.
From a searchable database of active community partners to tools to design surveys that gather quantitative and qualitative data, GivePulse provides a platform to streamline the logistics of community-engaged research.
Want to learn more about using GivePulse to support your research projects? Schedule a demo with our team today.
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