Community Partner Voices

Community Engaged Research in the Real World: Challenges and Solutions

The Community Engaged Core (CEC) of The Center of Excellence for Health Disparities in Our Nation’s Capital (CEHD) seeks to cultivate strong, collaborative relationships between the CEHD-CEC and community-based organizations (CBOs) to promote community-academic research partnerships as a way of addressing health disparities.  Through its funding of four capacity-building projects in 2014 CEC supported projects of local CBOs aimed at evaluating quality improvement of their services or programs as a starting point for building research and evaluation infrastructure. Examples of funded projects include database development for systematic data collection, survey development, and curriculum improvement.  Members of the CEC team were available to help in the design, implementation, and dissemination of the project.  CEC also provided technical support or identified academic experts, when needed.

Meet Our Community Partners

The African Women’s Cancer Awareness Association is dedicated to eliminate disparities in awareness, prevention, and treatment of cancer for Africans. We make the difference in cancer care for people of African descent. http://www.awcaa.org/

The mission of Nueva Vida is to inform, support and empower Latino families whose lives are affected by cancer, and to advocate for and facilitate the timely access to state of the art cancer care, including screening, diagnosis, treatment and high-quality care.
http://www.nueva-vida.org/

The Primary Care Coalition (PCC) works with the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, five hospitals in the county, 12 independent safety-net clinics, school-based health centers, and a network of volunteer providers to ensure that all low-income, uninsured members of our community have access to health care.
http://www.primarycarecoalition.org/

Breathe DC's mission is to ensure that every breath counts by promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing lung disease, through advocacy, education, and program services, especially in communities affected by health disparities. http://breathedc.org/

Each community partner received a mini-grant to implement a project in partnership with the Center for Excellence in Health Disparities Community Engagement Core to enhance the organization’s evaluation, research, and training capacity.

Partnership Activities

Data Collection

Two organizations used the opportunity to improve their ability to collect data about their activities and outcomes. Effective data collection is an essential capacity for community-based organizations (CBOs). It allows an organization to demonstrate their efficacy, have standardized data for use in planning and implementing research, seeking funding and advocating for the populations they serve. Enhancing data collection capacity is an important benefit that CBOs can gain from partnering with academic researchers. In turn, academic researchers stand to benefit from creating partnerships with organizations that can play critical roles in health disparities research.  An important lesson learned in these efforts is to  anticipate learning from trial and error while developing data collection capacity.  

Training to Build Research Capacity

One partner, Nueva Vida, had a track record of developing and implementing research studies. Their goal was then to develop training for other CBOs to help them build their research capacity. The different perspectives of the CBO and the academic researchers working together on this project enriched both partners and improved the product.

Engaging Clinical Sites in Research

The Montgomery County Primary Care Coalition worked with CEHD researchers to create a process for engaging their network of safety-net clinical sites in future research activities. The researchers helped them with the process and in turn, those sites can provide more willing and able partners for a range of community based studies.

Improve Evaluation Processes to Demonstrate Effectiveness

Partnering with academic researchers can also help CBOs improve their evaluation processes and be able to demonstrate their effectiveness to the community and to funders.

Dissemination of Research Findings

Partnerships with academic institutions can support the broader dissemination of research findings from CBOs.

Benefits for academic researchers

Access to Study Populations

CBO’s can provide access to study populations and often have the trust of the communities they serve.

Real World Perspective and Cultural Competence

Community organizations bring a reality to the researchers’ questions and can address cultural competence.

Real World Perspective in Interpretation of Data

Community organizations bring the narrative that can give meaning to research findings and enrich interpretation of data.

Generate New Research Questions

CBOs are in a position to identify important factors that can contribute to health disparities that might not be apparent within academic healthcare settings. The questions arise from their community experience and can, in partnership with academic researchers, form the basis for important studies that might never have been conceptualized.

Challenges

Balancing Rigor with Flexibility

There is a tension between the requirements of the research project and the mission of CBOs.

Red tape

Timelines and administrative processes in academic institutions can create a challenge for CBO partners. A member of the CEHD Community Engagement Core and a community partner discuss this challenge.

Building Partnerships

Partnerships Take Communication and Time

Effective community/researcher partnerships take ongoing communication and respect of what each partner brings to the table, what each partner needs and how each partner wants to engage.

Importance of a Mutually Beneficial Partnership

Explore and understand the benefits to both partners before taking concrete action.

Build Sustainable Partnerships

Partnerships need to be developed for the long-haul. Short term projects actually undermine trust, limit effectiveness and are not in the interest of the CBO or the community it serves.

Funder’s role in CER

It is critical that funders of research recognize the positive impact of long-term partnerships and projects even when funded for only short periods of time.

Benefits of Information Sharing

Tailored messages

Making research findings useful to the community and to CBOs requires an ability to deliver it in a variety of styles.

Closing the loop

Be sure to communicate the findings back to the community and the CBO partner.

Cultural and Linguistic Competence

To share findings with the community the information must be made available in the languages spoken in the community and communicated in ways that are culturally appropriate.