Effective community-led COVID-19 responses are built on approaches that give space for communities to identify problems, explore solutions, and draw up action plans to address community needs. Yet, traditional research methods do not commonly reflect community voices, and perspectives. Often community members are not meaningfully engaged in the research process. As community members are rarely considered equal partners in research, there are no intentional and meaningful relationships forged between researchers and communities.
The Value of Community-Based Participatory Research
Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is a collaborative approach to research that involves engaging community members, researchers, and organizational representatives as equal partners to enhance understanding of a given problem, create change and ideally improve health challenges. CBPR involves co-creating the research agenda and priorities and promotes mutual understanding across partners. CBPR integrates the cultural and social dynamics that are crucial to successful research and program implementation. Through an iterative process, it establishes valuable relationships with communities and diverse partners through sharing resources, decision-making, results, and knowledge throughout the research process. It uses community dialogue to build trust, bridge socio-cultural differences between partners, and brings multiple perspectives in examining an issue.
CBPR in Minnesota
Using community-based participatory research in refugee, immigrant, and migrant (RIM) communities promotes understanding of local perspectives. This increased attention to the complexities that impact health in RIM communities can help implement innovative, collaborative and relevant public health interventions. In Minnesota, community partners are using CBPR practices to examine community health challenges and priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following the temporary closure of the JBS pork plant in Worthington, Minnesota, the city reached out to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to carry out community-based participatory research in Nobles County. Their objective was to understand the severity and reach of COVID-19 in the county. MDH formed a team consisting of staff and community partners, including members from Voices for Racial Justice and Seeds of Justice, organizations committed to racial justice. Participation from community members was ensured by organizers from these community partners. They worked directly with community members and played an important role in designing the study itself. Due to the nature of the research, active participation from the community was necessary, thus the research team prioritized relationship building between the MDH staff and community partners. An MDH staff member explained, “We had to trust the community. They are community organizers, this is the culture, we have to understand the community and the people. We worked with the community and let them do what they need to do." In the end, both, MDH staff and the community partners, attributed the success of the research to their ability to build a strong partnership and foundation of trust in community wisdom. Read more about this example of CBPR on the MDH website.
Key Steps of CBPR
The CBPR process involves communities in the following key steps:
- Community Entry
- Health Problem Identification
- Study Design
- Participants Recruitment and Retention
- Data Collection
- Data Analysis and Reporting
- Report Dissemination
Getting Started: Initial CBPR Steps
Follow these steps to get started on community-based participatory research:
Step 1: Community Entry
Map and identify community partners to engage with who best represent community interests. This can include community-based organizations, community members or researchers. Consider how this group will address the different issues of the community and their level of participation. Schedule meetings at the time and place suitable for these partners. When stakeholders are unable to physically meet due to COVID-19, agree on the virtual platforms to use that others are familiar with. To build trust and sustain the relationship, always show up for meetings, keep note of the proceedings, and act on follow-up items in a timely manner.
Step 2: Health Problem Identification
Allow the full participation of community members to identify and articulate their priority health problems. Work with the group to identify the geographical boundaries of the ‘community’ where the research will take place. Give space to discuss and build trust on each other’s needs, views, and expertise. Consider the identified health problems and conduct preliminary research to better understand the project and craft a research question.
Step 3: Study Design
Work with the community to ensure that the study design and approach is culturally appropriate. Discuss the general goals and plan of the study with the community and consider their participation in planning for research funding. Allow community organizers to take the lead in planning aspects of the study, such as time, dates, and location. This helps to avoid missing participants required for the study due to commitments (work schedules, cultural events, etc.).
Step 4: Participants Recruitment and Retention
Consult and discuss with community representatives on the recruitment and retention of study participants. Recruit a diverse research team with complementary skills and knowledge (e.g, sociologist, epidemiologist, community engagement, public health, community representatives affected by the problem, etc.). Using the recruitment and retention guide drawn by the researchers, the community can provide their views and help with the process.
Step 5: Data Collection
Consider gathering community input to develop and pre-test data collection tools. This helps with adapting the tools to fit the local context (language, cultural) and with handling sensitive issues, thus increasing validity and reliability of the study measures. Also, provide a space for stakeholders to ask questions. Based on available skills, train recruited field community members in data collection. This could involve clinical sample collection, questionnaire administration, observations and recording measurements. Use the training platform as an opportunity for people to get to know and trust one another.
Step 6: Data Analysis and Reporting
Discuss data with the community stakeholders and work as a team to analyze and interpret the results. Identify the method(s) the research team feels comfortable reporting results (PowerPoint presentation, formal report, video, collage, oral testimony, etc.). Based on available skills, community members can also be trained to participate in data analysis.
Step 7: Results Dissemination
Consult community members to identify and plan for the appropriate venues to share research results with other stakeholders. Agree on the stakeholders to be reached with the research results. Allow the community members involved in the research to actively participate in the dissemination process.