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A model for inclusiveness: community-based participatory research

Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is a collaborative approach to research in public health. CBPR equitably engages communities in the design, conduct and use of research to address health disparities and improve health by encouraging community-centered interventions and prevention strategies. This type of research recognizes that health is affected by many complex issues such as social, political and economic factors. Its proponents seek to engage partners, including community organizations, community members and academic
researchers in research projects. With historical roots in social science disciplines, CBPR focuses on community priorities, engages community partners and members who are connected to the research issue of focus, and negotiates how resources and responsibilities will be allocated. 

CBPR builds on the work that several academic institutions began in the 1990s with communities, including those that are marginalized. At about that time, funders, researchers and communities were coming to recognize that traditional approaches to science weren’t usually designed to empower communities to improve health outcomes. Many early adopters of community-engaged research started to discuss ways to move forward that were
inclusive and that would facilitate truly meaningful outcomes. Adam Becker, PhD, MPH worked on a team at the University of Michigan that was one of the early implementers of CBPR. He sees CBPR as a shift in the way researchers think of people in research studies – no longer as subjects but as partners. “Community members have first-hand knowledge of factors that could affect community health. We are more effective when we work together to change environments for healthier living.” He stresses that the key to this type of research is relationship building, which takes time and resources.

Maryann Mason, PhD is fairly new to the field but intrigued by its possibilities. “I recently participated in a CBPR academy that trained me, along with the West Humboldt Park Development Council (WHPDC) and 11 other partnerships from around the country, during an intense week at the University of Michigan.” Her partner at the academy was Megan Hinchy, BS, MPH, the WHPDC Healthy Community Initiatives Program Coordinator. Mason and Hinchy are planning a project that focuses on stress and its effect on health. “I attend many community meetings, and the topics that come up over and over are violence and safety, and employment. These are definitely sources of stress in West Humboldt Park, and they could be related to
obesity,” says Hinchy. 

Hinchy plans to start with information sessions for community members about the project, followed by development of a steering committee that will identify
the specifics. The team thinks that beginning the effort with a Photovoice approach, in which adults and youth focus on community stressors and community peace, is a good starting point. Photovoice is a process of taking photographs that highlight research themes, then interpreting them into narratives that are used to plan health or social programs addressing community needs. Mason and Hinchy would like the Photovoice project to build community awareness and involvement in the partnership.


This partnership, still in its early days, expects to inform a community-based approach to stress
remediation for interrupting chronic disease processes in Chicago children and families. Mason and Hinchy are encouraged that their group received seed funding from the Alliance for Research in Chicagoland Communities (ARCC), which is based in Northwestern University’s Center for Community Health and serves the Northwestern University Clinical & Translational Sciences Institute (NUCATS) and Northwestern’s Institute for Public Health and Medicine. “It’s important to have institutional support, especially for this type of research that requires long-term projects that build on strong and lasting relationships,” Mason says.

ARCC Director Jen Brown, MPH says, “ARCC and the Center for Community Health provide infrastructure, resources and services to support academic research teams at Northwestern, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and community partners that are interested in or conducting communityengaged research.” ARCC is guided by a steering
committee consisting of 13 community- and faithbased organizations, the Chicago Department of Public Health, Chicago Public Schools, and 10 Northwestern and Lurie Children's academic partners.


Becker sees a great deal of progress in the field of CBPR. “Communities are more educated about their rights in terms of research studies. Funding, training and support are increasingly available to researchers, both from their academic institutions and from other funding agencies,” he says. Mason adds, “This research approach is growing and becoming stronger. As the United States becomes more diverse, it is increasingly important to address health disparities.”

For more information about CBPR and communityengaged research, visit the ARCC website and ARCC’s resource directory. Adam Becker, PhD, MPH is Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and Interim Co-director of the Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Research Program and Executive Director of the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC) at Stanley Manne Children's Research Institute.

Maryann Mason, PhD is Research Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine at the Feinberg School, Faculty-Community Research Liaison for ARCC and Director of Evaluation and Community Research at CLOCC.

Keywords: CLOCC, community, community based participatory research, research

Posted in Community Development