On December 2, 2015, the Weill Cornell Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC) brought together a packed audience of researchers and community members for the inaugural Community Research Symposium: Opportunities and Tools for Conducting Community Research. This engaging, thought-provoking meeting introduced participants to the principles and practices of community-based participatory research (CBPR), an approach in which researchers and community members come together as partners in setting the research agenda; conducting, analyzing, and interpreting research; and facilitating the translation of findings into better public health. In practice, CBPR may play an important role in the translation of clinical research into public health initiatives, by combining the traditional practices of biomedical research with community outreach, education, and social action in order to promote health, prevent disease, and redress health disparities in diverse communities.
“CBPR is an important tool to help research move from the clinical bedside out into the broader community,” noted Julianne Imperato-McGinley, MD, program director of the CTSC, “And we brought together a first-rate panel of speakers and moderators to help educate our attendees about the field.”
The day-long program featured perspectives from respected community-based researchers and leaders from both academic and community settings. Cornell-Ithaca professor Elaine Wethington, PhD, MA, began the meeting by offering a historical overview of CBPR, beginning with the pioneering work of psychologist Kurt Lewin in the 1940s, whose “action research” sought to bridge the gap between theory and practical application to social issues, leading to current principles of CBPR, which include the following:
- Mutual and equal participation by community and researcher
- Shared use and ownership of knowledge produced by research
- Commitment to equal power between community and researchers in research decisions
- Shared reflection and implementation of the generated knowledge
Implementing each of these principles may present challenges and controversies, and Prof. Wethington noted that conducting CBPR may require a commitment of time and resources that many researchers in an academic setting may struggle to make. Investing in greater engagement with the community through CBPR, however, may improve the ability of research to address the specific needs of a community and strengthen the community’s support for programs that they have helped create.
For Executive Director of the Bronx Health Link Barbara Hart, MPH, MPA, a key to successful CBPR is that researchers must “meet the people where they are” by getting to know the community and developing equitable, respectful relationships with community members who will, in turn, then advocate for the research. Researchers should commit the time and effort to cultivate trust, especially with communities who have historically been underserved by research or who have been harmed by previous misconduct, such as in the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study. An accomplished community activist and organizer, Ms. Hart is a recipient of a Community Planning grant from the CTSC, which supported her research into the impact of having doulas, women who offer professional support and assistance to expectant mothers, on outcomes for low-income, minority women who are pregnant.
Elizabeth Capezuti, PhD, RN, FAAN, from the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing, elaborated further on the capacities needed by academic researchers to be community-based researchers, including personal attributes (such as patience, humility, ethics, flexibility, and commitment to improving health literacy) and skills training (such as cultural competency, managing group process, and communication). Dr. Capezuti also explained the need for researchers to build relationships and capacity within their institutions with faculty, research, and legal entities to address the special demands of CBPR. Laura Robbins, MSW, from the Hospital for Special Surgery, discussed multicultural approaches to the research process.
The formal portion of the symposium concluded with a panel discussion that included CTSC Community Engagement and Research team members Jifeng (Jeff) Zhu (far left) and Rev. Lula Mae Phillips (far right) and researchers Cary Reid, MD, PhD (WCM), Barbara Hart, and Anita Nirenberg, PhD, RN, AOCNP, PNP-BC, FAAN (Hunter-Bellevue) (middle: from L-R). Moderated by Jennifer Tiffany, PhD, director of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension-New York City (CUCE-NYC), the panel shared experiences and insights conducting CBPR in NYC.
“I was very pleased by the response to the panel,” Mr. Zhu said. “We were able to discuss many of the lessons and challenges from our different experiences, but also to emphasize the importance of this work.”
Afterwards, the CTSC invited community members and academic researchers to meet each other at an informal mixer intended to spark new CBPR partnerships. To help facilitate these endeavors, Julianne Imperato-McGinley, MD, program director of the CTSC, announced an exclusive grant opportunity for the symposium attendees: another round of Community Planning Awards, which offered $5,000 of support for the development of a CBPR project between an academic researcher in the CTSC consortium and a community member. The grant submissions were closed on December 21, 2015. Participants were also invited to apply for the CTSC $20,000 Community Engagement Award, which closes applications on January 14, 2016.
Stay tuned to learn more about the grant awardees!
To learn more about the symposium, visit here.
To learn more about CBPR, visit here.