Practical Tips for Establishing Partnerships With Academic Researchers: A Resource Guide for Community-Based Organizations

October 16, 2015


Background: Research exists on strategies for successful conduct of community-based participatory research (CBPR). Unfortunately, few published resources are available to advise community-based organizations (CBOs) on preparation for and engagement in CBPR.

Objectives: We aimed to create a resource for CBOs that describes how an organization can prepare for and participate in CBPR.

Methods: We used a case study approach of one CBO with a decade-long history of collaboration with academic researchers. We identified lessons learned through a retrospective review of organizational records and the documentation of experiences by CBO leadership and research partners. The findings were then labeled according to CBPR Partnership Readiness Model dimensions.

Lessons Learned: The review of CBO documents and key informant interviews yielded ten practical tips to increase organizational readiness for and engagement in CBPR.

Conclusions: By understanding the best practices for organizational readiness for and participation in CPBR, CBOs will be better equipped to actively participate in community–academic partnerships.

Research exists on strategies for successful conduct of community-based research and for establishing effective community–academic partnerships.1 5 In addition, a growing body of literature highlights the value of CBOs’ involvement in research. CBOs advocate for a focus on relevant questions around service provision and the health of the community to improve the real-world application of interventions. For example, cancer control research targeting underserved populations has benefited from interventions developed and delivered through CBPR, which is often conducted in collaboration with CBOs.6 9 Despite this potential, CBOs often lack clear guidance on how to prepare for or engage in research, and few published resources are available on how to establish organizational readiness for and participate in CBPR. Recent efforts to bridge some of these gaps include the work by Andrews and colleagues2 with their CBPR Partnership Readiness Model. This model outlines three primary dimensions that support readiness to engage in CBPR of CBOs and academic researchers: goodness of fit, capacity, and operations. From a community-based perspective, each of these dimensions relates to the necessary actions of a CBO to participate fully in research. For instance, under goodness of fit, Andrews and colleagues consider having shared values and acknowledgement of mutual benefits as necessary indicators for a successful community-academic partnership.2

However, before identifying a suitable academic partner, a CBO needs to identify the values and potential research-relevant questions the CBO has regarding service provision or the population it serves. Likewise, a review of a CBO’s organizational capacity, including leadership practices, competencies, and resources, is critical to engaging in CBPR. Examining capacity allows an organization to recognize its own strengths and limitations based on staff availability and other resources. It also helps CBOs to determine how much involvement with research is realistic and what the organization brings to the table when establishing partnerships. Operations, as outlined by Andrews and colleagues,2 includes transparent communication, which is necessary not only between CBOs and academic researchers, but also within a CBO to ensure staff members are engaged with and supportive of the research goals.

The purpose of this article is to outline specific and actionable tips for CBOs to prepare for and participate in CBPR. To accomplish these aims, we conducted a case study through a retrospective records review and documentation of experiences of an active and established CBO engaged in CBPR (Nueva Vida, Inc.). Using the partnerships with researchers at Georgetown University and other institutions as exemplars, we illustrate practical applications of our recommendations to CBOs on how to plan for and contribute to CBPR, addressing challenges throughout. Under each tip, we include questions a CBO can reflect upon and answer before and during partnerships with academic researchers.

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