Community-engaged Health Research
Experiences from the San Francisco Bay Area
Community-based organizations (CBOs) face serious barriers in gaining access to and applying scientific information about the populations they serve and the effectiveness of their work. Rarely do CBOs, let alone community residents, have (1) access to the complex language of science and research and (2) a good understanding of what science and research mean for their work and the health of their community.
Since the mid-twentieth century, health researchers and scientists have advocated community-based, participatory, collaborative, and action research as strategies to employ scientific principles and practices in pursuit of a more equitable society.
Community-engaged research (CER) has a range of desirable consequences for the research process, including improving participation rates, strengthening research external validity, increasing the likelihood for follow-up, and building capacity within individuals and communities most affected by health disparities. CER also brings together rigorous public health research and practice to address social and environmental injustice and differences in health.
The Health Equity Institute (HEI), in collaboration with the César Chávez Institute and Center for Research & Education on Gender and Sexuality (CREGS) – all at San Francisco State – conducted a short-term project to explore current definitions and practices in the engagement of community voices and expertise in the health research field in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Interviews and focus groups were conducted to:
- Identify the range of activities used to engage community in research projects;
- Increase understandings of the reasons for CER, barriers to CER, and when CER is most beneficial;
- Clarify distinctions between community engagement, community action research, community-based participatory research, and other related terms; and
- Classify best practices for CE among local researchers, funders, and community representatives.