Join me? 2018: Year of Community Research

Academic researchers: You are partnering with community members for your research (or you would like to), but you’ve run into roadblocks and challenges. Sound familiar? Let’s talk. As a 3rd year Ph.D. student, I see that academic communication researchers (and other social scientists) are doing useful and important research in the community that is of great benefit to our society. Yet, beyond some readings on field research in a graduate school methods course, I have seen very few opportunities for conversation and learning about the practice of community research.

For example, maybe you need a forum for working through ethical challenges that arise when working in the field. You are considering drafting a formal written agreement outlining expectations with your community research partner. Or you wonder how to effectively explain the need for IRB to a community partner who is unfamiliar with it? I’ve heard these concerns, among others, discussed by academic researchers who are engaging in research partnerships with community members outside of academia.

For this reason, I have named 2018 the year of community research — a year-long journey of resource-sharing and community-building among community researchers. I believe it is time to celebrate this valuable research and collaborate to improve our efforts. Join me? Sign up to receive updates here.

Resource sharing

Seeking resources

Your thoughts?

  • Submit your questions, challenges, or needs regarding community research practice. These responses will drive my year of community research efforts.

P.S. Wondering what I mean by “community research?” I use this loose term to address a large audience of academic researchers who are reaching beyond the walls of academia to develop responsive research questions, collect data in the field, and/or provide informative results in collaboration with or using input from community members. For example, Lynsey collaborated with a local advocate and key informant to collect and analyze data from a special population, and Jeanette shared evidence with stakeholders by developing a custom training for practitioners. You may call it applied research, community engaged scholarship, community-based participatory research, action research, or something else. To me, your particular methodology is not as important as the drive we share to engage the community with research.

Researchers: Four Lessons Learned About Working With Community Partners

Researchers gathered to share stories and insights about their partnerships conducting research with non-academic community partners at the 103rd annual National Communication Association convention in Dallas, Texas, this past November. Below I have summarized some of the insights they shared during our panel in the form of lessons they have learned along the way.

Panelists included, from left to right: Dr. John Parrish-Sprowl, Dr. Michelle Miller-Day, Tara Watterson (co-chair), Dr. Joann Keyton (co-chair), Dr. Jennifer Ohs, and Dr. Angela Gist-Mackey.

1. Written agreements can help protect you. Every panelist underscored the importance of formalizing the partnership and getting buy-in from decision makers in the organization with which you are partnering, usually via a written agreement. Written agreements can help protect you in case your contact at the organization leaves the position, hopefully preventing you from losing access. John Parrish-Sprowl of Indiana University encouraged researchers not to be bashful about protecting themselves through written agreements. Michelle Miller-Day of Chapman University said securing buy-in from multiple members of the organization has been crucial for the success of her research partnerships. Also, making expectations about data sharing and research outputs explicit can help ensure you are both on the same page since you and your partner are likely to have differing conceptions of research process, protocols, and outputs.

Have a handy resource, for example, a template or sample of an agreement with a community partner that you’ve used? Please join the Year of Community Research to share this resource!

2. IRB poses new challenges. Several panelists shared challenges associated with IRB. A couple of panelists agreed that although IRB and human subjects protection is important, non-academic partners are often befuddled at the need for it or turned off at the demands for signed consent forms, etc. Jennifer Ohs of St. Louis University said she ran into delays when she found she would have to secure IRB approval from both her home institution and her research partner’s healthcare institution, which added months to the timeline.

Joann Keyton of NC State University expressed the need for a short video explaining the importance of human subjects protection for social scientific research purposes that is made for non-academic audiences. Know of a resource like this? Please join the Year of Community Research to share this resource!

3. Ethical concerns arise in the field. Panelists also described instances where they had to make decisions about how to handle situations in the field that they hadn’t faced previously. These situations included differing cultural expectations and diversions by the partner from agreed-upon research protocol. One panelist described pushing back when the partner wanted to change incentives for participants in the middle of the study, at which point the researcher requested not to do so and explained how that would change the research design.

Have ideas for reading material, etc. to help navigate ethical concerns that arise during community research? Please join the Year of Community Research campaign and share this resource!

4. Community research takes more time. Panelists agreed that research in the community is more rewarding, exciting, and challenging. However, panelists also agreed that this type of research takes extra resource commitment, namely, time. It requires researchers to navigate the challenges listed in this post, among others. Partnership involves seeking shared interest, but rarely does every interest overlap. Researchers sometimes make extra commitments in order to accommodate the development needs of the partner organization that didn’t fully align with the theoretical needs of the researcher. Angela Gist-Mackey of University of Kansas shared how she agreed to conduct communication training for a partner organization as part of the agreement for research access.

Have tips for managing the time demands associated with community research? Please join the Year of Community Research and share this resource!