The Year of Community Research, By the Numbers

I’m proud to announce the Year of Community Research, a
resource-sharing campaign to improve practice of community research, concludes 2018 with the following accomplishments!

1 research template posted

The most popular request among researchers was a research agreement template. To wrap up the year, we shared a free download and a video with tips on how to use it.

45+ researchers joined

Communication researchers from across the U.S. joined the Year of Community Research by sharing comments, input, requests, or resources for improving our practice of community research.

4 lessons learned

We shared four central lessons that emerged during a conversation between five researchers about working with non-academic community partners at the 103rd annual National Communication Association convention. Check out their lessons learned.

5 research partnerships profiled

We celebrated and learned from communication researchers doing research with community partners by publishing several new profiles, reaching a total of five innovative research partnerships:

Thank you to all the researchers who supported and joined the Year of Community Research! Let’s keep the conversation going into 2019 and beyond. Feel free to contact me or tweet me.

Resource: Research Agreement Template

To wrap up the Year of Community Research, I’m providing a download of the much-requested research agreement template. This free download in Microsoft Word is designed to help you think through your research partnership and clarify expectations for you and your community/organizational partner. 

Watch the video to learn how the template was developed and hear my four tips on how to use the template:

  1. Consider process and roles for you and your partner
  2. Anticipate road blocks
  3. Protect your data and ownership
  4. Proactively communicate with your partner
Watch to learn how to use the research agreement template

Download the template

Thank you to the researchers who provided input and material in developing this resource, especially Dr. Joann Keyton, professor of Communication at NC State University!

Innovative Research Partnerships: L.J. & Allison Build New Way to Measure Clinical Communication Quality

Innovative Research Partnerships: Healthcare Edition is a series of profiles about collaborations between Ph.D. communication researchers and healthcare clinicians, and is a part of the broader Innovative Research Partnerships series. These partnerships demonstrate the creativity involved in initiating and sustaining cross-sector and multidisciplinary collaborative research. Through interviews of both partners in the collaboration, I share the unique stories behind the fruits of these partnerships. 

L.J.’s Perspective

L.J. Van Scoy, M.D., who is now a physician and associate professor of medicine, humanities, and public health sciences at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, was frustrated after a long day in 2014 spent searching medical research databases in vain for what she needed: a way to evaluate the quality of end of life communication. In other words, how can you tell when there has been a “good” or a “bad” conversation when discussing end-of-life preferences? But none of the medical research seemed to provide a valid approach. Most of the research focused on behaviors rather than her concern, that is, had a rich and substantive conversation occurred? With 5:00 p.m. looming after a long day, L.J. abandoned the fancy academic search engines and turned to Google. Finally, she found something of interest. L.J clicked on Allison’s dissertation about end-of-life communication quality, printed it and took it home. Later that night, L.J. found herself reading the dissertation in the bath tub. “It changed my life,” L.J. reflected, adding that Allison’s research was a “goldmine.”

Allison’s Perspective

Allison Gordon, Ph.D., who is associate professor of communication at University of Kentucky, received a call from L.J. soon afterward without knowing it would lead to four years (and counting) of collaboration. Allison studies how the quality of people’s communication with others affects their health decisions. Partnering with L.J. has allowed Allison to study communication between patients and their medical providers, and to more fully develop the measure of communication quality she developed for her dissertation. Together, she and L.J. have tested, measured, and applied multiple goals theory, which claims that people pursue various goals – often simultaneously – through their communication. These goals include relational, task, and identity goals.

About the Project

Together, Allison and L.J. have developed and refined the communication quality assessment (CQA), which Allison calls the “gold standard methodology for assessing clinical communication about difficult topics.” Their partnership has yielded at least five academic publications so far. They have also received an R21 grant from National Institute of Health to further develop CQA and compare alternate methods of coding communication interactions in pursuit of a more streamlined process. According to L.J., there are few tools in medical research that are both theoretically-driven and well-attuned to communication quality. L.J. believes CQA “belongs in medical culture,” saying she wants to spread the word among clinicians about this approach to understanding and improving communication with patients.

About the Partnership

The partnership between Allison and L.J. has worked because they are “united by the common goal of wanting to improve clinical communication,” according to Allison. While partnerships between social scientists and physicians may be rare, Allison and L.J. describe the partnership as one marked by trust and mutual respect. Both agree that their complementary areas of expertise are central to the quality of their research accomplishments. Allison acts as social scientific theorizer who provides insight and explanation about human communication, and L.J. serves as the clinical expert who oversees application of research in the clinical setting. Together, they have refined CQA by adding two new dimensions to the measure to better address communication in clinical encounters. The two collaborators have found that their work styles seem to complement one another’s as well. L.J. said that neither of them are “egocentric or arrogant,” adding that Allison had been generous in sharing her method and soliciting L.J.’s input. Allison said she admires L.J.’s detail-oriented “get-things-done” approach, adding that she is “happy to be L.J.’s co-pilot” as L.J. pursues grants and new projects.

Disclosure: I have assisted with two of Allison and L.J.’s research projects, including one project as of October 2018, in which I serve as a paid coder.

Innovative research partnership: Lisa and Roger develop a tool to help patients make complex decisions

Innovative research partnerships: Healthcare edition is a series of profiles about collaborations between Ph.D. communication researchers and healthcare clinicians, and is a part of the broader Innovative research partnerships series. I consider these partnerships innovative because of the creativity involved in initiating and sustaining cross-sector and multidisciplinary collaborative research. Through separate interviews of both partners in the collaboration, I share the unique stories behind such partnerships and their fruits. 

Roger’s perspective

Roger Strair, M.D., Ph.D., who is a chief of blood disorders and medical oncologist at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, was concerned about the complex decisions his patients face. He wanted to give his patients more tools to make important and complex medical decisions. For example, he described the following hypothetical scenario: a patient faces the choice between two potential therapies. The first is relatively easy to give, and results in 40% of patients being cured. Second, the patient could choose to undergo a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, increasing their chance of being cured to 65%. Yet, a percentage of patients undergoing transplant will have a lifelong disability and some patients who go through the procedure will die sooner.

Lisa’s perspective

Lisa Mikesell, Ph.D., who is assistant professor of communication at Rutgers University, studies patient engagement including the process of complex decision-making. Roger approached her and her colleague, Mark Aakhus Ph.D., several years ago about working together. For this research, Lisa has focused on finding ways to resolve the tensions faced by doctors and patients: patients want optimism (sometimes they don’t want to know their likelihood of mortality) whereas doctors want to provide realistic information to patients without depriving patients of hope. Lisa said patients in this situation often face great uncertainty and decisional conflict. The aim of this research project is to help prevent patients from regretting their medical decision by feeling better prepared to make such a complex, life altering decision.

About the project

The research team conceptualized a multimedia tool that provides these patients who face complex medical decisions with stories of other patients who’ve made similar decisions. To develop and evaluate the tool, they gathered a team including information scientists (Sunyoung Kim, Ph.D., has since joined the team), designers, and an advisory board comprised of patients and clinicians. Their goal is to help patients to make sense of their medical situation by hearing others’ stories and developing their own coherent narrative. Lisa and her colleagues began by collecting pilot data exploring how patients and clinicians report handling the tensions of communicating about complex medical decisions. The team has also developed videos with patient stories that patients can revisit and utilize in different ways over the changing course of their illness trajectory.

About the partnership

Roger said he is generally “untrained” in communication so he appreciates Lisa and her colleagues’ expertise. Roger said they try to have fun while doing this work. He joked that you can’t trust the communications experts because they know how to manipulate words. He said, “you don’t want to play a casual game of cards with a L.A. card dealer, you know what I mean?” Lisa described members of the partnership as “malleable” in that there is openness to working with differing perspectives. Further, people are willing to balance varying priorities and show mutual respect. Roger said, “we don’t agree on everything but we do agree on the fact that there is a great unmet need and it’s a worthy area of study.”

A Chronicle of Qualifying Exams in Tweets

Last week, I took my Ph.D. qualifying exams: the final comprehensive test of your knowledge before becoming a Ph.D candidate and beginning the dissertation. My family and friends outside of academia were somewhat confused as to the nature of these exams I had been talking about for months. So, as a fun way to demystify qualifying exams, here’s a run down — in tweets — of the highs and lows I experienced during my exams.

For my Ph.D program, the qualifying exam process involves four written exams, each four hours long, that take place over the course five days.

After weeks of preparation, I was anxious and unable to get to sleep that Sunday night before my first exam. As I walked to take the exam the next morning, I reminded myself that all my studies and my work in recent weeks had prepared me for success. Go, girl!


As I left the building after my first exam, I felt elated. My relief at surviving the first exam unscathed was intense, contributing to my (temporary!) sense of confidence.



This feeling of accomplishment may have been premature. As I struggled to stay on top of my preparation for the next three exams (and my other responsibilities) that afternoon and the following day, exhaustion began to set in.


By the time I had completed my second exam on Wednesday, my only thought was, “I’m only halfway done?” Still, I persevered. When I needed to take a short break to refresh my brain, I dramatically decided I would channel my despair by tuning into a documentary series about WWII on Netflix.

I don’t recall much from the experience of completing exam #3 on Thursday as I was running on coffee fumes, and, for the most part, merely hoping that the words I was writing made some sense.


Luckily, I regained a sense of momentum and renewed energy with the realization that I had only one exam left. I was slow to write the last exam, but as I finished it, I became more and more excited at reaching the end of exam week. I turned in the exam and, despite my lack of sleep, glided blissfully across campus toward my car with a grin.

Once I arrived home, it wasn’t long until my elation turned into exhaustion, to which I could finally give in. Ah, blessed rest.


In another couple of weeks, I’ll meet with my advisory committee. They will offer feedback on my exams and decide whether I passed. Here’s hoping that all those words I wrote made sense!

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.

Innovative research partnership: Michelle and Frank improve the D.A.R.E. curriculum

Innovative research partnerships is a series of profiles about collaborations between Ph.D. communication researchers and working professionals in the community. I consider these partnerships innovative because of the creativity involved in initiating and sustaining cross-sector collaborative research. Through separate interviews of both partners in the collaboration, I share the unique stories behind the partnerships, the challenges they face in their collaborative efforts, and the fruits of these partnerships. The series was started in anticipation of my two conferences sessions on research partnerships at ComNet17 in September and NCA in 2017.

Today, we hear from Michelle Miller-Day and Frank Pegueros. They have worked together to revise D.A.R.E.’s drug prevention curriculum based upon evidence-based strategies. Let’s start with what Frank has to say about this partnership.

Frank Pegueros is the CEO and President of D.A.R.E. America.

On what he has gained from the partnershipFrank said that D.A.R.E. has partnered with many researchers and experts over the years to evaluate their efforts because “anything delivered in the classroom should be evidence-based.” Collaborating with Michelle and her research partner, Michael L. Hecht, over the span of a decade has resulted in significant improvements to the curriculum. Frank said D.A.R.E. is in the process of organizing a full evaluation of the revised curriculum, but preliminary evaluations show positive results.

On his role in the partnership: D.A.R.E. provides drug prevention education for elementary, middle, and high school students. Frank said that experts who develop curriculum programs don’t always get to see their program implemented on large scale, but Michelle’s team is committed to seeing the program reach students. Frank added that he believes partnering in this way helps program developers get input and to better understand audiences for their curriculum programs. By partnering with D.A.R.E., the developer’s program avoids getting “placed on a shelf to gather dust.”

On challenges the partnership faced: Frank said that he and Michelle and Michael have worked together for a long time, adding that their partnership hadn’t faced any significant challenges.

On why the partnership works: The fact that “both sides are open” has made the partnership successful, according to Frank. He said both he and Michelle are after the same thing — achieving positive outcomes in the classroom.

Dr. Michelle Miller-Day is a professor in the School of Communication at Chapman University.

On how the partnership got started: D.A.R.E. contacted Michelle and Michael after conducting a search of evidence-based substance use prevention programs. D.A.R.E. ultimately chose to partner with Michelle and Michael to use their middle school  keepin’ it REAL (kiR) program, which had been listed in the national registry for evidence-based programs and practices. The program was found to achieve positive results in several controlled trials and effectiveness studies. Since adopting kiR, Michelle and Michael’s company REAL Prevention has worked with D.A.R.E. to create an elementary program and several high school programs.

On why this research matters: Michelle said that the partnership with D.A.R.E. means their team’s drug prevention program reaches 2.3 million children every year with a curriculum that is evidence-based.

On challenges the partnership faced: Michelle described how her team “D.A.R.E.-ified” the kiR curriculum. This involved incorporating input from multiple stakeholder groups including students, D.A.R.E. officers, and educators, many of whom had differing needs. Michelle said this process took a lot of time but “it wasn’t insurmountable.”

On why this partnership works: The partnership works well because D.A.R.E. focuses on training, marketing, and dissemination of drug prevention, while Michelle and Michael’s  team focus on the science and formative 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!

Resource list: Philanthropy research communication

This morning at #ComNet17, about 20 social sector leaders gathered at my breakfast session to talk about partnerships between academic researchers and philanthropy/social good organizations. We concluded that it was the first time that this group of leaders — comms professionals who are primarily interested in more effectively translating and disseminating research to help drive social change — had gathered in the same room. Now we need to figure out how to keep the conversation going!

In that spirit, I have gathered a list of resources shared during our discussion. Please contact me with additional resources to add to this list and I will keep it updated.


  • The Conversation – a news site for academic researchers to write articles about their findings
  • Greater Good – online magazine for translation of positive psychology findings


Research repositories:

  • IssueLab by Foundation Center – “Free research from social sector organizations around the world”
  • See also Foundation Center’s new campaign, Open for Good, encouraging foundations to openly share their knowledge




Innovative research partnership: Jeannette and Dave improve risk communication messaging training

Innovative research partnerships is a series of profiles about collaborations between Ph.D. communication researchers and working professionals in the community. I consider these partnerships innovative because of the creativity involved in initiating and sustaining cross-sector collaborative research. Through separate interviews of both partners in the collaboration, I share the unique stories behind the partnerships, the challenges they face in their collaborative efforts, and the fruits of these partnerships. The series was started in anticipation of my two conferences sessions on research partnerships at ComNet17 in September and NCA in 2017.

Today, we hear from Jeannette Sutton and Dave Cokely. Their work together addresses the improvement of communication about imminent threats, as well as quality training on this topic. Let’s start with what Dave has to say about this partnership.

Dave Cokely is an instructor at National Weather Service (NWS) Training Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

On what he has gained from the partnership: After being advised by Jeannette and several other social scientists on improving NWS risk communication messages, Jeannette led a training session for a group of NWS meteorologists who coordinate warning messages. Dave said that Jeannette designed a “brilliant” exercise, asking trainees to get their hands dirty developing messaging in various disaster scenarios. According to Dave, Jeannette’s training session received the highest rating of all sessions over the 4-day class, adding that she had “hit a grand slam.”

On his role in the partnership: Dave said he and his colleagues are frequently asking themselves how to better communicate watches, warnings, and advisories to the public to prompt action. Dave describes his role in the partnership as “start(ing) a two-way conversation” with an expert who had “absolutely critical information” to share with him and his colleagues at NWS.

On challenges the partnership faced: Dave reflected that “it takes work to get the door cracked open for these collaborations,” adding that he sees these type of partnerships happening more often. Dave said that sometimes it is hard to get meteorologists and scientists in his industry to pay attention to social sciences research because it is seen as a “soft science.”

On why the partnership works: Jeannette has a “great presence,” according to Dave, and when she presents social scientific evidence that is relevant to his colleagues, they listen. He said that she has helped him and his colleagues integrate insights from social science into an audience-centered approach to messaging, including a new training series about supporting the public’s decision-making process when preparing for disasters.

Dr. Jeannette Sutton is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and director of the Risk and Disaster Communication Center in the College of Communication at University of Kentucky. 

On how the partnership got started: Dave contacted Jeannette after he heard her speak at a NWS-hosted hazard simplification conference in 2015, eventually asking her to lead a training on risk communication for NWS. Jeannette was asked to conduct this training again this fall by another contact. Jeannette said she works to build relationships with partners such as Dave so that they can collaborate in the future if an opportunity presents itself.

On why this research matters: Jeannette said she “has the privilege of working with people who are putting out life-saving messages” about disasters. Although Dave wasn’t involved in writing it up, Jeannette is publishing the training exercise she developed in a forthcoming journal article. She added that working with professionals like Dave ensures her research is responsive to the needs of people in the risk communication field.

On challenges the partnership faced: Jeannette said that it takes time and effort, on top of a busy teaching schedule and research agenda, to develop and maintain relationships with practitioners in the field of disaster communication. However, she frequently travels to present at and attend conferences such as the American Meteorological Society and Society for Risk Analysis to share her research and maintain relationships.

On why this partnership works: Jeannette said that she has seen the NWS grow increasingly interested in incorporating social science into their operations. Dave and his colleagues at NWS are interested in some of the same questions she is asking about how people perceive messages and the factors that influence how people interpret them.

See more about Jeannette’s research from University of Kentucky’s People Behind Our Research series: