Community-Based Participatory Research: Beyond Engagement

on October 26, 2016
Community-Based Participatory Research: Beyond Engagement

Originally published on December 16, 2014.

Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is recognized as an important research method in the field of mental health research. CBPR methodologies are well suited for communities who have historically been left out of research processes and who have experienced discrimination and stigma. Research participants are recognized as equal partners in problem definition, methodological development, data collection and analysis, and the communication of findings (Castleden, Garvin, & Huu-ay-aht First Nation, 2008). Collaborative research can build confidence and trust within a community, improve study validity, and improve the health of the community in various ways, including influencing education, policy, and protocols (Catalani, C. & Minkler, 2010). While there are different approaches to CBPR, it is generally recognized to have the potential to redress power inequities, empower communities and effect social change.

As a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Postdoctoral Fellow and CREST.BD Trainee, I am facilitating a research project using Photovoice — a CBPR method that combines photography, storytelling and social action. This project is about safety, belonging, wellbeing, and resilience in the lives of trans and gender nonconforming people in British Columbia, Canada. It focuses on community and individual empowerment, creativity, and action for social change. Consistent with the principles of CBPR, this project is being developed and conducted in collaboration with trans and gender nonconforming people to address community health concerns and strategies for action. It is guided by a commitment to undertake research that respects the list experience of trans and gender nonconforming people. Participants will be co-researchers.

I have been facilitating a community engagement phase which includes working with a community advisory group of trans and gender nonconforming people and allies in Vancouver to guide the project and assist with the development of the research design. The process thus far has highlighted the importance of community control and ownership of the research and community capacity building. It has also brought attention to the impact of discrimination, stigma, and trauma on the research process itself, and the importance of focusing on resilience, not only ‘mental health problems’. The advisory committee has stressed the importance of unpacking the language we use in the research process; for example, the significance of using the word ‘safety’ instead of ‘violence’ or ‘well-being’ versus ‘mental health’ — community members have identified a strong preference for the words safety, belonging, well-being, and resiliency. A commitment to the principles of CBPR requires a commitment from me as a researcher, to devote time to build relationships of trust and accountability, to be flexible, and to engage in ongoing critical self-reflexivity about relations of power and privilege.

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