Communication, Transparency & Trust

Strong relationships form the bedrock on which CER is built, and those relationships are contingent on effective communication, ongoing transparency, and the long-term development of trust. In order for community to be involved in every step of the research, there must be an explicit commitment to transparent communication in formats that work well for all involved.

Research participants and/or community co-researchers in CER should have full and complete knowledge of the research including: plans and goals, risks of involvement, rights as participants, how power will be shared, and plans for dissemination. Given that CER often involves populations who are historically, persistently, and systemically marginalized, community partners or collaborators may have experiences of being exploited by government or institutions. For this reason, trust building and relationship building are foundational to CER. Ongoing meetings and updates should be built into CER project designs, and plans are best approached with flexibility and agility; transparent dialogue should be done not only with the intention to share information between university researchers and community, but also with the intention to steer the project according to communications with community.

Tips & Considerations

Prioritize voluntary informed consent

The Belmont Report (1979) asserts that the consent process upholds “respect for persons” and protects autonomy. “Voluntary and informed consent” is also listed as one of the nine functions delineated in the United States’ federal regulations on the Human Subjects Protection Program (Ross et al., 2010).

Reflect on, write, and practice speaking openly about the benefits you as the primary researcher will gain from this project

It is no secret to most community participants that university researchers gain benefits through their research, which can entail any combination of: career advancement, degree acquisition, publications, and visibility / publicity. As a researcher, reflect on these benefits early, and practice speaking openly about them with community collaborators. This open acknowledgement should go hand in hand with discussions about the benefits that the community hopes to gain through this partnership, and a commitment to the fulfilment of those community goals. 

Engage early and often in open communication about goals, responsibilities, and needs

In Chou and Frazier’s engagement with the “4 Rs” of CER, they propose particular attention to explicit and transparent communication from the beginning of the project. They begin with an intention “to clearly communicate our overarching goals and align them with our partners’ goals help us establish our responsibilities to collaborators and stakeholders, and clarify both competing and convergent needs across both sides of partnership” (Chou & Frazier, 2019, p. 6). Khodyakov and colleagues reiterate that in CER, “motives and decisions must also be transparent” (2016, p. 54).

Communicate openly about risks and benefits

“Not only participants but also community at large must be fully aware of study risks and benefits” (Khodyakov et al., 2016, p.54).

Collaboratively build and share a communication plan; Build into the research schedule regular meetings and/or project updates

To prioritize communication is to plan for reliable and consistent modes of communication. Even if it is unclear at the outset of a project what might be achieved in future meetings, a responsible CER researcher holds space and intentionally carves out time for this, even if the gathering ends up being more informal.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • To what degree does the research design include intentional communication meetings among collaborators? (These spaces and times for communication should take place throughout all phases of the research)
  • In what ways has the primary researcher reflected upon and explicitly stated the benefits they gain through this partnership? In what ways has this conversation taken place alongside a discussion of community benefits and goals?
  • Are there any divergent or conflicting goals for the research? How will divergent project goals or desires be handled? Who decides?
  • What modes of communication work best for community partners and collaborators? (e.g. in-person meetings? Emails? Text messages? Phone calls?)
  • How often would the community collaborators like to be updated and/or consulted about the research and its direction?
  • Are there any historical traumas or past experiences that this particular community has gone through in relation to working with institutions or researchers? How has this history and related concerns been addressed through the primary researcher’s communications?
  • To what degree has the primary researcher shared aspects of themselves with the community partners or participants? Does the primary researcher model the vulnerability and openness that they ask from participants?