Community Participation

CER projects aim for high levels of community participation during all phases of research, including the identification of a research question, study design, data collection, analysis, and dissemination and knowledge mobilization. Community partners and community members should be involved in leadership and collaboration to the extent that they desire, and whenever possible, their labour should be paid or otherwise reciprocated.

The call for universities to partner with community members and the community at large in research is well articulated in the CER and community engagement literature (e.g. Goemans et al., 2018; Grain & Lund, 2016; Isler & Corbie-Smith, 2012; Mikesell, Bromley & Khodyakov, 2013; Mulligan & Nadarajah, 2008; Khodyakov et al., 2016). Indigenous methodologies have long called for an enhanced participatory role for Indigenous communities to take ownership, control, access, and possession over research that affects them (FNIGC, 2011). Despite broad agreement on the value of this university-community collaboration, the literature entails varying approaches to such relationships, and the ethical imperatives behind them.

Tips & Considerations

Begin with a project that is community-driven

“The needs and priorities of the participating community must drive the choice of the study topic and its focus.” (Khodyakov et al., 2016, p.54). 

Build a study and ask a research question that is community-centered

The central goals and questions of ethical CER, according to Isler and Corbie-Smith (2012) should be derived from community – not from principle investigators and university researchers. A synonymous term/approach to “community-centered” is “community first”. In a 2018 article, Goemans and her colleagues identify the application of a “community-first approach by investigating ways to ensure that CCE partnerships maximize the value created for non-profit, community-based organizations” (p. 62).

Build a study design that integrates consistent attention to equal partnership at every step

“Academic and community investigators [should] actively collaborate in all phases of research and equally share power, resources, and responsibility for the study and its outcomes.” (Khodyakov et al., 2016, p.54)

Approach Community Partners as Intellectual Partners

In community engaged research, Isler and Corbie-Smith (2012) note that “Communities are not only research partners, but the originators of the intellec­tual research property and as such should be recog­nized as co-leaders of the research processes through which their questions are answered (p. 904).

Share or co-govern and democratic engagement

CER recognizes that “community” is not homogeneous and that a variety of opposing viewpoints and power differentials can thrive within the same community. For this reason and others, CER requires attention to democratic representation and a commitment to a shared governance structure (Goemans et al., 2018; Van Auken, 2019). “Shared governance models that explicitly move beyond advisory structures often formally describe the roles of all partners and create structures that promote equity in decision making.” (Isler & Corbie-Smith, 2012, p. 910)

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • What are the goals and values of participants?
  • What changes would the community partners and other collaborators like to see at the end of this study?
  • In what ways are community collaborators fairly compensated for their labour, time investment, and efforts?
  • How have community collaborators been integrated at every step of the research plan?
  • What governance structures have been set up to guide decision making for the research project? How do these structures hold space for diverse community perspectives?
  • How have university researchers reflected upon their own assumptions and views pertaining to the nature of the community partnership? In what ways do university researchers intentionally frame community collaborators as intellectual partners?