Community Participation in Research: Addressing the Issue of Quality

BOSTON — Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is a research approach that involves members of an affected community in most aspects of the research study. There are, however, few studies that have assessed the quality of data collection in CBPR. To help address that gap, a pilot study compared the results of data collection done by teams of graduate students to teams of community members from a public housing development in Boston. The study found no major differences in the quality of data collection between the two groups.

“We compared the data collection done by teams of graduate students to teams of community members and found very little difference in the quality of the results,” said Douglas Brugge, PhD, associate professor in the department of public health and family medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. “The hope is that engaging communities directly in the research process will yield benefits for both the research and the community. Validating that, however, means that we must address concerns that CBPR is not as rigorous as traditional research.”

In collaboration with the West Broadway Task Force of South Boston, a local community-based organization, the surveys were conducted face-to-face in a multiracial and multiethnic public housing development. The two groups in the study were made up of three teams of two Tufts graduate students each and two teams of two community members each. The community members were from the neighborhood and had previous experience with conducting surveys. The graduate students were enrolled in a four-week class on CBPR research methods. Prior to conducting the survey, the students and the community members were trained on how to conduct the surveys. After training, the student groups and the community member groups were randomly assigned 80 addresses to survey in the West Broadway Housing Development.

Surveys asked basic demographic questions and questions related to housing. In total, 49 surveys were completed. The community member group had a slightly higher response rate (37 percent) in comparison to the student group (31 percent). There were some differences within data tracking wherein some of the community members used their own data tracking sheets. This resulted in some confusion in data entry but did not affect integrity of the surveys themselves.

“Given that our sample size was small and the groups only completed 49 surveys, we had limited power to test statistical significance. A larger study is needed to determine whether these results would hold in the same neighborhood or in other neighborhoods. The study, however, does show that it is possible to research the methods and quality of research work done in CBPR. The recent popularity of CBPR warrants additional research in assessing its integrity,” Brugge says.

Brugge is also the director of the Tufts Community Research Center (TCRC), supported by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University. The TCRC seeks to involve Tufts faculty and students in research done in collaboration with community partners.

The study was published online on January 7, 2009 in the journal Health Promotion Practice.

Brugge D, Kapunan P, Babcock-Dunning L, Matloff RG, Cagua-Koo D, Okoroh E, Salas FL, Bradeen L, and Woodin M. 2009. Health Promotion Practice. “Developing Methods to Compare Low-Education Community-Based and University-Based Survey Teams.” Published online January 7, 2009, doi: 10.1177/1524839908329120

About Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences

Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts University are international leaders in innovative medical education and advanced research. The School of Medicine and the Sackler School are renowned for excellence in education in general medicine, special combined degree programs in business, health management, public health, bioengineering and international relations, as well as basic and clinical research at the cellular and molecular level. Ranked among the top in the nation, the School of Medicine is affiliated with six major teaching hospitals and more than 30 health care facilities. The Sackler School undertakes research that is consistently rated among the highest in the nation for its effect on the advancement of medical science.



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