When researchers work together with community members to conduct studies to address health disparities, both groups reap the benefits, says a new paper from University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa researchers.
The study was published in the March issue of the Hawaiʻi Journal of Medicine & Public Health.
Katherine Yang, a recent master’s graduate from the UH Office of Public Health Studies and a current PhD student in epidemiology, and her colleagues conducted detailed interviews with 12 leading local experts. The goal is to learn about their experiences in using a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach to improve health outcomes and promote health equity.
“In CBPR, researchers take the time to get to know their communities by being present and listening to their concerns and priorities,” Yang said. “Our analysis showed that CBPR can serve as a bridge between academic researchers and the communities that they study.”
CBPR projects involve community members not as research “subjects,” but as active participants and co-leaders in all research phases. Community members work closely with researchers to conduct the study from beginning to end.
Research that uses a CBPR approach starts with an issue that is important to the community, values reciprocal learning and benefits and promotes social action.
For example, in one project, researchers who were developing a substance abuse prevention program worked with ōpio (teenagers) in a rural Hawaiian community. The teens took pictures of things that represented Native Hawaiian values to them, and then worked with the researchers to use the photos in designing a public health intervention to prevent substance use.
In another example, UH researchers worked with Waimānalo families to construct sustainable aquaponics systems, which the families then used to enhance their access to fresh vegetables, fruit and fish. They also learned how to prepare healthy meals.
“Community members feel engaged when they know their voices matter and that research is relevant to their experiences, concerns and priorities,” said Jane J. Chung-Do, an associate professor with UH public health and co-author of the paper. “We wanted to better understand what makes these projects successful and what we can work on to advance CBPR in Hawai‘i.”
Analysis of the interviews revealed that a key component for CBPR projects is for researchers to build and sustain relationships and trust within the community. Other important findings were the development of a sense of ownership that community members felt about the project, and the strength-based approach of CBPR that values knowledge and the unique experiences of each community.
However, there are challenges in promoting CBPR. For example, it is difficult to secure funding for this type of research, which can take longer than conventional research approaches to studying community health. Research grants are often time-limited, and funding agencies typically do not allow for the time needed to build relationships and trust between university researchers and the community.
Since the authors noted that their study was small, the next steps would be to expand the study to include perspectives of community partners who have been involved in CBPR and to investigate other factors that might promote CBPR success and, subsequently, improve health.
“Hawai‘i’s close-knit communities make it an ideal place to conduct CBPR projects,” Yang said. “CBPR projects are growing in Hawaiʻi, and we believe that meaningful community participation in research has the potential to promote health equity.”
In addition to Yang and Chung-Do, co-authors include Kathryn L. Braun, director of UH public health, and current and former public health students including Loren Fujitani, Alyssa Foster, Shannon Mark, Yuito Okada, Zeyana Saad-Jube and Fadi Youkhana.
Other co-authors are Kevin Cassel, UH Cancer Center; Scott K. Okamoto, UH Cancer Center and Hawaiʻi Pacific University; Susana Helm and Claire Townsend Ing, both at the John A. Burns School of Medicine; Christy Nishita and Lana Sue Ka‘opua, Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work; Kristine Qureshi, School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene; Peter J. Mataira, Hawai‘i Pacific University; and Karen Umemoto, University of California at Los Angeles.