Community-Engaged Research

The following is provided as a general introduction and clarification of the meaning of Community-Based Participatory Research, followed by links to additional resources.


Three Principles

Strand, Marullo, Cutforth, Stoecker and Donohue (2003). Community-based research and higher education: Principles and practices.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

1.  Collaborative

Among faculty, students and community members. The community organizations we work with are seen as partners in the project, not subjects.

2.  Respectful of multiple ways of knowing

Multiple sources of knowledge, multiple methods of discover, multiple methods of dissemination of knowledge

3.  Oriented towards social change/social justice

Social action and social change for the purpose of achieving social justice is the implicit goal of a CBR project


Considerations Throughout the CBR Process

Cooke, D. & Thorme, T. (2011). A practical handbook for supporting community-based research with undergraduate students.  Council on Undergraduate Research. 

Developing and maintaining community partnerships

We strongly encourage sustained relationships between faculty and community organizations.  Given the time that it takes to identify partnerships and build understanding and trust, and on-going partnership benefits both the faculty and the community organizations.  Sustained partnerships also help students to fully understand the iterative nature of research.

Students can either play a role in an on-going project, at whatever stage the project is when the students are enrolled, or the students can undertake a smaller project from start to finish.

It is also important to learn about the community context from the community partner and through our own research about the history and current issues in that community.


Developing a research plan: Issues to consider

Research Question:  Honing in on the research question/topic should be a collaborative process between faculty and community partner.  The question should frame the project in a clear way and demonstrate that it is manageable/realistic.

Project Impact:  An important consideration to the whole project is: how will the results of the project be useful to the community partner and how will the process itself contribute to community building.

Roles:  Clarification of roles of the community based organization staff, faculty, and students prior to beginning will be useful to all involved.  Skills, access to resources and sources of data and available time are all important considerations. Regular contact between the organization and faculty is critical (monthly check-in's at the least). 

  • How much time interacting with students and providing guidance will be expected of community partners? What resources can they contribute to the project, particularly related to knowledge of the community and contacts within it?
  • The scope of the project will influence the role of undergraduates.  Students can either play a role in an on-going project, at whatever stage the project is when the students are enrolled, or the students can undertake a smaller project from start to finish.
  • How will students learn to do the tasks required of them?  How will they learn about respectful interactions and professional behavior in the community?  If course-based, how will they be evaluated?

Timeline: Fitting a research project within the confines of a one-semester course can be a challenge and will affect the roles that students will have.  

  • While it is ideal for students to be involved in the formation of the research topic and project planning process, waiting until after the semester has started to initiate a new partnership and explore research topics is not practical (even without factoring in IRB timing).  Faculty/Community Partner planning should begin several months before the beginning of the course.
  • Given the many people and factors involved, timing can change.  Faculty should consider some alternative timelines in the event of the unexpected.


Research methodology and data analysis

CBPR is respectful of multiple ways of knowing and the wide variety of research methodologies available.

  • Literature review term papers (these often include best-practices analysis based on published research).
  • Case study of best practices: Students contact multiple agencies to interview staff about approaches that are successful
  • Secondary research analysis: Students analyze existing data from the organization (intake forms have a wealth of data for example)
  • Primary data collection and analyses organization projects: interviews, surveys, focus groups, etc.  
  • Program evaluation
  • Needs assessment
  • Asset assessment
  • Archival and historical research
  • Policy and legislative analysis

Potential Sources of Data:  What sources can the partner help you with? This includes initial background information as well as potential sources for content analysis, interviews or surveys.  Particularly if people or sensitive data are involved, be clear and upfront about what these methods will entail to be sure the partner will be comfortable with students' access.  For example, what will be the faculty member and community partner's role in approving surveys before they are distributed? 

  • Final Product:  Clarify what form the partner would like the results and how the students can help the results be shared as widely as the community partner would like.   Examples include:
  • Talking points of primary findings, possibly in a table or chart  
  • Description of the study and the results formatted to be provided on their website 
  • A brochure 
  • A presentation given at a community meeting 
  • A searchable database (for example, of other social service organizations in a particular community) 
  • A policy paper
  • Fact sheets or curriculum to educate the public about the issue
  • Narratives from interviews (written or short videos)


Nashman Top Picks: Resources for Community-Engaged Research


Community-Based Participatory Research

A wealth of information and resources. This link includes examples of funded proposals, peer-reviewed journal articles, sample syllabi, electronic discussion groups, and web links to further information.


Community Engaged Scholar Toolkit

Provided by the Community-Campus Partnerships for Health, this site provides step-by-step advice with particular emphasis on planning for promotion and tenure.

Community Engaged Scholarship Listserv

Distributes announcements related to meetings, publications and other resources of interest to community engaged scholars. Hosted by Community-Campus Partnerships for Health.


Council on Undergraduate Research

This organization supports collaborative research between undergraduates and faculty, including community-based research. Their handbook on Community Based Research with Undergraduates is excellent. Link here.


Resources for Engaged Scholars at Research Universities

Original papers and several annotated bibliographies of community-based scholarship. Compiled by Campus Compact.


Association of American Colleges & Universities

This organization researches and promotes initiatives that enhance student learning, with both service-learning and undergraduate research is included among their list of "high impact practices" and community-based research is a pedagogy they promote.  There are many good reads here, including this by Elizabeth Paul.


Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

The premiere national, peer-reviewed journal for articles on research, theory and pedagogy related to community based learning in higher education.  Hard copies are available in the Nashman Center. View articles online through Gelman Library.