5 Lessons Learned for Conducting Community Based Research

Research methods that are community based enrich the research findings and facilitate research capacity building in the community. In particular, community based participatory research (CBPR) approaches emPOWER the community to own the research process, interpretation of data collected, and utility of findings.

Establishing community-academic partnerships have been criticized for being community-placed rather than community-based, for being top down, and for exploiting communities for the sake of data. However, partnerships can help leverage mutually beneficial resources and most importantly foster equitable practices and outcomes.

The following lessons learned are useful for community-based organizations partnering with consultants or academic professionals for developing research-based collaborations. 

  1. Employ Community-Based Participatory Approach – Location matters! Research consultants including grant writers should employ a participatory approach that is situated in the community rather than at an academic institution or another remote setting outside of the target community.
  2. Exercise Cultural Humility – Being culturally humble requires for researchers to understand their “outsider” role as investigators collaborating with community members. This means respecting the community leaders, cultural values, and hierarchical structures.
  3. Acknowledge History – Consultants have the responsibility to learn as much as possible about the community’s experience with research including negative historical experiences with misuse and abuse of community members for the sake of albeit well intended scientific experiments. Researchers who practice CBPR need to be deeply committed to and genuinely interested in the community they are collaborating with. This means taking accountability for countering past historical wrongs to build lasting respectful community partnerships. 
  4. Value for Community and Stakeholder Engagement Consultants should serve as advocates who value inclusivity of community and stakeholder perspectives. Excluding marginalized voices can lead to erroneous results and wasted resources. Inclusion will help properly align research objectives and relevant data collection instruments and tools that are culturally and linguistically appropriate rather than simply extracting data and information from community members. Meaningful collaboration with promotoras (lay community workers) and other community members is always appropriate, as they are the most attuned to culturally responsive community needs. 
  5. Communicate Openly – CBPR partners should communicate openly and be transparent about their interests and intentions for establishing a community partnership based on trust. This also means maintaining ongoing honest communication throughout the duration of the project. 

Community based participatory research is not a quick band-aid approach. It is a long-term commitment and a process that engages community members as valued partners. This requires an investment in significant sustainable resources. CBPR should be the gold standard for research practices. The benefits to practicing CBPR outweigh the challenges. At Tanoma, we value working closely with community organizations as partners and facilitators towards eradicating inequities. 


Dr. Lisa Aponte-Soto is the president/CEO of Tanoma Consulting. She is a trained community-based researcher. She earned a PhD in community health sciences from the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. She has worked in community based settings locally in the Chicagoland area and across the U.S. supporting community-based research approaches to foster equity and eradicate disparities. For more information visit our FAQs page and services page.