Academia and community-based organizations are sometimes seen as belonging to different worlds with different goals. Recently, however, scholars and community researchers have been increasingly partnering to break down the assumptions each group carries to work together in genuine partnership and collaboratively to produce high quality research directly relevant to the community. This study reports on five years of data from two programs based in Cleveland, Ohio that have been working to increase community organizations’ research capacity while creating and/or strengthening their relationships with local academic institutions.
Three research questions guided the work: (1) What is the impact of the training program on trainees with regard to changes in their research knowledge? (2) What is the impact of the training program on the organization as a whole? (3) What is the impact of the program with regard to trainees’ understandings of the academic/community relationship?
Participants. A total of 26 individual trainees and their supervisors from 25 different community organizations participated across the five cohorts the two programs have trained, yielding a total sample size of 52.
A mixed methods approach was employed to explore the research questions. Surveys were conducted with participants from both programs conducted at baseline and follow-up to explore their knowledge of research skills and perceptions/confidence in working with academic researchers and partners. Interviews were conducted with trainees and their supervisors during the program to help explain and illuminate survey findings.
Descriptive and nonparametric Wilcoxon signed-rank test analyses of survey data were performed using SPSS to examine within group and across group differences between pre- and post-test. Transcriptions of qualitative interview data were analyzed line-by-line and ultimately, thematically, to gather participants’ perceptions of their experiences. Trustworthiness of the qualitative data was established using member checks peer debriefing, and triangulating the findings with the survey data, participant observation, and other program documents (including participant journals, write-ups, and session evaluations).
Overall, program trainees reported more knowledge of research and associated skills after participating in the program as compared to their baseline assessment. Among the major themes from the interviews included that the programs increased trainees’ intellectual and personal growth and increased research readiness. Survey and interview data revealed that trainees were less certain of the programs’ impact on their organizations and within-organization power issues were cited as necessary for increasing organizational research capacity. Supervisor interviews revealed that the research training had created an excitement for research that the organization might not be able to support or sustain in the long run, due to dwindling resources and/or lack of institutional support.
The findings provide evidence that research training programs can have an impact on community organizations, but the level of impact remains unclear, and more research is needed to determine the lasting impact and sustainability of the learning over time. The findings suggest that training employees of community organizations has promising practice implications, as the “usual” practice is examined with new, more critical, research-ready eyes, and provides promise for making stronger links between academic and community work.