Community-based participatory research (CBPR) integrates education and social action to improve health and well-being in communities. This collaborative approach strives to equitably involve all partners in research and aims to develop community driven knowledge and social change. As such, it is a particularly applicable method for research aimed at reducing racial and income based inequities. However, challenges and paradoxes have been noted as CBPR methods have evolved including issues of power, privilege, participation, community consent, racial/ethic discrimination, culturally bound knowledge, and the role of research in social change. While some scholarship exits around the challenges and benefits of conducting CBPR, little has been written about initiating CBPR. This presentation aims to examine the challenges, benefits, and potential paradoxes of initiating CBPR. In partnership with our community advisory board, we approach this research from our own positions of power, oppression, and privilege.
This exploratory, qualitative case study focuses on the MI-PHOTOS project. MI-PHOTOS is a community, student, and faculty initiated Photovoice project focused on improving perinatal health in a rural, low-income, majority-minority community. Photovoice is a CBPR method that uses photography and shared meaning making to assist people in enhancing their community. We used autoethnography to explore benefits, challenges, and paradoxes related to the process of initiating CBPR in partnership with our identified community. This involved self-reflection and a content analysis of project meeting minutes and notes from conversations with community stakeholders, gatekeepers, and board members. Themes were generated based on both data sources and were reviewed by our community advisory board. Triangulation of data sources and researchers and member checking were used to enhance trustworthiness and reflexive accounting.
Themes related to challenges, benefits and paradoxes emerged. Themes include: “One step forward, two steps back”, related to the challenges of pacing and engaging the community; “Nothing about us without us”, focused on hearing messages coming from the community; “From vs. Of vs. In the community” focused on the challenges of identifying the community, stakeholders, and the identified population; “Identity Matters”, focused on cultural humility, navigating racial/ethnic differences, and working from an “outsider” versus “insider” perspective; and “Building Trust on the Edges” related to the process of building the basic knowledge and presence in the community required to move forward with CBPR.
CBPR, despite challenges in initiation, provides a critical research paradigm for social justice focused research and, therefore, should be central to social work methods. Lessons learned from initiating CBPR largely mirror the challenges and paradoxes identified with conducting CBPR. Early partnership with stakeholders and the capacity to be flexible critical for the successful initiation of CBPR. The benefits of CBPR are clear in terms of aligning with social work values and conducting meaningful community-based research. Research methods for social work should incorporate CBPR while being mindful of initiation challenges.