Abstract: Adapting University-Community Partnerships in the COVID-19 Context of Virtual Interdisciplinary Research (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

561P Adapting University-Community Partnerships in the COVID-19 Context of Virtual Interdisciplinary Research

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
John C. Bricout, PhD, Professor, University of Minisota, Twin Cities
Ling Xu, MSW, PhD, Associate Professor, The University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington
Noelle LeCrone Fields, PhD
Julienne Greer, PhD, Assistant Professor, The University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington
Jenay Beer, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Georgia, GA
Priscila Tamplain, PhD, Associate Professor, The University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington
Background and Purpose: COVID-19 has occasioned an abrupt shift to virtual research as a public health mandate and the transition to greater reliance on virtual research is likely to continue. This paper explores how community research partners view the adaptation to virtual research formats as it impacts their relationships with research teams, their expectations of how participants (clients) will be engaged, and what changes need to take place in the research process to ensure ethical, effective and appropriate practices to help close the gap in our knowledge of virtual research.

Methods: Data were collected from nine community partners at seven research partner agencies in Georgia and Texas using semi-structured interviews. Each of the community respondents had participated in community-university research projects prior to the pandemic and reflected on their adaptations, and those of their clients (research participants) to virtual research formats. Interviews of community research partners were transcribed for analysis.

We employed a three-phase process of analysis involving independent coders. The first reviewer conducted the initial coding and identification of tentative themes. We used an open coding procedure that generated preliminary codes which were subsequently revised to develop categories, and ultimately, themes. The second coder provided an independent analysis. For the third phase, another independent coder conducted a check of the previous two analyses and identified both common and unique themes.

Findings: Four common themes emerged across the interviews. The following broad themes emerged in particular about shifting to a virtual environment: Benefits of the virtual environment: (1) Removal of physical barriers to participation (i.e., transportation), (2) Removal of physical dangers to participation (i.e., COVID-19 and health hazards). Greater demands on individuals and groups: (1) Adaptation to new cognitive and emotional demands on participants, (2) Change for participants and systems of care that may be challenging, (3) Time to understand how remote research works and to adapt comfortably to virtual communications, absent familiar cues. Challenges to relationship building: (1) Fostering trust built on mutuality, shared values, shared experiences, and emotional connections, (2) Forming and maintaining relationships. Communication challenges associated with the virtual environment: (1) Requiring brevity for effectiveness, (2) Due to reduced bandwidth of information, poorer context, less personal, exchanges are less meaningful and tend towards unidirectional and greater formality, (3) More frequent virtual meetings are needed.

Conclusions and Implications: The sudden shift to a virtual research environment was perceived by community partners as a consequential alteration to prior conduct of in-person research. This implication impacted not only their own relationships with researchers, but also the participation and well-being of their clients who participate in virtual studies. The transition to virtual research has largely been framed as tactical responses to the challenges of participant recruitment and accessible and reliable communication technology. Concerns and opportunities of a more strategic nature as in problem-solving remote relationship building, shared experience and values, changing roles, and building participant capacity receives little attention as the issues undergirding the conduct of ethical and social justice mission-alignment.