Understanding Key Elements in Building Community-Academic Partnerships

The Los Angeles Healthy Community Neighborhood (HCNI) Initiative developed in 2005 as a partnership between two community organizations and two academic institutions. It’s goal was to identify and address health-related questions posed by the residents in Park Mesa Heights, a low-income community in South Los Angeles. A recent study, published in the Journal of Community Medicine and Public Health Care, used semi-structured discussions with the HCNI community and academic partners to identify key features and elements to developing a successful partnership. Some key elements identified in the research include:

  • Develop a memorandum of understanding to define roles of the partnership around issues such as process/procedures, perspective and time parameters.
  • Do not enter into partnership with assumptions
  • Value community “resident experts.”
  • Establish community advisory boards, but recognize while they are important they are not sufficient for true Community-Academic Partnerships
  • Understand how to collaborate and build effective relationships: commitment = time, patience, physical presence and assistance in building the communities’ capacity for understanding, participating in and benefiting from research
  • Faculty need to be briefed/educated by community leaders and vice versa.
  • Recognize the existence of competing agendas – be open, respectful
  • Respect community’s time, effort, insights (recognized with payment for services/%effort, authorship, etc., – same as academia)
  • Build on existing community resources
  • Funding source should be committed to maintaining close contact throughout the project
  • For meetings, alternate sites, establish ground rules, maintain community and academic co-chairs (consider two community co-chairs to one academic co-chair if needed to balance power dynamics)
  • Mentorship: Use a model where community members are co-mentors for entry-level academic faculty who are learning skills to conduct respectful partnered research with and in communities with balanced input from both academic and community sides of the research program.

With this feedback, the researchers created a framework to incorporate and reinforce the key elements identified as crucial in building and sustaining a community-academic partnership.
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