At the May 2016 meeting of the Health Disparities Research Group (HDRG), several individuals shared their experiences from attending the Campus-Community Partnerships for Health (CCPH) 2016 conference in New Orleans, LA. They discussed the various sessions they attended and the lessons they brought back from the conference. The discussion included several major themes.
Community-Academic partnerships were a centerpiece of the CCPH conference. Of those HDRG members who attended the conference, several spoke of the way community members led many of the sessions with academic partners playing a supportive role. One example was a session led by the translational research coordinator/community navigator from the Vanderbilt Institute of Public Health. The session featured the work of integrating community members into research design decisions by including community representatives in a scientific advisory board and the “community engagement studio” which forms a consultant group for impacted community members to review research protocols and provide feedback and advice to researchers.
The importance of funding and how funders work to ensure community engagement garnered much discussion. Naima Wells, research coordinator from the USA Center for Healthy Communities Research (CHC) Core, described a meeting that she attended with leadership from CCPH and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The session focused on two main questions: 1) Is philanthropy helpful?; and 2) Is there arrogance in philanthropy?. A strong vein coming from the discussion was the importance of considering community need, interest and infrastructure in developing calls for proposals. From the foundation perspective, there is a need for more community groups to respond to funding opportunities. From the research and community activist perspectives, the opportunities either don’t coincide with local need or are too cumbersome to allow for a proposal.
Community-Academic partnerships serve to foster the development of new participatory approaches. Shannon Shelley-Tremblay, project manager for the CHC, described a session on group level assessment developed by researchers at the University of Cincinnati. The model focuses on involving all key stakeholders in a process in which everyone is on the same level to discuss problems and solutions. In so doing, the model allows the use of different communication mechanisms such as drawing and speaking to ensure that all voices have a place in the discussion and allow for analysis within the group as well as data collection.
The impact of language on relationship and the views of the other was an underlying stream of discussion throughout the conference. Naima Wells mentioned that in many of the sessions that she attended individuals talked about the need to acknowledge the strengths within the communities where research is being done. The use of the word “empowerment” was questioned. The consensus was that ‘empowerment’ implies that marginalized communities do not have power and that researchers are giving them power. The reality is that these communities have always had power and strengths that researchers and other must recognize. Naima reported that two recommendations came out of the discussions: “in-powerment” and “redirect power.” The discussion was a reminder of the need to be cognizant of the language we use and the messages that are communicated through that language.
During the HDRG meeting, members of the Research Core reported on their own presentation during CCPH. They described the positive reception of the research apprentice concept and the very lively dialogue with the audience members. Sherron Dortch, senior research apprentice, talked about the individual feedback that she received from different conference attendees she met. She also expressed her appreciation for attending CCPH 2016 and learning more about the importance of health disparities research.