On January 13, 2017, the Center for Healthy Communities hosted its second forum on community-engaged scholarship, Strengthening the Community Engaged Research and Scholarship “Tool Box”. The one day event featured presentations, group engagement activities, and posters by researchers, students, and community members reflecting on the importance and value of community-engaged research.
In their morning session, Dr. Farrah Jaquez and Dr. Lisa Vaughn, both from the University of Cincinnati, discussed “The process and power of community-engaged research: Moving from outreach to shared decision-making.” They described community-engagement a spectrum with community-based participatory research (CBPR) being the most complete expression of community engagement. At the same time, the speakers stressed the importance of being on the spectrum including:
- Collaborating with co-researchers (community members) about research questions and considering a topic/issue of importance to tem
- Maintaining the collaborative spirit through each phase of a project
- Working with an idea of making social change and helping improve health
- Improving relevance and trusted connections in the community through working with a team
- Including the needs and realities of all community partners when planning for logistics, etc.
- Stressing the need to ensure community dissemination is done and incorporates opportunity and authentic feedback
In their afternoon session, Jaquez and Vaughn focused on developing tools for community engaged-scholarship.They started by exploring the way researchers often understand communities and the need to alter this understanding so to recognize the strengths that already exist in the community. With this context, the speakers took the group of approximately 100 attendees through an interactive exercise in which groups provided one to three word answers to a series of five questions. Jaquez and Vaughn then mapped the responses into categories such as resources, institutional commitment, individual skills, sustainable goals and outcomes, relationships, and communication.
Dr. John C. Higginbotham from the University of Alabama rounded out the afternoon with his presentation “Photovoice, speed dating, and other things for working with communities.” Dr. Higginbotham used stories of projects in Alabama’s Black Belt to describe key elements of community-engaged research and the need for flexibility and creativity when working together. One example described a project in which researchers were to make presentations to community members about possible projects or partnerships. However, the in-person presentations were not best mechanism for the community members. So, to bridge the gap between researchers and community members, Dr. Higginbotham’s program allowed each researchers to make a three-minute video and then provided those videos online for community members to watch and decide who they wanted to work with. Throughout his presentation, Dr. Higginbotham stressed the need to incorporate community voices into decision-making both in the designing of research initiatives and the development of product arising out of those initiatives.
The program also spotlighted speakers from the USA community who shared their perspectives and experience with engaged research. Their presentations included:
- “Don’t placate me!”: Beyond the traditional one-way transmission of knowledge” by Dr. Kern Jackson, Director, USA African American Studies program and Assistant Professor of English.
- “The Value of Participation in Community Engaged Research–A Medical Student Perspective” by Ms. Destini Smith, a first-year medical student at USA who began doing community-engaged research as an undergraduate at Mississippi State University.
- “Community Engaged Research–The View from My Neighborhood” by Mrs. Leevones Dubose-Fisher, Executive Director and Housing Coordinator for Bay Area Women Coalition, Inc. (BAWC) and community activist for the Trinity Gardens area in Mobile and Prichard.
According to one participant, the forum provided “a great opportunity for all of us to come together and learn from each other’s experiences, develop new networks, and build connections.” Another said, “…I certainly left inspired to continue work in this area.”