What Is Community Engagement?: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

This guide is meant to be a first stop for those trying to learn about and implement community engagement in their work, and includes definitions and principles, how-to-guides and other resources, as well as frequently asked questions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a community?

Some common elements of community are:

  • Locus (a sense of place) - city, village, neighborhood, workplace, etc.
  • Sharing (sharing common interests and perspectives)
  • Join action (joint actions that bring people together)
  • Social ties (family, friends)
  • Diversity

What are some barriers to community engagement?

Community Barriers

  • History of leaving community concerns and interests out of the research agenda, leading to caution on the part of communities
    • Topics selected without determining if they addressed perceived needs of the community
    • Studies conducted "on" communities; only community involvement was community members as research subjects
    • No mechanisms for sharing research findings or continuing successful programs
    • Communities felt they seldom received benefits from the research
  • Time: research often an additional responsibility for  already overworked individuals in organizations with their own mission and mandates to fulfill.
  • Unclear distinctions between research, advocacy and administrative change can lead to unrealistic expectations.

Academic Barriers

  • Time: building partnerships, negotiating, planning and communicating are all time consuming activities over and above regular research opportunities
  • The community-engaged research approach may not fit neatly within the academic status quo, leading to funding and promotion challenges
  • Expectations for dissemination of results:
    • Community members often expect to hear about results soon after the research is completed; don't want to wait the months or years it takes to appear in academic journals
    • Some academic journals (e.g., New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA) will not publish articles who findings have been previously disseminated via newspaper, TV, etc.
    • Given the above, how to give results to the community in a timely manner without compromising the researcher's ability to present findings in academic venues.
  • Please see the resources on the "Community Engagement in Practice" page for assistance in overcoming these barriers.

What are the benefits to community-engaged research?

Meaningful community involvement can improve the research process itself, and therefore the ultimate findings:

  • Develop research questions concerning health issues of concern to the community
  • Help recruiting participants - people more likely to support the research and researchers when they understand the purpose of the research and how the results may affect them.
  • Identify risks associated with participation and help develop appropriate ways to protect participants.
  • Improves study and instrument design through community input to produce user friendly, culturally sensitive, accurate and valid practices and measures.
  • Involvement in analysis and interpretation can provide important explanations of results, and local interpretation may provide ideas the researchers had not considered.
  • Opportunity to build greater trust and respect between researchers and communities. This may lead to future research collaborations.
  • Research may be more likely to lead improvements in community health.

Why choose community-engaged research over traditional research methods?