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Tell Us About Your Methodology – Community Based Participatory Research

Tell Us About Your Methodology – Community Based Participatory Research

We have really appreciated the opportunities to learn about the work that is happening across the PGR cohort with our newest blog series, Tell Us About Your Methodology. Grab a cup of tea and settle down with our latest instalment as we talk with 1st year PhD candidate, Liam Gilchrist (Health in Social Science). 


What methodology are you using? 

My PhD research will use ethnography to explore the possibilities of using an orientation to research called Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) in health research. I am particularly interested in understanding how CBPR can be used to improve health research within different organisational contexts, including universities, national third sector charities, health service providers and grassroots community groups. I will also explore how CBPR can support social justice aims such as anti-racism within organisations who do health research. 


What are the key aspects of this methodology? 

  1. CBPR is part of a wider family of participatory and action research approaches. It is an orientation to research that questions the exclusion of lived community knowledge and experience from research process and practice. Other orientations in this family include Participatory Action Research, Patient Public Involvement, and Citizen Science.
  2. In CBPR, research topics are directly chosen by communities or members of the public.  Community members also become co-researchers who share power over decision making at all stages of projects including research design, data collection, analysis and in dissemination of findings. 
  3. Community co-researchers lived knowledge and experiences are respected and valued as an additional skillset which is equally important to researcher’s academic skillset. 
  4. Researchers practicing CBPR make conscious efforts to empower community co-researchers to be equitably included within decision making throughout projects.


Why did you choose this methodology? 

I choose to practice CBPR because I perceive it as a way of challenging, disrupting, and reforming research structures by democratising the way knowledge is produced. Before starting my PhD research, I was also already a practitioner of CBPR through my research role with ‘Our Health’ (An Interdisciplinary Science Shop at The University of Edinburgh). 


Why would you recommend this methodology? 

CBPR can help to share what we do in the University with people who will be impacted by our research. Doing CBPR also has profound experiential learning implications for practicing researchers who learn entirely new set of skills to practice this approach. It is a very enriching and rewarding way of doing research. 


Where any additional considerations needed to use your methodology? 

To truly involve community members as equitable partners requires a lot of reflexivity about your role as a researcher and relationship to your community partners. Co-creating research equitably means findings ways to genuinely connect with and understand co-researchers. This includes thinking of strategies to make people feel supported and included within research decision making. CBPR partnerships also require extra ethical consideration to account for power dynamics which exist in the relationships between academics and community researchers.  


What are the benefits of this method?  

Literature around CBPR has shown that there are many benefits to practicing CBPR. It can help to produce more relevant and nuanced research topics, improve the quality and relevance of all phases of research projects and improve sampling for difficult to research groups.  


What are the challenges of using this methodology? 

Practicing CBPR within higher education funding models is challenging due to the rigidness of existing research structures, which don’t necessarily account for the extra steps required in a CBPR project. These steps include the extra time needed to build trusting relationships with grassroots community organisations and to conduct co-design activities. These are necessary to make sure that community interests are truly heard and included within research partnerships. Building equitable partnerships is very rewarding, but it takes extra time to build trust, especially when working with disadvantaged groups.  


Where can I find more information about this (e.g., key publications)? 

1.An excellent starting point would be ‘Community-Based Participatory Research For Health: Advancing Social and Health Equity’ (,+3rd+Edition-p-9781119258858).  

2.Barbara Israel’s ‘review of community-based research: assessing partnership approaches to improve public health’ (Israel, 1998), provides an excellent summary of the key components in defining CBPR partnerships.  


What advice can you give to other people using this methodology? 

One piece of advice is that if you are co-creating research about health, there is an added emotional dimension to what you are doing. Although you may be building professional/work relationships with co-researchers, you are also asking people to share very personal experiences about their health and lives with you. My advice is to be genuine, open, and honest throughout, especially when discussing your motivations and interest in your research. 




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