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Community Based Research

Community Based Research:  Engage to Make Change

Community-Based Research Toolkit

Getting Started

Interpretations of Community Based Research (CBR)

  • "A collaborative approach to research that equitably involves all partners in the research process and recognizes the unique strengths that each brings.” W.K. Kellogg Foundation (2001)
  • “A partnership of students, faculty and community who collaboratively engage in research with the purpose of solving a pressing community problem and /or effecting social change.”
  • “...research that is conducted with and for, not on, members of a community.” Strand et al. (2003)

Key Features of CBR

  • Takes place in community settings.
  • Involves community members in the design and implementation of research projects.
  • Demonstrates respect for the contributions of success that are made by community partners.
  • Key idea is to elevate the community, not to harm the communities or residents.
  • Collaborations can be formally structured community organizations or informal groups of individual community members.

Tips for Working with Nonprofit Agencies

Younglee Kim, Nursing, CNS
Younglee Kim, Nursing, CNS

CBR Recognizes that…..

  • Complex social issues often cannot be well understood or resolved by “expert” research

  • There is value and legitimacy in the knowledge of individuals, families, and others in the community 

  • Interventions from outside of the community have often had disappointing results. 

  • Communities should have equal inclusion and collaboration in the identification, research, and resolution of community issues 


Community Based Research in Practice

CBR partnerships are collaborative and equitable during all phases of research

  • Research needs are defined by community.
    • Identify and building on the strengths and resources of the community. 
  • All stages of the process involve all partners equitably (faculty, students and community).
    • Actively promoting co-learning among research partners.
    • The strengths and knowledge of all partners is appreciated and utilized.
  • The research produced and key findings are disseminated in accessible ways, often in a product created for the agency or residents.

CBR in Practice: Co-Creating CBR

  • Collaborative knowledge generation by academics working alongside other stakeholders.
  • It has potential for “moving beyond the ivory tower” 
    • Significant societal impact via dynamic, locally adaptive community‐academic partnerships.
  • Process include a systems perspective.
    • Creative approach to research focused on improving the community with careful attention to community push-pull factors (i.e. cultural, economic, environmental and governance) (Greenhalgh et al. 2016)

Results of Community Based Research

Benefits for stakeholders


  • Access to faculty and student expertise, university resources
  • Organizational capacity and resource building
  • Social, environmental and economic changes


  • Classroom to Real-World (i.e. theory to practice)
  • Evolving communication and analytical skills
  • Build resume and networking capacity


  • Venue to apply High Impact Practices (HIPs)
  • Interdisciplinary approaches to teaching, research and service positively impact students and the community

Challenges of CBR

  • Unpredictability: projects can go in unexpected directions and fail to meet stated goals
  • Calendar conflicts: projects may not fit into the allotted time within a course or semester
  • Role confusion: sometimes students/agency staff/faculty can experience confusion about their roles, timelines, and what to produce or get done
  • Participant compensation and recognition: issues about sharing of funding and other resources can present issues

Research Considerations

Time and Institutional Commitment

  • How does CBR align with university, departmental and RPT objectives? 
  • IRB Process

Click here to learn more about the IRB process

  • Risk Assessment  (site, activities, students, faculty, community)
  • Internal resources to assist with CBR:
  • Student assistants 
  • Evaluation/Assessment consultants
  • OCE, TRC, OAR grants and FCE meeting spaces. 
  • Undergraduate or Graduate curriculum alignment with CBR objectives.

Short and Long-term Vision

  • The process takes time and timelines can vary.
  • Realities of student involvement and ability to commit to entire project.
  • How can research design be flexible to ever changing community and organizational needs? 

Commitment to the Community Partner

  • Immersion in community 
    •  Spending time with organization to understand “issues”, resources, role in community.  
  • Flexibility
    •  Communication Strategies
    •  Timeline 
  • Are research objectives sustainable and resilient?

Additional Resources

Community Based Research Books

The Office of Community Engagement offers resources available for check out! Browse our catalog which includes readings about service-learning, community-based research, community development, and Teaching/Writing Methods.