Across disciplines and beyond academia, it is becoming increasingly common to acknowledge the importance of community engagement – in research. For example, in a 2012 article published in the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, Roman Isler & Corbie-Smith25 noted:
For decades, the dominant research paradigm has oftentimes included… little involvement from communities. However, concerns about the relevance and applicability of the processes and outcomes of such research have led to calls for greater community engagement in the research process. As such, there has been a shift in emphasis from simply recruiting research participants from community settings to engaging community members more broadly in all aspects of the research process (p. 904).
Likewise, in a 2013 article in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation26, Bowen & Graham state that “this evolution, from transfer to engagement, in KT [knowledge transfer] theory and practice is occurring alongside, and in response to, other challenges to traditional research approaches, and reflects increasing societal expectations that knowledge must not only be scientifically valid, but also socially robust” (p. s5). Indeed, from a public health perspective, “engaging community members in the research process is often the missing link to improving the quality and outcomes of health promotion activities, disease prevention initiatives, and research studies”27.
As you learned in Module One, this type of work can be referred to as ‘knowledge exchange’ and they make the case that “exchange relationships can bring about a cultural shift that facilitates the ongoing use of research knowledge among decision-makers and a more decision-relevant culture among researchers”. While more research is needed to better comprehend the impacts of community engagement on research, and vice versa, many researchers outline evidence of benefits to ongoing collaboration and engagement around policy development in the Canadian context as well as more broadly (Worton et al. 2017). 28
This need for community engaged research (sometimes shortened to CEnR) has been clearly recognized by the 68 National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Centers and 62 medical research institutions that are members of the Clinical and Translational Science Award consortium, which have been mandated to engage communities in their work and to disseminate evidence-based strategies (Goodman et al. 2017, p. 19). 29
But what do we mean by community engagement? To start, you can find the principles of community engagement as defined by the Clinical and Translational Science Awards Consortium in Chapter Two of this online resource:
In a 2018 scoping review of 20 years of academic work, Beaulieu, Breton, & Brousselle30 “define engaged scholarship as a true academic posture, rooted in the values of social justice and citizenship, that prompts academics and universities… to work in ways that will build mutually beneficial and reciprocal bridges between university activity and civil society” (p. 12). A central point that emerges from this and other work in this area is that establishing relationships built on mutual trust and commitment is central to community engagement work, which itself is reliant on asking KMb-informed questions and implementing associated strategies that authentically address community-specific knowledge generation and access concerns. Of course, this is necessarily long-term work that requires time, resources and openness (see also, Goodman et al. 2017)29. We explore these and other key considerations for community engagement later in this module. Before that, let’s now consider various roles communities might take in community-engaged research and various ways that community-engaged research might function within the KMb process.