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Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is a systematic way of approaching research endeavors with members of typically underserved communities (Danley & Ellison, 1997; Israel et al., 2004). The inherently collaborative approach is designed to foster co-learning, that is, a bi-directional process of learning in which researchers and community members work together to understand the unique needs and disparities of the particular population. As opposed to traditional research which is often researcher-initiated and hierarchically developed and conducted, a CBPR framework means that researchers are working in tandem with the members of the particular population themselves to initiate, develop, and carry out all aspects of the research process.

The benefits of such a method can also help to improve cultural sensitivity as it engages speak to community members’ participation in research including their concerns more directly than traditional research (Stacciarini, Shattell, Coady, M& Wiens, 2011). It also means that meso-level, not just micro-level, community issues can be adequately and appropriately addressed. In other words, systemic issues affecting the community can be addressed in addition to issues that affect the individual directly.

In addition to these systemic benefits, there are multiple benefits in regards to CBPR research methodology itself. Recruitment and retention efforts of participants are improved since this process is developed by members themselves and within the shared experiences and cultural context. The process of informed consent is also vastly improved, as it ensures that participants truly understand the nature of their participation. Lastly, perhaps one of the largest benefits is the improved internal and construct validity, as members are able to ensure that the data is interpreted accurately and reliably.

Five Steps to Conducting CBPR

1. Select the team

Determining the research team involves selecting the community (e.g., population), stakeholders from the community, and research partners to help develop the research questions and execute the research design.

2. Build relationships

Trust, engagement, and a collaborative working relationship begin early. A strengths-based relationship that seeks to reduce inherent power differentials is also valued. Researchers are seen as possessing knowledge about research methods and analyses, and members are seen as possessing knowledge about the community and best strategies for engagement. Ideally the process involves teaching the community members some of the skills of researchers and educating them about IRB, HIPPAA, research design, etc. And conversely, it ideally involves community members teaching researchers about their community and the issues most relevant to them.

3. Develop the research question

The question, objectives, and goals of the research can be developed by a researcher independent of the community, but should be co-created by members.

4. Develop the study design and carry it out

Beyond standard ethical and valid research methodologies, CBPR emphasizes the valued input of community feedback to ensure that the methods being utilized are valid and reliable within the community investigated. What type of method is best to use for a particular community may vary. Some cultures may value focus groups or in-depth interviews, whereas others may find this intrusive and opt for surveys or mixed-methods. It may also mean selecting measures that have been normed on the population of interest, or that have been reviewed by community members to ensure that they measure what they intend to measure.

5. Disseminate, disseminate, disseminate

CBPR is about prevention, education, and reduction of health disparities particularly in underserved populations. As such, researchers and community members would be remiss if there was not a large focus and impetus to document, describe, and implement interventions that work. With the goal of shared equitable benefit, mutual gains must be established for researchers and for the community members.

More Information & Videos

For more information on how to conduct CBPR, check out our videos here: “The Importance of the Trauma Consumer Community Driving Research”

Looking to get more basic information, first, on how to conduct research before launching into CBPR? Check out our other video here: “Let Your Voice Have Impact: Demystifying Research”

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Dr. Amy E. Ellis is an Assistant Professor and the Director of the Trauma Resolution & Integration Program (TRIP) at Nova Southeastern University. She provides training and consultation on the provision of trauma-informed affirmative care and treating complex clinical cases. She is also has a private practice with a clinical focus in treating trauma, eating disorders, and personality disorders, and a special niche focusing on trauma-informed affirmative care for the LGBTQ+ community. She is a Consulting Editor on three of APA’s journals and recently served as Guest Editor of APA Division 42’s journal Practice Innovations on a special issue focusing on the role of evidence-based relationship variables in psychotherapy with sexual and gender minority individuals. Her current clinical and research interests focus on underserved populations who have increased exposure and risk to trauma (i.e., men, LGBTQ+, racial and ethnic minorities), tailoring evidence-based trauma treatments to these populations, and training and supervision in the field of trauma. She is currently the co-Principal Investigator of a large national grant funded through the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute focusing on the effectiveness of a peer-delivered online motivational interviewing intervention for GBTQ+ men with histories of sexual trauma.

Cite This Article

Ellis, A. E., Anderson, C., Simiola, V., & Cook, J. M. (2018, August). Community-based participatory research: What is it and how to implement it? [Web article]. Retrieved from http://www.societyforpsychotherapy.org/community-based-participatory-research


Danley, K., & Ellison, M. L. (1997). A Handbook for Participatory Action Researchers. Boston, MA: Boston University, Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation.

Israel, B. A., Schulz, A. J., Parker, E. A., Becker, A. B., Allen, A. J., & Guzman, J. R. (2003). Critical issues in developing and following community based participatory research principles. In M. Minkler & N. Wallerstein (Eds.), Community Based Participatory Research for Health (pp. 53-76). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Stacciarini, J-M. R., Shattell, M. M., Coady, M., & Wiens, B. (2011). Review: Community-based participatory research approach to address mental health in minority populations. Community Mental Health Journal, 47, 489-497. doi: 10.1007/s10597-010-9319-z


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