What is CBPR?

Lehigh University Community Health Research Group Community Based Participatory ResearchCommunity-Based Participatory Research differs from traditional community-based research. Community-based research “emphasizes conducting research in a community with only limited, if any, involvement of community members in what is primarily a researcher-driven enterprise.”1 Many Lehigh researchers engage with communities in this way, using community members as subjects in studies or implementing interventions designed to improve the health of community members. In contrast, Community-Based Participatory Research “recognizes the community as a social or cultural entity with the active engagement and influence of community members in all aspects of the research process.”2 Our Community Health Research Group applies CBPR to promote collaborative research among academic researchers, community health organizations, and individual community members. Asking questions with the community, instead of to the community, enables researchers to understand the problems that really matter to communities, to understand the local culture, and to create sustainable change through community ownership of the solutions.3 The research essentially becomes part of the intervention for community improvement, as communities are empowered to ‘solve’ their own problems. CBPR allows researchers to conduct high-quality research that would not be possible without deep and engaged community involvement. CBPR, then, is the most effective current methodology for addressing health issues in communities,4 and is especially effective for creating long-term change.5
Contrasting the process of CBPR with the stages of a traditional community-based research project provides a more concrete sense of what CBPR means. In a traditional project, researchers have an idea about an important problem to solve and how to study it. They recruit participants from the community and collect relevant data as best they can. They may not have access to many parts of the community, or to the types of data that might be most informative, but they work with what they have. Researchers then analyze their data and determine what the results mean. The results are then published in a scientific journal or presented at a conference. The community being studied probably never learns about them. 
A CBPR project looks quite different. As part of an ongoing collaborative relationship, researchers and community members team up to determine the most pressing or relevant problems the community is facing, how they might be interconnected, and how to study them. Because of the diverse perspectives and experiences involved, the ideas won’t be limited by the researcher’s disciplinary background, which is why CBPR often involves interdisciplinary teams of researchers. Community members collaborate on data collection, which may open up access to sources of data that researchers could not access on their own, such as data collected from inside homes. Once the data are collected, community members can help to give meaning to the results of data analyses through their perspectives as members of the community. The results of the study are then actively shared with the community, which can give rise to new discussions, effective interventions, and new collaborative projects. When published, these results can be informative to the broader scientific community at a number of levels, from new insights into the determinants of health and health disparities to methodological guidance on working with communities and studying health systems. 
1 Israel, B. A. et. al., “Community-based Participatory Research: Policy Recommendations for Promoting a Partnership Approach in Health Research,” Education for Health 14.2 (2001) 182-97.
2 Ibid.
4 Cornwall, A. and R. Jewkes, “What is Participatory Research?” Social Science Medicine 41.12 (1995) 1667-76.
5 Wallerstein, N. and B. Duran, “Community-based participatory research contributions to intervention research: the intersection of science and practice to improve health equity,” Am J Public Health 100.S1 (2010) S40-6.

Community Health Research Group  |  Maginnes Hall, Room 490  |  9 West Packer Avenue  |  Bethlehem, PA 18015  |  phone 610-758-3996  |  fax 610-758-6232