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Section 7: Overcoming Challenges

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As a community partner, you may be concerned about anticipated challenges to collaborating with a research team. Maintaining an effective partnership over the course of a community-engaged research study requires thoughtful consideration of the day-to-day functioning of both the community partner’s and researcher’s organizational and professional responsibilities. Building a trusting relationship with researchers requires an understanding of the challenges and barriers that may be presented with your participation in a research project. Careful planning and communication can often address these challenges, but common pitfalls to community-engaged research can still exist.

Below are challenges that sometimes arise in CEnR projects, along with strategies to avoid and/or mitigate these potential obstacles:

Lack of mutual understanding and knowledge

Researchers are not always aware of the inner workings and culture of a community partner’s organization. Likewise, community partners may not be very familiar with the processes, requirements, and obligations associated with a research project. As such, researchers and community partners alike may be unprepared for the demands associated with each other’s areas of work. This lack of understanding and knowledge can result in conflict and/or difficulty accomplishing research goals.

Let’s Address It!

The CHEER team encourages all researchers and community partners to spend time talking and learning about one another before they begin a research partnership.  Researchers can talk to staff, read agency information, and observe the community partner’s work in action to gain familiarity and a better understanding of the organization. Community partners can complete a research ethics training designed specifically for community members called CIRTification (Community Involvement in Research), to provide a foundation of research processes and ethical considerations that Penn State provides for free. CHEER also offers additional workshops and webinars focused on a variety of CEnR topics. Have a particular training idea that you would like to see offered? Let us know!

The need for additional resources

Additional time, staff, training, and other administrative resources may be necessary to complete the research project. Community partners may be limited in their ability to participate if these present organizational obstacles, including financial limitations.

Let’s Address It!

Think ahead and allow for comprehensive planning. Determine if involvement in a CEnR project is ‘right’ for your organization. Conduct a full assessment of the study’s needs and requirements, including what the research team has committed to the funding source. Recognize limitations early on so these may be addressed at the start of the project.

Insider Tip!

To help you flesh out important questions, consider using a tool such as the “Preparing for Research Worksheet,” (See Appendix C) designed by the University of Illinois at Chicago Center for Clinical and Translational Science. Taking the time to review these key factors can help you best prepare for involvement in research. You’ll be off to a great start!

Differing priorities

A researcher’s identified focus of study may not align with the priorities of your community organization. Competing agendas could present challenges to the project, ultimately impacting the focus of the study, associated research activities, and overall time required to complete the project.

Let’s Address It!

Discuss the priorities, interests, and needs of all stakeholders during initial planning meetings. Decide together on the study’s purpose and create an estimated timeline for study phases. Establish an environment where researchers and community partners alike utilize open and transparent communication should challenges arise. Come to the ‘table’ ready to talk, but also ready to listen. Allow researchers to explain their perspective in taking on the particular research project. Consider how your valuable input can shape this specific project, keeping in mind the intended focus. Offer suggestions and guidance using your expertise on the population’s defining characteristics, behaviors, trends, and your organization’s areas for improvement in service delivery and access. The willingness to make adjustments on the part of both you and the researcher can allow for the broadest application of study results.

Conflict between organizational hierarchies

Community partners and researchers have separate and distinct organizational hierarchies to consider. Collaboration under the goal of a research study may reveal a clash between organizational cultures and decision-making structures. Further, academic partners and community partners may need to adhere to organizational, local, and/or federal requirements that are not in sync.41

Let’s Address It!

Evaluate and discuss both the finite and nuanced role(s) in your organization, and how those may or may not merge with your decision-making processes as a member of a research team. Establish clear expectations and appropriate professional boundaries among each member of the research team, both verbally and in writing.

Insider Tip!

Recognizing, acknowledging, and reducing power imbalances can be an important step in a successful partnership.  To aid you in this discussion, consider the Checklist tool developed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in partnership with Centro Hispano. Find this Checklist on pages 13-14 of their guide, Community Guidelines for Engaging with Researchers and Evaluators.

CHEER is here to help!

The Penn State CHEER program supports community-engaged research projects of varying topics, sizes, and scopes. Members of research teams, including community partners like YOU, who work with the experts at CHEER can expect to receive support in education, training, and other project management services to assist in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of their community-engaged research projects.

We can help:

  • Find researchers interested in participating in CEnR and your topic of interest,
  • Cultivate partnerships with researchers that are based on trust, integrity, and mutual respect,
  • Develop and manage the steps of creating and implementing a CEnR project,
  • Establish clear roles and boundaries amongst CEnR stakeholders, and
  • Determine the best CEnR relationships to meet the needs, desires and interests of the community.

Please reach out to us: We look forward to working with you!