1. How many individuals from the community are provided with a voice (e.g., one representative, a small group of gatekeepers, or a random sample)?
2. Do community members have authority to advise on the research protocol or to make key decisions regarding the research protocol?
3. Are community members elevated to the level of coinvestigators? Do they share resources and play an investigative role in the conduct research? Do they participate in data interpretation and dissemination?
Community engagement in mental health research may involve interaction with individuals from any of the following groups: people with mental health disorders; people who are recovering; family members or caregivers; people at risk; clinicians, healthcare providers, service agencies, and insurers; government or industry funding representatives; and advocates. CEnR also involves members of communities who are affected by mental disorders, including employers, educators, prisoners, students, and minority members within any of these groups. CEnR may vary radically depending on whether, for example, mental health consumers are approached by researchers or, rather, initiate a research study themselves, with or without the collaboration of an academic center .
Different kinds and degrees of engagement may depend on how well certain values are embraced, how educated the researchers are regarding community engagement (techniques and benefits), time and financial resources, and also on the type of science (e.g., how much ‘scientific flexibility’ they have) and the funding source, which may mandate CEnR or make it more difficult. Figure 1 provides a hierarchy of forms of CEnR with the baseline representing forms that are minimally burdensome and should be integrated into most human participant research.
For a group to constitute a community, it must possess structure and leadership. In some cases, a clear community exists prior to a research study; in other cases, researchers must collaborate with group members to establish a community structure [49••]. The boundaries of communities are not always well defined and communities may range from fairly homogeneous to heterogeneous. Not all community members may wish to engage with researchers, and resources may limit the number of community members who can be engaged. The interests of the larger community may not always be congruent with the best interests or research goals of vulnerable groups within the community who will be recruited to participate in the research . Thus, one never fully engages a community.
Rather, community engagement is an ideal that may be more or less embodied by a study.
Researchers inevitably affect the communities they study and frequently leave a lasting impression: positive or negative. So-called ‘helicopter’ projects, in which researchers fly in and quickly fly out with data, may leave the impression that communities are simply used rather than valued. Research that does not address the knowledge or health priorities of communities may contribute to research fatigue and an unwillingness to participate in research [51,52].
Engaging communities in appropriate ways is a form of showing respect for community members as persons. It provides a voice to individuals who are often disenfranchised [16•]. The American Psychological Association has asserted that community engagement is a requirement of any ethical research with minority communities .
CEnR may also provide significant benefits to community members. Our researcher panelists believe that CEnR improves T3 or curbside translation of the results of health research. To the extent that decreasing health disparities is a health priority , we should increase CEnR efforts toward cultural competence, the recruitment of minorities, and the dissemination of health information among minority communities. CEnR may also provide significant peripheral benefits to community members. For example, mental health service users have reported that participatory research offered them opportunities to gain knowledge and to share their unique perspectives, increased their self-esteem, provided them with an opportunity for employment, and gave them a chance to give back to society and help others .
CEnR may also improve the quality of science insofar as it may assist researchers in recruitment and retention [49••,55,56]. The Framingham Heart study would not have been nearly as successful without intense engagement of the local community, including efforts to adapt the study in response to community concerns . CEnR may additionally contribute to the recruitment of participants who are genuinely representative of the larger community. Given that 6.7% of the population suffers from depression  and 3.8% from substance abuse disorders at any given time  (with a life-long prevalence of 16.2%  and 14.6% , respectively), a study that wishes to have a truly representative sample should refrain from excluding individuals with such diagnoses; in fact, extra efforts should be made to include them . CEnR methods have proven successful in recruiting marginalized populations into traditional clinical trials .
Moreover, community members may bring novel perspectives to questions of research design and recruitment; they may raise concerns or suggest useful strategies that may be unfamiliar to researchers . Indeed, in early HIV trials, not only was CEnR essential to obtaining the cooperation of the participant community, but some community members suggested improvements to the statistical analysis of the data . In other cases, the scientific expertise may be largely qualitative. For example, whereas researchers often focus on ‘objective’ outcomes of studies, mental health consumers may encourage a focus on subjective outcomes such as a sense of well being and empowerment or of sadness and hopelessness.
CEnR may also serve to foster trust in science and to improve institutional public relations. Although trust and trustworthiness are to be valued for their own sake, they are also prerequisites to any successful research enterprise .
Further, compliance with international policies requires at least some degree of CEnR. For example, 45 Code of Federal Regulations, part 46 (the US ‘common rule’) and European guidelines for good clinical practice require IRBs and IECs to have at least one member who is a nonscientist and unaffiliated with the institution . National Institutes of Health requires all Clinical and Translational Science Award programs to have a community engagement program. Finally, in certain kinds of research, such as research in emergency medicine when informed consent cannot be obtained (e.g., from unconscious patients), US regulations require investigators to consult with communities .
The quality of a CEnR process depends in part upon the traits that the researchers and community members bring to the encounter. Some of the traits that panelists (engaged researchers and community members) considered ideal are as follows:
1. Listen and learn
2. Ask questions
3. Educate and share their expertise (e.g., about science or community concerns and priorities)
4. Be flexible and creative
5. Demonstrate empathy, courtesy, and cultural sensitivity
6. Be diverse in their backgrounds and thinking
While the panel first attempted to identify separately the ideal traits of researchers and community members, it became apparent that the ideal traits are shared, although the specific kinds of expertise that they provide will differ.
Although not all forms of CEnR involve including community members as members of the research team (co-investigators), this would be considered the most robust and also most complex form of CEnR. A group of mental health consumer researchers have identified a list of requirements for appropriate involvement of consumers on the research team: payment for work; equal treatment; involvement in all stages of research; acknowledgement of power differentials; regular feedback on their work; safe work environment, including emotional support; and sufficient training .
Successful CEnR requires the ability to translate the community's values and research priorities to the audience of funding agencies and grant reviewers. This can be challenging when researchers and community members have different priorities and expectations [69••]. In these cases, mediation skills (listening, paraphrasing, seeking compromises, etc.) can be beneficial .
The success of CEnR in research should be measured in terms of all the potential benefits of CEnR identified above, including enhancing relationships with community members and facilitating high-quality research.
Successful CEnR takes time to develop. Initially, it may be difficult to recruit diverse community members to engage researchers; failure to do so may inappropriately empower one or a few individuals to set the agenda for a community. It may take time for researchers to adapt their frame of mind to appreciate the different values and the different kind of expertise that community members may bring to a project, just as it may take time for community members to understand the rules of science and research funding, which set limits to the accommodations that can be made within a research protocol. Further, when community members are integrated into the research team, they may, ironically, lose their ability to represent accurately the views of the community; community advisory boards may retain a significant role even in robust forms of CEnR.
Among the many resources needed to sustain CEnR, we believe two deserve particular attention: the need for training and funding. Successful CEnR requires training for community members to increase knowledge of the research process and of basic human participant protections, as well as training of researchers on strategies for respectful engagement of communities [69••,71,72••,73]. However, too few opportunities for such training exist, especially at the local level.
Although some forms of CEnR (such as exit interviews on participant satisfaction) are very affordable and low burden, other more robust forms of CEnR require budgetary support. Expenses may include the following: hiring diverse staff, translating documents, disseminating results to the community, and tracking hard-to-reach participants . The biggest funding challenge is typically faced at the conclusion of a particular project when bridge funding is required to sustain community-research partnerships .
Researchers frequently equate CEnR with community-based participatory research, which can be highly beneficial for researchers, science, and communities, but can also require significant training, resources, and commitment. Researchers would do well to recognize there are many forms of CEnR, including some that are relatively low burden, and that some forms of CEnR can enrich virtually any research program involving human participants.
The present study was made possible by grant 1R13MH079690 from National Institutes of Health (NIH)-National Institute of Mental Health and grant UL1 RR024992 from the NIH-National Center for Research Resources.
Papers of particular interest, published within the annual period of review, have been highlighted as:
Additional references related to this topic can also be found in the Current World Literature section in this issue (p. 259).
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