Mar. 13 2012

Improving health in Northern Manhattan requires stronger collaboration between research-scientists and community members. A federally funded study, co-led by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the Dominican Women’s Development Center, has identified several ways to help researchers and the community work together in implementing community-based participatory research studies.

At a press briefing held on March 1, Joyce Moon-Howard, DrPH, academic principal investigator from the Mailman School; Rosita M. Romero, MSW, community principal investigator; and Fern Hertzberg, MSW, community consultant from the Washington Heights-Inwood Council on Aging; in collaboration with the Columbia University Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, released their results on best practices for engaging the public in jointly-run health research projects. “A critical component is reporting back to study participants and those affected by the research,” noted Ms. Romero. “In this case, the process was as important as the outcomes.”

The study, Partners In Research, was conducted in response to the National Institute of Health’s interest in research that improves and enhances collaborations between scientists and the community. This is the first time that the community has co-led a research project particularly with a role reversal—instead of academic researchers examining conditions in the community, the community researchers examined academic conditions. Ms. Romero said that “from the beginning—including the study design phase—the community played an equal role.”   Another unique aspect is that the University and the Dominican Women’s Development Center were awarded separate NIH grants of equal dollar amounts, with each partner serving as principal investigator for its grant award.

“Overall, our goal was to increase the medical campus faculty’s awareness of the importance of public engagement in the research process,” said Dr. Moon-Howard, assistant professor of Sociomedical Sciences. “One outcome of this process is that our researchers are now more aware of community-based participatory research and have expressed a willingness to explore meaningful ways to increase participatory academic-community research partnerships.”

Results from the study demonstrate that community investigators face the same problems in recruiting academic participants for studies as academic researchers do in recruiting study participants from the community. The academic participants in this study made clear their desire to learn how best to address factors that in the past have led to conflict and to concerns within the community about being overshadowed by the University. They emphasized the need to provide opportunities for community education around healthcare research, to sponsor training, and to convene meetings where both academia and the community can present research.  These findings serve to inform next steps to be addressed within twelve months.  In addition, these findings are also the basis for a second study on strengthening and supporting collaborative partnership and approaches to community-based participatory research.  Dr. Moon-Howard said, “We look forward to the action steps to follow from this research and from our common concerns to address health disparities in Northern Manhattan."