issue Community Health 2024

Through the Microscope: Community-Engaged Research - The Collaborative Path to Health Equity

By Yvette D. Castañeda, PhD, MPH, MBA

Research is a practice that can be an embodied1 approach to make change in the world, giving attention to issues that are unnamed or unseen, and ultimately improving the lives of people through data-driven science.

Community-engaged research is a process involving community groups that are impacted by the problem being studied, as equal partners. This means including community members as part of the research process in terms of co-designing research questions to solve problems; have decision-making power; and create programs that address gaps only those connected to the community understand while influencing the implementation, analysis, dissemination and policies that result from the research.

One goal in health equity research is to understand or intervene on inequities faced by marginalized populations that are suffering poor health due to poverty, racism and disenfranchisement. Engaging in authentic ways with communities who have experienced such hardships is paramount for improving health-related outcomes through research.

For members of the Lake County, Illinois, community who feel a call to take action to address health equity via research, 鶹Ӱ’s Michael Reese Research and Education Foundation Center for Health Equity Research can help inform how community perspectives may be centered in this work.

The Center’s activities encompass three cores focused on Community Engagement, Data Resources and Investigator Development. The aim is to foster health equity-focused research collaborations that are responsive to community needs, address socio-structural determinants of health and involve implementation of interventions aimed at improving health equity in Lake County.

As lead of the Community Engagement Core, I host Community-Engaged Research office hours. During these meetings, community members can receive consultation, get feedback on their project, and ask questions on topics related to health equity and community engagement. Those who are developing a grant proposal or project and would like to learn best practices for engaging community members — and/or want to learn more about community-based research methodologies and praxis — can bring in ideas and questions to piece out the next steps.

The Center is also launching a learning series with a goal of growing a “community of practice” among 鶹Ӱ faculty, staff, students and community partners who want to collaborate on research that addresses health equity in Lake County. This learning series will provide a space for participants to share concepts, case examples and best practices for how community-engaged research projects can optimally serve to improve health equity in our local community.

This series, which we started late last year and plan to renew in early 2024, will 1) highlight both academic and community-based perspectives regarding solutions and approaches for addressing health equity in our local community; 2) provide an opportunity for community groups who are addressing health equity to highlight their ingenuity and brilliance; and 3) create a bridge between 鶹Ӱ and community organizations to help foster new community-engaged research collaborations.

We hope our partners can learn, grow and share with us as we join together to advance health equity through community-engaged research practices.

1 An embodied approach to carrying out research involves repositioning the body within research, moving away from the traditional mind-body divide to consider that our whole bodies “make sense of the world and produce knowledge.” Ellingson, L. (2017). “Embodiment in Qualitative Research.”

Dr. Yvette Castañeda is a research assistant professor in the Department of Foundational Sciences and Humanities at the Chicago Medical School and Community Engagement Core Lead for the Michael Reese Foundation Center for Health Equity Research.

Perspectives expressed in "Through the Microscope" columns are solely those of the authors and are not intended to represent those of Rosalind Franklin University.