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Community-Based Participatory Research in Public Health

April 9, 2024

While some research requires strict boundaries between researchers and community members, community-based participatory research unites both groups to achieve a shared goal. This communal strategy for research is a promising option for identifying health disparities and promoting public health. Researchers and prospective researchers can learn more about participatory research and its benefits, and explore educational steps toward a career in participatory research in communities.

Defining Community-Based Participatory Research

At its core, community-based participatory research (CBPR) is a collaborative research approach that is designed to encourage participation in a community to promote social change. This often means identifying solutions for health disparities and promoting equity in health care in the public health sector.

Community-based participation is a key advantage of the research method. Local community members use their knowledge of their own culture, geography, language, and other factors to discuss issues and identify culturally appropriate solutions. Members should be involved in the entire research process, from selecting a relevant research question to implementing research-based changes in public health.

CBPR Research Methods

CBPR does not describe a specific research method. Rather, researchers can select from these and other research methods to best fit the issues and local community:

  • Surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Interview
  • Environmental audits
  • Longitudinal studies
  • Case studies
  • Randomized staggered interventions

The CBPR Process

The CBPR process often involves multiple rounds of research, recommendations, and reflection. The process should be tailored to each community and public health issue, but here are the general steps in the process:

  1. Assess community dynamics.
  2. Create research questions based on priority public health issues.
  3. Conduct research.
  4. Discuss research findings.
  5. Interpret and translate research findings with community members.

A crucial step in the process is discussing the findings with community members and reflecting on any necessary changes. This allows the knowledge to be integrated into the community and encourages members to take ownership of the knowledge and recommended strategies based on public health research.

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Types of Community-Based Participatory Research

As a research process based on community connections and researcher involvement, CBPR can be implemented in many different ways. Below are three examples of CBPR models to inform researchers about strategies available to them as they work in communities.

Broad-Based Coalition

The broad-based coalition model connects both informal and formal grassroots organizations to focus on a broad base of community involvement. Unlike other models, which focus on specific issues or specific community groups, a broad-based coalition can help researchers identify the most pressing public health needs and grassroots recommendations for improving community health.

Area-Based Collaboration

Another option for researchers is to focus on a well-established group or organization in the heart of a community. By focusing on this core, researchers can conduct a needs assessment and explore solutions with knowledgeable community members in ways that can be more direct and efficient than a broad-based coalition.

Single-Theme Collaboration

Researchers can also focus on the community collaboration aspect of CBPR by identifying a particular issue or theme. Whether a local environmental concern or a specific health disparity, this single-theme approach helps keep research questions, solutions, and feedback focused.

Benefits of CBPR in Public Health

The strength of community-based participatory research comes from its multilevel approach, combining the community, group, and individual levels. When researchers connect with community knowledge, the result can be one or more of the benefits for public health listed below.

Creating Equity in Research Participation

Many research processes bring top-down decisions to a community based on external research. While these methods may identify effective solutions to health disparities, they can lack community involvement and empowerment. CBPR promotes equity in the solutions and throughout the research process. The findings can create more culturally tailored recommendations by allowing community members to participate in the research process.

Promoting Sustainable Public Health Programs

Equitable research participation can also lead to sustainable programs. Public health recommendations that allow community ownership can last longer and encourage greater community involvement.

Advancing Research on Health Disparities

What causes health disparities in a particular community, and how can a more equitable health model be established? CBPR offers alternative research processes to explore these and other questions related to health equity in a community.

Exploring Culturally Tailored Interventions

For research findings to be most effectively communicated and applied, they must be tailored to that community. When researchers outside of the community connect with community members, they can form a partnership that explores effective ways to apply findings in culturally appropriate ways.

Discover More About CBPR in Public Health

Community-based participatory research can be a highly effective tool for researchers in public health. At Tulane University, you can learn from faculty members how to promote health equity and inclusion within the local community and beyond. Reach out to learn more about Tulane’s Online Master of Public Health (MPH) in Community Health Sciences program to find the next step in your public health career.

Advance Your Public Health Career with an MPH Program

Pursue Your Degree Online From Tulane University
Find Out More

Recommended Readings

How Do Viruses Mutate, and What Is the Role of Epidemiology?

Black Maternal Health in the U.S.

Community Health Promotion in Rural Areas


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, AHRQ Activities Using Community-Based Participatory Research to Address Health Care Disparities

American Journal of Public Health, “Community-Based Participatory Research Contributions to Intervention Research: The Intersection of Science and Practice to Improve Health Equity”

Implementation Science, “Community-Based Participatory Research and Integrated Knowledge Translation: Advancing the Co-Creation of Knowledge”

National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, Community-Based Participatory Research Program (CBPR)

The Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center, What Is CBPR?