Lessons for Using Community-Engaged Research to Improve Health Policy Decisions 

Report | December 04, 2020

How can we use community-engaged research to help ensure marginalized members of a community have a voice in health policy decisions?  

With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Altarum and Public Agenda are shedding light on this question through the Community Voices for Health project, which provides technical assistance to organizations in six states to strengthen stakeholder engagement infrastructures. 

One of the unique features of this project is the use of community-engaged research to strengthen consumer engagement and policymaking efforts, which we examine in a new report. 

Community-engaged research is a process between a researcher and community partners to create and disseminate knowledge and creative expression to strengthen the well-being of a community. This is an important process to build stronger community engagement infrastructures, and ensures that community members and organizations’ voices are heard in the decision-making process.  

During the pilot phase of the Community Voices for Health project, we conducted informal interviews with health policy researchers and a literature scan to better understand how community-engaged research can be used. We came away with 10 key learnings: 

  • “Community participation” means different things to different people 
  • Researchers and community members have different, but equal, expertise 
  • Community members should be included in all phases of the research 
  • Marginalized communities may have a history of distrust with large academic institutions 
  • Community-engaged research requires trust in order to build working relationships 
  • Budgets are value statements 
  • Research design should reflect communities’ wants and needs
  • Follow-up is important  
  • Community-engaged research may sacrifice researcher objectivity 
  • Considerations for research partners 

The researchers we interviewed also underscored the importance of recognizing the unique experiences of community members and understanding the range of potential community involvement in these projects. These learnings will be used by the Community Voices for Health team to support grantees as they develop plans for community-engaged research projects, and to inform a larger learning community. 

Read the report “Leveraging Community-Engaged Research for Success: Findings from Researcher Interviews and Literature Scan.” 

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