- The Central Role of Governance in Community-Based Participatory Research
At first glance, what could one possibly discern as a common thread between the diverse topics addressed in the four papers that comprise the Community-Campus Partnerships for Health (CCPH) theme section of this issue: a trauma study led by survivors of abuse and violence and their academic partners1, a partnership between autism self-advocates and health professionals,2 a toolkit for understanding readiness to engage in community-based participatory research (CBPR),3 and an online tool for peer-reviewed publication and dissemination of innovative products of community-engaged scholarship?4 As we considered each paper and reflected on our own experiences, a theme emerged: the seemingly rigid boundaries that have divided “the community” and “the academy” are beginning to become blurred as partnerships implement governance models of shared power, ownership and control.
Perhaps it has always been a false dichotomy to pit community and university against or in contrast with one another. In mature partnerships that have coalesced around a compelling, shared goal and have sought to truly understand the capacities, assets, needs, desires and concerns of each partner, it is often hard to tell “who is who” and “who invited who” to the table. One expects to see no less than these blurred boundaries if we are to achieve the real social or systemic change that is the promise for communities engaged in CBPR with universities. As the divide between who is the “community” and who is the “academy” begins to fade, the silos begin to fall down and a level playing field can, hopefully, be established. Developing an authentic, principled partnership is and should be, a parallel goal to conducting the research, because it is what holds this important, perhaps even imperative work to uncover the knowledge and wisdom we need to achieve a more humane and just world.5 6 The governance of the partnership is what guides the CBPR and helps to ultimately ensure that the research will be used to take action on societal issues stemming from economic, social and racial inequities.
“Taking action” can take many forms. It may occur through public policy change that is initiated through grassroots efforts. Or, in the case of two of the CCPH papers, it may involve redesigning an intervention by engaging as partners the very participants that conventional research approaches see only as the “clients” or the recipients of the results of the research.1 2 Both involve programs within what would typically be seen as the human service delivery silo and demonstrate how the participant’s equal participation in the partnership is what allows the research to explore new, deeper ways to build community health and wellness. In the papers about assessing CBPR readiness3 and disseminating CBPR products,4 it is clear that CBPR tools and products must be developed through an authentic and engaged partnership just as the research itself has been.
The “blurriness” of the boundary between the community and the university can bring its own set of challenges in trying to develop a functional governance model. In describing an academic-community partnership with autistic self-advocates, Nicolaidis et. al. help us understand how shared decision-making occurs within a group of autistic adults2. This requires communication strategies that allow everyone involved in the project to be able to not only communicate with each other but to participate democratically in decision-making. Developing effective communication strategies among partners is inherent in CBPR if the project is being governed by the principles of shared power in all decision-making.
In “Survivor Voices,” Cortez and her colleagues help us understand that it is not only possible but imperative to take on the challenge of how to engage and involve those who are typically seen as “victims”.1 They make a powerful case for why it is [End Page 105] essential that the governance of the project not only involve trauma survivors but to do so in a way that continues to promote their healing and recovery. Through a shared governance model in which the CBPR project is designed and implemented by trauma survivors, the partnership is able...