A Decade of Community Research

In February 2007, the Johns Hopkins University Press published the first issue of a new journal dedicated to partnerships between academic health institutions and the communities surrounding them. Progress in Community Health Partnerships recently celebrated 10 years of publication dedicated to publishing research which will "improve the health of our communities." In the first issue of the 11th volume earlier this year, a pair of articles took a look at the lessons learned over the first decade of publication. Associate Editors Milton “Mickey” Eder, PhD and Suzanne Grieb, PhD, MSPH worked together on a Q&A to dicsuss this important milestone in the journal's history.

What does it mean to reach this 10-year milestone? 

First, we recognize this 10 year milestone of exploration into community-based participatory research (CBPR) and acknowledge this accomplishment. Looking back at the journal’s publications, we can find many examples illustrating the importance of collaboration and partnership for connecting research, education, and action. We see clear indications that successful partnerships require dialogue, self-reflection, and negotiation. We also recognize that the journal’s content demonstrates that CBPR is a complex and challenging framework to implement. 

We further acknowledge the vision of those who launched the journal, which has allowed the journal to thrive. We can describe the issues incorporated into their vision as one that recognizes and celebrates a holistic approach to addressing health – an approach not always valued. In The Two Cultures (1959), for example, C.P. Snow commented upon how educational systems in Westernized countries separated and differently valued the sciences and humanities, and many of his contemporaries responded with comments that reinforced the divide between science and the humanities. Some fifty years later, the journal contributes to the ongoing counter movement by supporting a more holistic and contextual understanding of health and wellbeing by bringing together academic and community or lay perspectives to address challenges of a world that is increasingly informed by science and technology, as described in Daniel Bell’s Post-Industrial Society. In its emphasis on health partnerships and shared responsibilities, the journal continues to encourage connections between different styles of thought and different approaches to knowledge production. We can see this commitment to the diversity of thought represented by the many manuscript types made available to authors for presenting their work within the journal.

We celebrate 10 years through the two manuscripts at the start of volume 11 by summarizing lessons learned and lessons still to be learned. Rather than attempt a summary, we encourage the reader to engage with our review of materials published in the first decade and also the results of its second Delphi process, undertaken to chart the future of the journal and the field.

Besides obvious things such as personnel, what has changed for the journal in the first 10 years?

In considering what has changed for the journal, we begin with changes external to the journal and in particular the increased expectation that researchers involve patients and community members in the development and conduct of research. We find academic institutions and funding mechanisms expecting new forms of collaboration, partnership, and team science. With the growing expectation that researchers will increasingly involve those affected by research, the journal is responding by committing to focus on both CBPR and community engaged research. We understand this change to signal journal leadership’s ongoing recognition of and willingness to explore diverse forms of engagement and partnership. 

In addition, the recently completed Delphi process identified the need for a more rigorous empirical demonstration of the value of patient and public or community participation in research. However, producing such evidence requires that we address methodological challenges. While the randomized clinical trial is the recognized gold standard for biochemical interventions, it is not clear that this should be the preferred method to understand psychosocial issues. Another way to frame this challenge involves whether we privilege the production of generalizable knowledge or context specific solutions. If it is the latter, we might favor qualitative methods and thick description for the presentation of community-engaged clinical and health services research. Perhaps we will see community-academic research partnerships increasingly resort to mixed methods research. 

So we acknowledge external changes, including increased expectations of and support for collaborative research, and also note changes internal to the journal, including expectations that scholars will study an expanded range of participatory and engaged research while producing evidence about the relative quality of research conducted by community-academic partnerships.

How important was it to take such a deep analytical approach to the articles published in the journal’s first 10 years?

Progress in Community Health Partnerships is the first scholarly journal dedicated to CBPR, and the editors recognize its important role in supporting the growing field within public health. Self-reflection, including through the analytical approaches described within the first two articles at the start of volume 11, is critical so that we ensure that we are fostering the goals and priorities of the journal and reflecting the principles of CBPR. One example of the importance of this reflection is witnessed through the finding that during the journal’s first 10 years, the Community Perspectives section had the lowest acceptance rate among all of the journal sections at 39.5%. This section of the journal is intended to promote authentic community-based partner perspectives on research and partnerships; however, as discussed in the first article, the achievement of this goal may be negatively impacted through editorial practices operating within the culture of scholarly production. Through this finding, the editors therefore can discuss this possibility and identify needed change so that the contributions of community-based partners, utilizing their authentic voices, may be increased. Without thoughtful reflection of where the journal has been and where the journal is currently, we cannot be fully aware if we are truly in line with the goals of the journal. In order to promote and advance the science of CBPR, these deep self-reflection are therefore needed.

What kinds of goals should the journal have going forward?

Through the self-reflection just described, we have identified several goals for the journal as we look forward. Following on the example raised in that description, one goal is to consider the ways in which the editors review manuscripts submitted to the Community Perspectives section and the external reviewer comments so that we are truly allowing community-based partners to share their experiences and perspectives without conforming to scientific writing standards. Additionally, the journal editors can work to identify ways in which community-based partners can become more aware of the journal and their potential contribution, and support the process of inclusion. As part of this, a goal must be to promote open access to the journal so that all partners may access, and benefit from, the information and knowledge disseminated through this mechanism.

Next, a goal for the journal should be to strategically promote the advancement of CBPR and community engaged research in the following ways. First, through an increased emphasis on disseminating information on action resulting from CBPR, community engaged research, and partnership efforts. One of the key elements of CBPR that separates it from more traditional research is the focus on action, including the development and/or implementation of interventions, and the development or adaptation of programs or policy based on the knowledge generated. The commitment to the translation of findings is a component of the principles of CBPR shared among partners. Related to this is an effort to support the dissemination of science and practice promoting the sustainability of interventions, programs, and policies. To truly improve health and reduce health disparities, long term sustainability is needed, and thus a goal for the journal should be to support these components of CBPR and community engaged research, which are largely underreported.

We are both excited and humbled to reach this 10 year milestone for the journal. The journal’s original vision, and continued vision, challenges traditional public health and strives to promote a more holistic, partnership-centered approach to improving health outcomes. As the field of public health continues to embrace this framework for research, we are honored to serve as a leading journal for CBPR and community engaged research, and will continue to strive to advance the science.