Critical reflections on implementing peer research
The path to equity: participation vs. inclusion
In the context of the multilayered peer identities and relationships within the collaborative, it is useful to distinguish between concepts of participation and inclusion. Participation practices entail efforts to increase community researcher input and feedback. Inclusion practices entail continuously co-producing processes, policies and programmes for defining and addressing issues of community import (Quick and Feldman 2011). Although participation can provide robust
Equity and rigour in peer research 39 data and support rigorous science, it does not necessarily allow community researchers to contribute in an authentic or fulfilling way. It can thus fall short of establishing full equity among research partners. Inclusive practices emphasise deliberation, discovery and two-way capacity building (Elmore 2005) through which community and academic researchers can both inform the research process (Feldman et al. 2009). In this way, inclusion is a better path to achieving the core principle of research equity.
A number of challenges were experienced when implementing inclusive practices to achieve equity within the WINCART collaborative. First, our approach involved a high degree of collaboration and coordination among academic and community-based partners. An authentically equitable deliberative process obliged partners to dedicate significant time and attention to communicate, educate and build trust to ensure that all partners were well-equipped for collective design, implementation and decision making. For busy academic partners and some of the smaller community-based partner organisations, this level of coordination and active participation compromised other core areas of work, including the delivery of direct services, teaching and publication obligations. These issues led some partners to hesitate about participating in projects and also tempted us to dilute inclusive practices to meet project timelines. Moreover, developing culturally attuned research protocols and materials across multiple Pacific Islander communities was complicated. The more partners that were involved, the more challenging it was to conduct a highly inclusive process, and, thus, the more difficult it was to maintain equity.
A second challenge lay in reconciling conventional research norms with the deliberative processes of co-design, co-implementation and co-ownership in our community-based participatory approach to research. Lengthy decision making processes to ensure equity - which included community and academic researchers adopting practices and processes expected within their associated organisations and community settings - strained the narrow research timelines. In some cases, these deliberative processes led to the adaptation and renegotiation of anticipated scopes of work to ensure that community needs, priorities and expectations were met appropriately.
Third, certain requirements associated with funding impacted inclusion dynamics, and thus equity. As is common with government grants, primary responsibility for the research officially lay with a principal investigator housed in an academic institution, rather than with the partnership collectively. This positionality was reinforced by direct communication between the funder and the principal investigator. It underscored the subcontractor status of community partners and thus many of the community researchers, and the disparity in indirect grant funds received. The effect was to create a partnership in spirit, but with a de facto imbalance of power among academic and community researchers and partners on these specific issues.
Despite these challenges, several actions were taken to enhance inclusion. The steering committee, co-chaired by a community researcher, represented all the constituent communities as well as the academic institutions. This body wentto great lengths to maintain transparency among the research partners, regard-less of uncomfortable conversations about trust, cultural humility and research competence. Research protocols and materials were co-designed by community and academic researchers and pilot tested jointly. Significant efforts were made to ensure the research funders gained a better understanding of the communitybased research practices, processes and actors. For instance, academic partners proactively communicated with programme officers overseeing the grants for the US National Institutes of Health, encouraging funders to participate in regular site visits so that they could develop direct relationships with community partners and better understand the dynamics of these complex collaborative research projects.