Roles and responsibilities
It is extremely important to explicitly discuss and negotiate roles and responsibilities for all members of the research team. Roles should ideally be determined based on team members’ skills, interest, and time (Hacker, 2013). You may also need to consider the financial costs of participating in your project. Your community partners are devoting their time and expertise and, whenever possible, should be compensated for their labor. Ideally, community members should be involved in all parts of the research process. Community members are uniquely well-positioned for certain roles, including recruiting other community members to participate in the study and conducting interviews, surveys, or focus groups. Their proximity to the issue being explored, as well as their shared identity with the community, may allow study participants to feel more comfortable and share more accurate information about their experiences. For example, if you are studying TNB people’s satisfaction with gender-affirming surgeries, you should consider having TNB interviewers conduct the data collection. There is still much misinformation about gender-affirming surgeries among cisgender people and it is likely that TNB people will feel more comfortable discussing intimate parts of their bodies and medical histories with people who share their identity. You should ensure that all members of the team are trained to conduct research procedures, such as obtaining consent, interviews, and focus groups; many community partners have identified this as capacity and skill-building that they appreciate (Mason et al., 2013). The most important element of this step is to ensure that each member of the team has a clear understanding of how they are contributing to the project.
Sometimes the hardest part of CBPR is balancing the time and energy of the different members of the research team. For a university-affiliated researcher, it is important to remember that this work is part of our professional roles, while our colleagues from the community are likely doing this work in addition to the time they spend on their own jobs, with their families, and on other responsibilities. One technique to address this issue is to ask everyone on the research team to estimate the amount of time that they are able to dedicate to the project and assign tasks accordingly. The university-affiliated researcher may have more time to dedicate to things like IRB paperwork or grant submission, while community members’ time may be more suited for action tasks such as conducting interviews or coding data. It is important to check in periodically with everyone on the team to see if their time availability has changed and how tasks should be shifted. Open communication about each member’s time can help everyone be on the same page.
Conduct of research
Throughout this process, it remains imperative for all team members to be clear about who is responsible for all tasks and the timeline of when they should be completed. There will, inevitably, be setbacks or bumps in the road. You may struggle to find study participants and need to brainstorm new methods of recruitment. You may find that your survey or interview is too long and need to refine your questions. As these difficulties arise, do not panic. Remain in communication with your community partners and research team. Make decisions as a group about how to respond to setbacks. Maintain a sense of collaborative accountability to keep everyone on the team on track (Hacker, 2013).
Analysis and interpretation
Participation by community members in data analysis varies widely across CBPR projects. In some projects, academic researchers do the analysis and bring it back to the team members, although that can feel very othering to community members (Mason et al., 2013). This is particularly relevant for studies using advanced statistical methods which require expertise and access to software. Even in these cases, community members can still be very helpful in thinking about which variables are useful in the analysis. Other projects do collaborative data analysis with researchers and community members working together to explore variables or themes. Qualitative analysis lends itself to inclusivity; themes can be developed and refined as a team.
Community members play an especially important role in interpreting the findings and presenting them to a larger audience (Hacker, 2013). They understand the context of the findings in ways that an outside academic researcher cannot. It is also important to lean on community members’ expertise when strategizing about how to talk or write about your findings. It is important to ensure that findings, which may reveal problems or challenges, are not presented in a way which reflects poorly on the community. For example, you and your research team may find that TNB youth in your city are much more likely to have attempted suicide than their cisgender peers. Simply reporting this finding is not sufficient or helpful, it may cause people to mistakenly believe that TNB youth are inherently more likely to experience depression or have fewer coping skills than cisgender youth. Working with your research team, you can think how to share and contextualize these findings in a way which highlights the tremendous stress that transphobia places on TNB youth and how that oppression contributes to their mental health outcomes.
It is important to remember that different members of the research team have different interest and needs in terms of dissemination (Hacker, 2013). An academic researcher may be primarily interested in publishing in peer-reviewed journals or presenting at academic conferences. Community members, on the other hand, may be interested in using the study findings to engage in advocacy and taking action. These interests are not mutually exclusive; it is possible and advantageous to do both.
Simply writing up a report of your findings, whether it is in a journal or other document, is not likely to create lasting change. Your research team will need to be proactive in sharing your findings, whether in a written report, a formal presentation, or more creative forms of expression, with the stakeholders in your larger community. When planning your advocacy, it is imperative to be strategic. Consider these questions together: Who would benefit from learning about these findings? What change is necessary to address the problem examined in this project? Who has the power to create that kind of change? Take your findings to decision-makers. Ask for clear and specific change. For example, if your team has found that TNB people would benefit from more efficient procedures for updating their identification documents, take those findings to your state’s Secretary of State or Department of Vital Records. Let them know about the negative impact of the existing policies and tell them what new policies would benefit TNB people in your state.