The Value of Community Participation in Research

October 30, 2019

The value of community participation and support of researchers cannot be overstated, according to Dr. Pamela Payne-Foster, professor in the College of Community Health Sciences and deputy director for community outreach at the College’s Institute for Rural Health Research. Foster spoke to Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) Mini-Medical School participants on October 15 about the ways that community-based participatory research can benefit the participants and the population as a whole

Pam Foster, MD

The Mini Medical School program is a partnership of the College and The University of Alabama’s OLLI program.

Foster spoke from the perspective of a researcher and a physician on the need for data sets that can improve the health of underserved populations. Foster is a preventive medicine and public health physician and professor of community medicine and population health.

“We have to, as researchers, take into account what the community feels are the issues that affect them,” Foster said.

Community-driven research eliminates research for research’s sake and gives a clear goal of research for the betterment of people, Foster said. There are populations that are, despite all the advances of modern medicine, deteriorating in health. Areas where there are food desserts, public transportation shortages and lack of education are high on the list of creating an environment where health disparities flourish.

“In CBPR (community-based participatory research) we define health very broadly, and can cover topics like housing and crime,” Foster said. “It really is what the community feels is an issue. After you see to their interests, then you can work on your research topics.”

Foster described one project that she has recently worked on, Project United, which expanded across several disciplines to research obesity prevention in the Black Belt region of Alabama. The project paired community members with UA researchers, creating a mini-research school to train community members in research strategies.

The project empowered the community members and created relationships with the research staff that benefitted the future trials of research. Foster said that through Project United, community members and researchers were able to learn a lot about CBPR, including sharing goals with the community and creating effective communication.

The Mini Medical School program features lectures provided by College faculty physicians about current topics, issues and advances in medicine and health. OLLI is a member-led program catering to those aged 50 and older.