Community-engaged research (CER) is a collaborative process between researchers and community partners that creates and disseminates knowledge with the goal of strengthening community well-being. Community knowledge is centered in the process and corresponding activities. CER can be used to support community members in identifying urgent health-related goals and needs and advancing strategies to address them.

The Community Voices for Health approach encourages the incorporation of a range of qualitative and quantitative CER activities. This section provides an overview of CER approaches and practical examples of how communities have used CER to achieve positive outcomes. It also offers frameworks for planning projects using CER.

Engaging community members as research partners empowers them to identify unmet needs and evidence-based policy solutions, effectively communicate their preferences to state or local decision makers, and measure the success of community-driven engagement and policymaking efforts.

CER can be used to:

  • Document a community’s experience
  • Identify community priorities
  • Develop new measures to gauge success
  • Test communications to improve the accessibility and usefulness of consumer and policymaker communications
  • Identify and enact solutions

Our partner, Altarum, compiled practical examples (shared in the table below) of the different ways that CER can be used to support the identification of community priorities and evidence-based policymaking that is responsive to the needs of community members.

Using Community-Engaged Research: Practical examples for positive impact

Document a Community’s Experience

Public opinion research


Community conversations


Combining surveys and focus groups

  • Participatory action research (PAR) in Bedford Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, and East Flatbush (NY)
  • Philadelphia Area Research Community Coalition (PARCC): Community members were instrumental in designing questionnaires, planning focus groups, and developing protocols and procedures for the center’s research.
  • Tobacco Cessation program for pregnant Alaska Native women residing in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region of western Alaska: The program held focus groups and a community-led youth tobacco retreat after a study conducted on nicotine exposure among pregnant women and newborns showed high levels.
  • Barriers to Smoking Cessation in Inner-City African American Young Adults in Baltimore, MD; The objective of this study was to describe the community-level factors contributing to this problem. Data from focus groups and surveys indicated that the sale and acquisition of “loosies” is more pervasive than previously thought and may contribute to the high usage and low cessation rates.
  • Multi-stakeholder Health Cities Committee (HCC) partnered with the Indiana University School of Nursing to bring about policy changes to improve health in the community.

Hyper-local data collection and synthesis: These efforts involve members of the community in data collection.

Identify Community Priorities

Develop new measures to gauge policy success or to summarize consumer experiences to spur community action

Communications testing to improve the accessibility and usefulness of consumer and policymaker communications

 Identify/Enact Solutions

  • Appreciative Inquiry is a way to collect stories about how local people overcame problems. These stories are convincing even when there’s no “evidence” to show aproblem exists.
  • Community Assessment of Freeway Exposure and Health (CAFEH) in Boston, MA: Community members aided in proposal development, leading the study and collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data. Charrette participants came up with specific design strategies.
  • Peer training and data synthesis:
    • Morgan State ASCEND Communities Engaged and Advocating for a Smoke-free Environment (CEASE): Residents who were former smokers were trained to recruit and mentor smokers using the CEASE smoking cessation curriculum. At the conclusion of the program, the team will track the number of residents who successfully quit smoking. Positive outcomes could include better health for the residents of Monument East as well as a valuable cadre of trained peer mentors.
  • Arizona’s Community Data Portal puts vital information into the hands of communities, practitioners, and policymakers. This one-stop shopping website provides easy, immediate access that data users need to make timely, well-informed, and impactful prevention and policy decisions.
  • Quality of Life plan for the Eastern North neighborhood in Philadelphia explains how community-based planning engages a wide range of local organizations and residents; comes to agreement about assets, deficits, and priorities; and identifies specific measurable goals to improve a neighborhood. The plan for the Eastern North neighborhood of Philadelphia was led by LISC Philadelphia and community partner Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, and it includes specific strategies, actions, partners, performance measures, and a timeline for each of the seven neighborhood-improvement factors.
  • Policy Evaluation Examples:

This compilation was created by Altarum, a nonprofit health solutions company, working in partnership with Public Agenda.

  Planning support

A Community Participation Checklist
Research Question & Design Design development: Is the approach driven by community-based understanding, assets, and needs?
Proposal development: Are community partners contributing? Reviewing?
Budget development: Are community partners equal partners in determining resource allocation?
Research Process Participant recruitment: How are community members involved in identifying participants and encouraging participation?
Problem solving: Are community partners playing an active role in addressing challenges that arise? Are they investing community in solutions seeking?
Staffing decisions: How are community partners involved in promoting opportunities and making decisions about project staffing?
Project oversight: What mechanisms for involving community partners are in place to provide regular oversight and communication?
Data collection: How are community partners supporting data collection?
Data analysis: Are there ways to involve community partners in analyzing the data and findings?
Interpreting Results How are community partners involved in the interpretation of findings? Are there mechanisms for partner reflections, analysis, and feedback?
Ownership of Data Do community partners own the data? Are they able to use it in ways that advance community goals?
Disseminating Results Are community partners involved in designing a plan for sharing findings? Are they actively involved in dissemination efforts, including presentations, briefings, and writing?

Source: This checklist was adapted from C. R. Spears Johnson A. E. Kraemer Diaz T. A. Arcury, Participation Levels In 25 Community-Based Participatory Research Projects, Health Education Research, Volume 31, Issue 5, October 2016 and Wallerstein, Nina et al., Community Engaged Survey, Engage for Equity: A National Study of Community and Academic Partnerships (August 2016).