In This Article Community-Based Participatory Research

  • Introduction
  • Terminologies
  • History
  • Introductory Works
  • Journals
  • Literature Reviews
  • Project Reviews
  • Evaluation Guidelines
  • Ethics
  • Challenges
  • Recommendations
  • Influencing Public Policy and Systems
  • Knowledge Translation
  • Community Perspectives
  • Practice-Based Research Networks
  • Training Resources

Public Health Community-Based Participatory Research
Ann C. Macaulay, Erin Sirett, Paula L. Bush
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 August 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0126


Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is an approach in which researchers undertake research in partnership with those affected by the issue being studied, for the purpose of taking action or effecting social change; it can also incorporate those who will use the results to change practice and inform policy. This collaborative research approach brings together a wide variety of participants, with their own expertise and their own networks for contributing to the process and disseminating the research findings. CBPR promotes research with communities rather than research on or about communities. “Community” has been described as a group of people sharing a common interest. Cultural, social, political, health, or economic interests link the individuals, who may or may not share a particular geographic association. Thus, community includes many different possibilities, and in the early 21st century it has been also expanded to include communities of practice. The CBPR approach is increasingly recognized as a highly effective method of enhancing relevance and value to health research, and of increasing the uptake of research results. CBPR combines research with education and co-learning to democratize the knowledge production, thus affecting the relevance and quality of the knowledge and the likelihood that it will influence change. The core values include cooperation, with equal contributions from everyone present, and co-learning; promoting systems development; capacity building; and empowerment. Equally important goals are to undertake high-quality research with a high level of scientific rigor, to answer questions and provide benefit to all those working in the partnerships, and to develop knowledge and action that is applicable to other settings. Levels and types of participation vary across research projects, but at all times partners should be working to develop an equitable partnership. In some partnerships, researchers and partners jointly make decisions throughout the research process, including the key processes of finalizing the research question(s), collecting and analyzing data, interpreting the findings, and disseminating the results. Because CBPR is an approach to research (and not a method), it employs all the methods appropriate to the research design, including quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods.


There is a very long and varied list of terms used by different countries and different disciplines for various forms of participatory and collaborative research. Cornwall and Jewkes 1995 and Minkler and Wallerstein 2003 provide comprehensive reviews of participatory methodologies and terminologies, with attention to regional differences and critical challenges. In the field of public health, the term “community-based participatory research” (CBPR) is frequently used in the United States, while “action research” appears more frequently in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Other terms include “participatory research,” “participatory action research,” “emancipatory action research,” “community-partnered research,” “collaborative inquiry,” “participatory rural appraisal,” and many, many others. This is particularly relevant when conducting literature searches. Participatory action research, one of the founding approaches of modern participatory research, is explored in Baum, et al. 2006 in relation to the many concepts associated with its use. Ledwith 2007, in describing emancipatory action research, provides an example of how participatory methods have evolved. Key components of all partnered research are the quality of the process, shared goals, and mutual respect of those on the team. With the current emphasis on promoting knowledge translation and increasing the uptake of research results, Graham, et al. 2006 describes how research teams are now applying the partnership principles of CBPR to also include the end users—those who will be using the results—in the research process. The new terms currently emerging in North America include “community engagement,” “citizen engagement,” “public engagement,” “translational science,” “knowledge translation,” “campus-community partnerships,” and “integrated knowledge translation.” Trickett and Espino 2004 looks beyond the terms used to consider process, structural, and ethical issues common to all models of collaboration, as well as the limits of collaboration.

  • Baum, Fran, Colin MacDougall, and Danielle Smith. 2006. Participatory action research. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 60.10: 854–857.

    DOI: 10.1136/jech.2004.028662E-mail Citation »

    This glossary from Australia aims to clarify some of the key concepts associated with participatory action research.

  • Cornwall, Andrea, and Rachel Jewkes. 1995. What is participatory research? Social Science & Medicine 41.12: 1667–1676.

    DOI: 10.1016/0277-9536(95)00127-sE-mail Citation »

    Although it was written in 1995, this remains an important comprehensive review of participatory methodologies popularized in health research, focusing on issues of control over research process. History of participatory research and its many uses beyond North America and the United Kingdom are addressed. Problematizing “participation,” the authors explore challenges and dilemmas of participatory practice.

  • Graham, Ian D., Jo Logan, Margaret B. Harrison, et al. 2006. Lost in knowledge translation: Time for a map? Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions 26.1: 13–24.

    DOI: 10.1002/chp.47E-mail Citation »

    Definitions of knowledge translation, knowledge transfer, knowledge exchange, research utilization, implementation, diffusion, and dissemination are clarified. A conceptual framework to describe the knowledge-to-action process is provided, underscoring the importance of identifying relevant stakeholders and cultivating appropriate relationships with them to allow for an exchange of knowledge.

  • Ledwith, Margaret. 2007. On being critical: Uniting theory and practice through emancipatory action research. Educational Action Research 15.4: 597–611.

    DOI: 10.1080/09650790701664021E-mail Citation »

    Relying heavily on the work of Paulo Freire, Ledwith provides a good overview of how emancipatory action research has evolved as a participatory research method. She draws on her experience in community development in order to explore what being critical means in participatory approaches.

  • Minkler, Meredith, and Nina Wallerstein. 2003. Introduction to community-based participatory research. In Community-based participatory research for health. Edited by Meredith Minkler and Nina Wallerstein, 3–26. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    E-mail Citation »

    An excellent overview of regional differences in terminology, strongly suggesting that it is the core values that carry the greatest importance and not the terminology.

  • Trickett, Edison J., and Susan L. R. Espino. 2004. Collaboration and social inquiry: Multiple meanings of a construct and its role in creating useful and valid knowledge. American Journal of Community Psychology 34.1–2: 1–69.

    DOI: 10.1023/B:AJCP.0000040146.32749.7dE-mail Citation »

    Monograph provides an overview of the meaning of collaboration and related terms (empowerment, participatory action research, action research, partnership, etc.). Addresses epistemological, pragmatic, and ideological concerns, processes (e.g., trust, roles) common to all collaboration models, with structural (e.g., funding) and ethical (e.g., stigmatizing community) issues. Highlights limits of collaboration. Includes recommendations intended to place collaboration at center of community research and intervention.

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