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Community-based participatory research (CBPR)—an approach to research that emphasizes equal partnerships between the researchers and research participants in the creation of knowledge—is gaining traction within the research community, for good reason.

Involving participants in the design and execution of research can help reduce researcher biases and challenge key assumptions, foster mutual understanding and unlock relevant insights that may not have been targeted from the initial research question, and ensure that the right questions are being asked in the right way and at the right time.

Read on to learn how Pivotal Research has leveraged some of the important principles of CBPR in our ongoing Voice of the Dental Patient Initiative with the College of Dental Surgeons of British Columbia (CDSBC).

Using Research Participant’s Lived Experiences to Shape Research Outcomes

In light of the findings of the Cayton Report, the CDSBC commissioned research to ascertain perspectives of B.C. residents about dental care experience and regulation, the findings of which will be used to develop initiatives that aim to elevate the general public’s trust in the dental care profession and dental regulations.

While the CDSBC possessed their own understanding of the patient journey, which was to be incorporated into an online survey, we wanted to explore and incorporate the lived experiences and perceptions of dental patients in BC into the design of the quantitative instrument.

In a three-day online bulletin board with 16 diverse dental patients across BC, we did just that. Activities including sort and rank, discussion forums, video uploads, and open-ended questions identified dental care pain points, validated and challenged assumptions of the dental patient journey, and revealed crucial elements of the dental experience, including holistic dental care and patient agency.

Perceptions of participants as well as the language they used were taken directly from the bulletin board and incorporated into the province-wide survey to understand experiences with dental care, including access, safety, consent, and communication. This exercise underscored the importance of using participants’ lived experiences in the development of research instruments to ensure precision and relevance.

The Voice of the Dental Patient Initiative is equipping CDSBC with the intelligence to enhance dental patients’ drivers of satisfaction in B.C. while elevating their advocacy to start powerful conversations on issues pertinent to the CDSBC and ultimately to influence regulations and policies on dental practice in the province.

Trends Shaping CBPR Into the Future

We are optimistic about the potential of CBPR to improve research in Canada and beyond, but there is still room for improvement. We predict the following trends that will shape CBPR in the coming years:

Virtual Technology to Increase Access

Formerly niche virtual communication technologies are becoming increasingly common tools when collecting in-depth insights and creating the sense of an interpersonal experience or interaction, and are a cost-effective, accessible, and socially responsible alternative to in-person research. As a result, researchers are engaging a larger and more diverse pool of research participants—even from remote geographical areas—who are helping shape organizational outcomes.

Step Towards Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples

Fostering CPBR principles in research initiatives will bridge the gap to reconciliation. At its core, CBPR questions the power relationships that are inherently embedded in Western knowledge production, advocates for power to be shared between the researcher and the researched, acknowledges the legitimacy of experiential knowledge, and focuses on research aimed at improving situations and practices. 

CBPR Embedded in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

CBPR must be part of the discourse on equity, diversity, and inclusion. Work that is informed by “life stories” and first-person accounts from the lives of diverse people is only valuable if it embraces an equitable, inclusive, and accessible environment that takes into account intersectional, gender-based, and anti-racist approaches to data collection.

CBPR for Solution-Generation and Inclusive Governance

When evaluative research yields richer, more convincing evidence, the resulting outcomes are much more impactful. Research practices that engage research participants as collaborators during research design and data collection and later as a consultative party during the development of recommendations and solutions, will result in improved decisions that reflect the unique and complex needs of various stakeholders and increased buy-in with reform initiatives.

Let’s Start a Conversation!

Interested in discussing how Community-Based Participatory Research can enhance your organization’s outcomes? Email Doha Melhem, Director of Consulting at dmelhem@pivotalresearch.ca. 

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