Community Boards Build Legitimacy

Posted on July 7, 2008

Charles F. Reynolds III (bio) discusses the value of community research advisory boards.


Community research and advisory boards, I think of them as CRABS, a collection of people living in the community who are in a good position to advise researchers about how to do research that will be relevant, useful, acceptable and sustainable to people living in that particular community. There are many models of community research advisory boards. My colleague here at Pitt at the graduate school of public health, a professor, Sandra Quinn, has written some papers well worth perusing about the different models of community research advisory boards.

In my own experience, which goes back about five years now, I have benefited from an ongoing conversation with the community research advisory board sponsored by the Center for Minority Health at Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health. My own particular interest is in the mental health of older African Americans particularly addressing health disparities that is to say inequalities to access to mental health services, engagement in treatment, and outcomes.

I've benefited from an ongoing conversation with my colleagues on the community research advisory board in several ways. Perhaps the most fundamental way is that they have given me legitimately in the eyes of the African American community because I've been willing to sit down with the CRAB members over a period of time, I've been willing to listen to them, I've modified my studies to make the studies more acceptable and doable with people living in the community. As a result I think my studies have greater external validity, more acceptability in the world that I'm trying to understand a little bit better.

Last year I presented to the CRAB my study on prevention of depression in older African Americans. One of the things that I learned from the discussion with the CRAB was the importance of measuring the strength of religious affiliation in the lives of black participants in my study. My friends on the CRAB suggested that being connected to a community of faith would be an important buffer in the prevention of depression for older African American people. So as a result of that conversation we modified the study and have added a measure of religious affiliation.

The conversation doesn't stop there however because I like to go back to the CRAB periodically and update them on the progress of the research so that they can in a sense both see it's progress but also comment on their perspective of what the findings what actually mean. And most recently I approached a member of the CRAB and asked her if she would serve as a member of what's called a data safety monitoring board or DSMB. As an African American clinician, social worker who is a member of the CRAB she has a valuable perspective to me about the lived experience of racism and discrimination, the stress that this causes, and the vulnerability to depression. For me to have that perspective from a black clinician is simply invaluable because I don't walk in those shoes.

So in summary the CRAB is an invaluable set of relationships that enables an investigator committed to doing mental health services research to move in the direction of community based participatory research.

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Excerpted from an interview with researcher at the 2008 Career Development Institute for Psychiatry in Pittsburgh, PA.


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