Helping communities through research

Researchers give significant thought to the concerns of the people they are trying to recruit to participate in their studies. These are people with busy lives – jobs, families, hobbies, other volunteer opportunities, possibly health concerns. So there are many things that compete with a participant’s time, and the scientists who develop their studies take these factors into consideration as they approach a new project.

In addition, studies sometimes are designed to answer questions about sensitive topics, especially in specific populations. At Ohio State’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science annual scientific meeting on May 6, researchers noted a number of strategies they employ to recruit and retain community members in studies – all with recognition of the community’s needs remaining top of mind.

“I view myself as an invited guest. You are inviting me into your home, into your life, into your family. I’m going to treat you with the respect you deserve as my host,” said Kim Arcoleo, who has conducted numerous asthma-related studies with Latino communities in Arizona. Arcoleo now is director of the Center for Women, Children and Youth in Ohio State’s College of Nursing.

Jennifer Kue discusses recruiting participants in community-based research.

This sentiment rings true for other speakers who presented at a session about community-based research. Respect for potential cultural differences, language barriers and even fear guide scientists’ methods of approaching specific communities with research studies. Often, partnering with a favored leader in the community itself is key to ensuring that participants can trust that the study is being conducted explicitly to benefit them.

Jennifer Kue, assistant professor of nursing at Ohio State, has experience studying cancer screenings in the Hmong community in Oregon. The research team hired people who were bilingual and bicultural to assist in interviewing community members for the research, acknowledging that potential participants must understand survey questions, but also demonstrating that the team itself had a vested interest in ensuring maximum comfort and trust among community members who made themselves available for the study.

Convenience also is a substantial concern for participants. While many research studies are conducted in health-care settings, community-based research is conducted in homes, schools, churches and other community locations. While this can be more convenient for participants, it also has potential to feel intrusive, and scientists realize this, as well.

But Cynthia Gearthardt, principal investigator of the Center for Biobehavioral Health at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, noted that the community is a rich source of information about factors that will affect childhood development – which offers important insights that ultimately can help researchers be most effective at producing meaningful results for and about the populations they study. Gearhardt leads studies about the effects of a chronic childhood illness on families.

“A community influences what kind of person you’re going to be. We really want data that’s ecologically valid and highly predictive of how kids are going to do,” she explained.


Emily Caldwell science writer and co-editor

Read more posts from Emily

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Categories: The Researcher's Point of View

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