The best research is that which solves real-world problems. It’s a commendable ideal—but the divide between academic research and boots-on-the-ground community work can seem wide. Community-Driven Research Day (CDRD) aims to build those bridges.
The seventh annual event, held in December 2016 at Thomas Jefferson University, gathered community groups and researchers in search of novel approaches to community health promotion. Researchers came from Temple University’s College of Public Health, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Thomas Jefferson University, and other local academic institutions. The College of Public Health’s Office of Practice and Engagement coordinated Temple’s participation.
The day culminated with a poster session at which community-based organizations presented opportunities for research arising from their work. Meanwhile, academic faculty talked with representatives of those organizations, looking for projects that match their research interests.
Think of it as part pitch fest, part academic conference.
After a faculty member decides to partner with an organization, they can submit an application for a small grant to help fund the work. The basic tenets: both community and research partners are involved in all phases of research, and each selected project requires involvement by a student.
“This program is a great way for researchers to get small pilot projects and to involve students in research,” says Sarah Bauerle Bass, an Associate Professor in Social and Behavioral Sciences and a recipient of a 2015 grant.
A year into her grant project, Bass talked about her CDRD experience and gave an update on her project. Going into the event, she said, she wanted to understand how IV drug users in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood viewed hepatitis C.
“Most IV drug users there are hepatitis C-positive, but very few of them get treatment,” she says. Since new hepatitis C treatments are easy, offer a complete cure, and have few side effects, Bass wanted to know why – and then come up with an intervention that might move people to act.
Bass partnered with Prevention Point Philadelphia, a community organization founded in 1991 that manages a syringe exchange program and provides education and prevention services for people in the Kensington neighborhood who are at high risk for contracting HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases. Bass and her team have conducted surveys and focus groups, analyzed data, and developed a set of materials they hope will prove more effective in convincing IV drug users to seek treatment for hepatitis C.
“Community-driven research gives faculty direct access to a target population and gives community partners opportunities to be part of the research and use the expertise of the researcher,” Bass says. “Hopefully we also benefit the audience the community group serves. From a research standpoint, that’s always most important.”