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The University of Alabama

UA Scholars Seek to Bridge Gap Between Communities, Researchers

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A team of University of Alabama scholars aims to strengthen the relationships between researchers and the communities they study via a new grant.

Overlooked or undervalued, the research component of establishing trust and rapport with participants and community members can improve results and break cultural and educational barriers, the researchers said.

Without a well-established relationship, researchers may miss opportunities to improve surveys and gain accurate data. Ideally, community-based research projects, particularly those of an ongoing nature, should have partners who work with researchers and community members to achieve the best results.

The UA research team seeks to bridge that gap in a pair of in-state communities through a Eugene Washington PCORI Engagement Award by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

The approximate $250,000 contract will support development of community stakeholder groups and allow UA team members to learn their advice on research and experiential learning opportunities in their communities.

The project, titled “Sharing Opinions and Advice about Research (SOAR) in the Deep South,” will be based in Sumter County and Holt and will last for two years.

“The SOAR project represents a tremendous resource to the community, as well as to the University and to ARIA (Alabama Research Institute on Aging),” said Dr. Patricia Parmelee, director of ARIA. “It will enable us not only to tailor our research to the community’s stated needs, but to share resulting knowledge directly with those who can benefit from it the most.”

Dr. Rebecca S. Allen, professor of psychology at ARIA, will lead the engagement project at UA.

The project, based in ARIA, will focus on training its unique community partner groups in how to advise UA scholars on the selection of relevant research questions; the development of culturally appropriate measures and interventions; and the development of experiential learning opportunities in their communities through partnership with UA research personnel.

Allen said the project is based on a similar project at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in which a group, Community Advisors on Research Design and Strategies, was formed to assist UW-Madison researchers.

The group brings voices of diverse racial and economic groups, chronic health conditions or poverty to researchers, Allen said.

CARDS assisted UA researchers in planning a future health care survey and re-designed questions that previously weren’t easily understood by participants in western Alabama.

“If someone doesn’t understand a question as written – we do everything in interview format – the interviewer can re-word or provide additional info,” Allen said, “but that’s a subjective judgment by the researcher. It’s not a true partnership.

“The underlying issue is faculty and students go into the community wanting to help, but they do so from their own perspective. The community needs someone to put down roots, not someone who will do a study then go away.”

Additional UA personnel leading the project include Drs. Pamela Payne-Foster, of the College of Community Health Sciences; JoAnn Oliver, of the Capstone College of Nursing; and Christopher Spencer, of the Center for Community-Based Partnerships.

“This project was selected for Engagement Award funding not only for its commitment to engaging patients and other stakeholders but also for its potential to increase the usefulness and trustworthiness of the information we produce and facilitate its dissemination and uptake,” said Jean Slutsky, PCORI’s chief engagement and dissemination officer.

“We look forward to following the project’s progress and working with The University of Alabama to share the results.”

PCORI is an independent, non-profit organization authorized by Congress in 2010 to fund comparative effectiveness research that will provide patients, their caregivers and clinicians with the evidence needed to make better-informed health and healthcare decisions.

PCORI is committed to seeking input from a broad range of stakeholders to guide its work.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.

  • CONTACT: David Miller, UA media relations, 205/348-0825, dcmiller2@ur.ua.edu
  • SOURCE: Dr. Rebecca S. Allen, professor, department of psychology, 205/348-9891, rsallen@ua.edu