December 7, 2023

Assistant Professor Paul Chandanabhumma and colleagues publish research on how community-based participatory research partnerships can achieve sustainability

Partners should foster a “healthy ecosystem” of research to sustain partnership work and ongoing relationships, according to study authors.

As part of a project of the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center (Detroit URC), Paul Chandanabhumma, Ph.D., MPH, assistant professor of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan, and colleagues recently published a qualitative study that defines sustainability in long-standing, community-based participatory research (CBPR) partnerships and identifies strategies that partnerships could use to promote sustainability.

Paul Chandanabhumma, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor Paul Chandanabhumma, Ph.D, MPH

Chandanabhumma collaborated with renowned community and academic experts of CBPR to publish, “Cultivating an ecosystem: A qualitative exploration of sustainability in long-standing community-based participatory research (CBPR) partnerships” with the journal, Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action.

Co-authors include Adena Gabrysiak, Barbara Brush, Chris Coombe, Eugenia Eng, Megan Jensen, Laurie Lachance, Peggy Shepard, Nina Wallerstein, and Barbara Israel.

Community-based participatory research, (CBPR) aims to engage academic and community partners in all aspects of the research process. It typically embraces knowledge sharing, capacity-building, and mutual decision-making to improve community health. Public health and related fields have advocated for CBPR as a valid approach to achieve health equity.

From the earliest days of his public health training, CBPR has captured Chandanabhumma’s scholarly interests.

“I was drawn to understanding the mechanisms that help CBPR partnerships achieve their health equity goals, and how we could maintain their long-term success in a rapidly changing world,” Chandanabhumma said.

Building on his doctoral thesis and dissertation research, his work has examined the contributions of membership diversity, synergy, and community voice in CBPR partnerships.

As part of the research process for the recently-published paper, Chandanabhumma was part of “Measurement Approaches to Partnership Success (MAPS),” a participatory, mixed methods study of the Detroit URC that examines success and its underlying factors in longstanding CBPR partnerships that had been in existence six years or longer.

“My co-authors and I tried to understand what drives the long-term success of academic-community partnerships. Sustainability is a concept that is often tied to the success of CBPR partnerships. However, we wanted to understand how academic and community partners in longstanding CBPR partnerships define sustainability and what are the practices that enhance sustainability in these partnerships?”

Chandanabhumma conducted qualitative analysis of 21 semi-structured interviews, which included interviews of 10 academic and 11 community experts in longstanding CBPR partnerships. As a result of the analysis, he and his team have proposed the following definition of sustainability in long-standing CPBR partnerships:

 “The maintenance of the partnership’s work and/or ongoing relationships among partners in order to achieve collective goals and to respond to changes and opportunities that impact the long-term viability of the partnerships.”

They also recommend that partnership members discuss and agree upon what sustainability means to each partnership. Partners should also foster capacity-building practices at multiple levels (e.g., individual, group, and institutional) to promote their vision of sustainability throughout the different stages of the partnership. Key questions that partners should discuss and revisit throughout the partnership’s life cycle include:

  • To what extent and in what ways would the partnership continue if funding were no longer available?
  • How, if at all, would members of the partnership continue to work together even if the initial partnership ended?
  • How does the partnership handle unanticipated changes (e.g., transitions in group membership, loss of funding) that might threaten the work of the partnership?

Some of the identified practices that can help sustain a long-term CBPR partnership include:

  • Adhering to the principles, norms and values of CBPR
  • Supporting and diversifying partnership resources to sustain the work of the partnership
  • Strengthening the structure and membership to sustain ongoing relationships among partners
  • Advocating for policy and institutional changes to meet the needs of partners

Chandanabhumma and colleagues compared these concepts and practices to the idea of supporting a healthy ecosystem surrounding mutually beneficial relationships among partners. They wrote, “sustainability can be understood as fostering a viable ecosystem surrounding the symbiotic academic–community relationships.”

Chandanabhumma said that participating in this research reinforced his passion for using CBPR and community-engaged research to advance health equity. He wants his work to emphasize the transformative impacts that medical and public health research can have when it engages with community partners in a sustainable way.  

“There is so much wisdom, strength, and insights that arise from the communities we work with,” he said. “CBPR is about sharing power and resources with community partners to bring their contributions to the forefront of research. We hope to promote a healthy ecosystem of community-academic research so that CBPR can be a sustained vehicle for social change and health equity.”

ALSO READ: Paul Chandanabhumma, Ph.D., MPH, awarded 2023 Anti-Racism Research and Community Impact Faculty Fellowship

Article cited: Chandanabhumma, P. P., Gabrysiak, A., Brush, B. L., Coombe, C. M., Eng, E., Jensen, M., Lachance, L., Shepard, P., Wallerstein, N. B., &; Israel, B. A. (2023). Cultivating an ecosystem: A qualitative exploration of sustainability in long-standing community-based participatory research partnerships. Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action, 17(3).