Chapter 5. Challenges in Improving Community Engagement in Research

Jo Anne Grunbaum, EdD


This chapter addresses common challenges faced in community-engaged research, whether that research meets the definition of community-based participatory research (CBPR) or falls elsewhere on the spectrum of community engagement efforts. These challenges and some approaches for meeting them are illustrated with a series of vignettes that describe real-life experiences of partnerships emanating from the Prevention Research Centers (PRC) program, the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) program, and other community-engaged research (CEnR) efforts.

CDC funds PRCs in schools of public health and medicine; the first three PRCs were funded in 1986. Currently, 37 PRCs are funded across 27 states, working as an interdependent network of community, academic, and public health partners to conduct applied prevention research and support the wide use of practices proven to promote good health. These partners design, test, and disseminate strategies that can be implemented as new policies or recommended public health practices. For more information on the PRC program, visit

The CTSA program began in 2006 with 12 sites funded by the National Center for Research Resources, a part of NIH. As of publication, the CTSA Consortium includes 55 medical research institutions located throughout the nation that work together to energize the discipline of clinical and translational science. The CTSA institutions share a common vision to improve human health by transforming the research and training environment in the U.S. to enhance the efficiency and quality of clinical and translational research. Community engagement programs in the CTSAs help foster collaborative and interdisciplinary research partnerships, enhance public trust in clinical and translational research, and facilitate the recruitment and retention of research participants to learn more about health issues in the United States’ many diverse populations. For more information on the CTSA Consortium, visit

The purpose of this chapter is to address five key challenges in the area of community-engaged research:
  • Engaging and maintaining community involvement.
  • Overcoming differences between and among academics and the community.
  • Working with nontraditional communities.
  • Initiating a project with a community and developing a community advisory board.
  • Overcoming competing priorities and institutional differences.

Each vignette describes a challenge faced by a partnership and the actions taken and provides pertinent take-home messages. The intention is to provide readers with snapshots of community engagement activity during the research process. Readers are encouraged to contact the authors or refer to the references for further information concerning findings and follow-up.

Page last reviewed: June 25, 2015