Community-Academic Partnerships: A Systematic Review of the State of the Literature and Recommendations for Future Research

Review Article

Policy Points:

  • Communities, funding agencies, and institutions are increasingly involving community stakeholders as partners in research, to provide firsthand knowledge and insight.
  • Based on our systematic review of major literature databases, we recommend using a single term, community-academic partnership (CAP), and a conceptual definition to unite multiple research disciplines and strengthen the field.
  • Interpersonal and operational factors that facilitate or hinder the collaborative process have been consistently identified, including “trust among partners” and “respect among partners” (facilitating interpersonal factors) and “excessive time commitment” (hindering operational factor).
  • Once CAP processes and characteristics are better understood, the effectiveness of collaborative partner involvement can be tested.

Context: Communities, funding agencies, and institutions are increasingly involving community stakeholders as partners in research. Community stakeholders can provide firsthand knowledge and insight, thereby increasing research relevance and feasibility. Despite the greater emphasis and use of community-academic partnerships (CAP) across multiple disciplines, definitions of partnerships and methodologies vary greatly, and no systematic reviews consolidating this literature have been published. The purpose of this article, then, is to facilitate the continued growth of this field by examining the characteristics of CAPs and the current state of the science, identifying the facilitating and hindering influences on the collaborative process, and developing a common term and conceptual definition for use across disciplines.

Methods: Our systematic search of 6 major literature databases generated 1,332 unique articles, 50 of which met our criteria for inclusion and provided data on 54 unique CAPs. We then analyzed studies to describe CAP characteristics and to identify the terms and methods used, as well as the common influences on the CAP process and distal outcomes.

Findings: CAP research spans disciplines, involves a variety of community stakeholders, and focuses on a large range of study topics. CAP research articles, however, rarely report characteristics such as membership numbers or duration. Most studies involved case studies using qualitative methods to collect data on the collaborative process. Although various terms were used to describe collaborative partnerships, few studies provided conceptual definitions. Twenty-three facilitating and hindering factors influencing the CAP collaboration process emerged from the literature. Outcomes from the CAPs most often included developing or refining tangible products.

Conclusions: Based on our systematic review, we recommend using a single term, community-academic partnership, as well as a conceptual definition to unite multiple research disciplines. In addition, CAP characteristics and methods should be reported more systematically to advance the field (eg, to develop CAP evaluation tools). We have identified the most common influences that facilitate and hinder CAPs, which in turn should guide their development and sustainment.

Author(s): Amy Drahota, Rosemary D. Meza, Brigitte Brikho, Meghan Naaf, Jasper A. Estabillo, Emily D. Gomez, Sarah F. Vejnoska, Sarah Dufek, Aubyn C. Stahmer, and Gregory A. Aarons

Keywords: community-academic partnership, collaboration, community-based participatory research, research design

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Volume 94, Issue 1 (pages 163–214)
DOI: 10.1111/1468-0009.12184
Published in 2016