Measuring Community‐Engaged Research Contexts, Processes, and Outcomes: A Mapping Review

Original Scholarship

Policy Points:

  • Community‐engaged research (CEnR) engenders meaningful academic‐community partnerships to improve research quality and health outcomes. CEnR has increasingly been adopted by health care systems, funders, and communities looking for solutions to intractable problems.
  • It has been difficult to systematically measure CEnR’s impact, as most evaluations focus on project‐specific outcomes. Similarly, partners have struggled with identifying appropriate measures to assess outcomes of interest.
  • To make a case for CEnR’s value, we must demonstrate the impacts of CEnR over time. We compiled recent measures and developed an interactive data visualization to facilitate more consistent measurement of CEnR’s theoretical domains.

Context: Community‐engaged research (CEnR) aims to engender meaningful academic‐community partnerships to increase research quality and impact, improve individual and community health, and build capacity for uptake of evidence‐based practices. Given the urgency to solve society’s pressing public health problems and increasing competition for funding, it is important to demonstrate CEnR’s value. Most evaluations focus on project‐specific outcomes, making it difficult to demonstrate CEnR’s broader impact. Moreover, it is challenging for partnerships to identify assessments of interest beyond process measures. We conducted a mapping review to help partnerships find and select measures to evaluate CEnR projects and to characterize areas where further development of measures is needed.

Methods: We searched electronic bibliographic databases using relevant search terms from 2009 to 2018 and scanned CEnR projects to identify unpublished measures. Through review and reduction, we found 69 measures of CEnR’s context, process, or outcomes that are potentially generalizable beyond a specific health condition or population. We abstracted data from descriptions of each measure to catalog purpose, aim (context, process, or outcome), and specific domains being measured.

Findings: We identified 28 measures of the conditions under which CEnR is conducted and factors to support effective academic‐community collaboration (context); 43 measures evaluating constructs such as group dynamics and trust (process); and 43 measures of impacts such as benefits and challenges of CEnR participation and system and capacity changes (outcomes).

Conclusions: We found substantial variation in how academic‐community partnerships conceptualize and define even similar domains. Achieving more consistency in how partnerships evaluate key constructs could reduce measurement confusion apparent in the literature. A hybrid approach whereby partnerships discuss common metrics and develop locally important measures can address CEnR’s multiple goals. Our accessible data visualization serves as a convenient resource to support partnerships’ evaluation goals and may help to build the evidence base for CEnR through the use of common measures across studies.

Keywords: community-engaged research, action research, measurement, outcomes, mapping review.


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