Published September 1, 2021
University at Buffalo researchers are increasingly recognizing the impact that community members have in informing research design, which leads to more culturally relevant interventions and meaningful outcomes. One program making its mark is the UB Clinical and Translational Science Institute Community Engagement Studio Program.
The program, developed by the Meharry-Vanderbilt Community-Engaged Research Core, is widely recognized throughout the CTSA consortium. This semi-structured approach brings researchers and stakeholders together, face-to-face (or virtually), for a bidirectional conversation around different aspects of research studies.
CTSI Community Engagement Core Director Laurene M. Tumiel-Berhalter, PhD, Director of Community Translational Research, Department of Family Medicine, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, believes that community engagement is needed now more than ever. And the studio model, in particular, is offering a conduit to greater and more meaningful community input.
“The studios help us as an institution to show our commitment to conducting research that is influenced by the community,” she says. “It makes our research more relevant, while acknowledging the unique contributions of members of the community.”
‘It helped us gather critical information’
Since its inception at UB last year, the CTSI Community Engagement team has hosted numerous studio sessions with researchers. CTSI Steering Committee Member and CTSI Mentored Career Development Program Associate Lead Oscar G. Gómez, MD, PhD, Associate Professor and Division Chief, Infectious Diseases, Department of Pediatrics, Jacobs School, was a recent participant. His study explored the priorities, perceptions, and preferences of the Hispanic/Latino community when it came to COVID-19 research and health education.
“The Community Engagement studio session was instrumental to our study as it allowed us to have direct input from members of the community including those in leadership positions,” Gomez explains. “We had direct access to insight that would not have been possible to obtain otherwise.”
Gomez says the session provided multiple benefits, on several fronts. “From the academic point of view, it helped us gather critical information about the interests and priorities of the community in regards to their healthcare needs, specifically COVID-19 related healthcare. From the socialization point of view, we benefited immensely from meeting these wonderful and caring members of the community whose dedication and advocacy for their community was inspiring.”
Gomez believes it is “imperative that community members be informed first hand” of the research interests of academic institutions.
“It is also imperative that members of the community be encouraged to provide their opinions, suggestions and concerns,” he adds. “Feedback is essential for any type of research that involves members of the community, not only for the benefits that it may bring in the future but also for the risks it may imply.”
Other researchers who have utilized the program also acknowledge the contributions that the participating community members have had on their research. One of these researchers is Liise K. Kayler, MD, MS, Program Director, Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation, Chief of the Division of Transplant Surgery, Department of Surgery, Jacobs School.
“Participating in the studio program provided us with a solid platform to start an academic-community partnership around kidney transplant access that is now thriving and continues to gain momentum,” she says.
Similarly, Tumiel-Berhalter says feedback provided by community members was crucial to the success of one of her recent studies. “It showed us that we could be asking better questions, and it also gave us valuable insight as to why some research studies are not successful. We need to be attuned with the community if we want our research to succeed.”
Changing researcher perceptions
Researcher evaluations have demonstrated the valuable contributions of community experts in studio sessions. Among all participating principal investigators, the top four most noted contributions are:
Above all else, CTSI Community Research Facilitator Megan Wilson-Crowley, MPA, says that the program has changed the perceptions of many investigators. “It’s exciting to see the effect these sessions have on research,” she says. “We need to create more spaces for researchers and community members to come together, as equals, and engage in meaningful dialogue.”
The CTSI provides funding for four Community Engagement studio sessions each year. Interested researchers can apply by completing a brief REDCap application.
To learn more about the model and how it might fit their research, read this September 2020 CTSI article, or request a team consultation by visiting research.buffalo.edu/portal/ctsa/form/comm. The CTSI Community Engagement team is also planning an information session this fall to be announced in an upcoming issue of the CTSI’s Translational Spotlight newsletter.