Equitable Community Research Partnerships (2021-2022)


Collaborative research partnerships between institutions of higher education and local communities offer a valuable form of scholarship and a transformative approach to teaching and learning. Such partnerships improve research rigor and relevance, provide students with enhanced problem-solving skills and educational satisfaction, add valuable problem-solving capacity to community organizations and direct research toward critical community-identified needs.

Yet ethical and effective university-community research collaboration is complicated by numerous factors: university incentive structures, rigid research processes, lack of community clarity on academic processes and power dynamics that challenge partners’ willingness to voice concerns. Equity implications include exacerbated power imbalance between university and community entities – often also falling along racial and ethnic lines – and the limited ability of research to meaningfully address issues of inequality and inequity. 

Project Description 

This project aims to address the following questions: What are current practices and processes of research partnership with at Duke and in the Durham community? How are partnerships initiated and structured, and what prompts these processes? What challenges are experienced in partnership processes? What are key indicators and facilitators of fruitful partnerships? 

Team members will examine and synthesize existing literature on challenges in community-engaged research, from both the community and university lens. This information will be made publicly available to serve as a resource for community and university individuals and entities.

The team’s primary data collection will explore the initiation and structure of university-community research partnerships, processes, challenges and facilitators of fruitful partnerships. This will include up to three strands of inquiry:

  1. developing case studies of other academic institutions that have grappled with community-partnered research to determine their processes, challenges and how this experience can inform Duke’s institutional actions
  2. developing a survey to be implemented with local public and nonprofit organizations to probe interests, experiences, challenges and motivators related to community-partnered research;
  3. developing and implementing qualitative data collection (interviews, focus groups) with Duke faculty, community entities or other key informants to probe their experiences, challenges and motivators in partnered research.

Strands pursued by the team will be informed by team size, construction and student members’ interest.

The team will determine and develop deliverables, which may include briefs addressing community- and university-based challenges, multimedia products to provide education on community-partnered and equitable research and a network-building event for community entities to build research capacities and connect with researchers.

Learn more about this project team by viewing the team's video.

Anticipated Outputs

Literature syntheses; data collection instruments; data for academic publication examining process and challenges in university-community partnered research

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will be comprised of 3 graduate students and 6 undergraduate students who have an interest in a comprehensive view of research ethics, the use of research for societal improvement and how community-partnered research processes may serve these two aims. Team leaders are particularly interested in students for whom these topics connect to their individual research (especially at the graduate level, but also for undergraduates considering theses or other independent research).

Students who have prior training or experience using survey-based, interview-based and/or case study methodology would be useful; however, this background is not required, and students will receive appropriate training. 

Students will be engaged in the following research processes: exploration and synthesis of existing literature, including synthesis for a public/nonacademic audience; development of data collection instruments utilizing prior literature and instrument design training; implementation of data collection processes; and analysis. Through this, students will have the ability to inform the design of research processes; conduct primary research with subjects; develop dissemination mechanisms based on information gained; and inform specific, actionable next steps that will improve the Duke and Durham community as well as the broader field of study on university-community research partnership. 

The team’s graduate students will have the opportunity to take on a leadership role in these efforts and will play a core role in mentorship of undergraduate students. 

A graduate student will be selected to serve as project manager.


Fall 2021 – Spring 2022 

  • Fall 2021: Establish community advisory group; create team compact; complete team-building activity 1; conduct literature reviews; develop team working groups; develop (and program in Qualtrics, if needed) data collection instruments; develop and submit IRB protocol; complete interim individual reflections
  • Spring 2022: Complete team-building activity 2; conduct data collection and analysis; determine and complete action step(s); complete final individual reflections 


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters


Image: Aerial view of downtown Durham and American Tobacco campus, with Duke Clinical Research Institute at right, by Jared Lazarus/Duke University

Aerial view of downtown Durham and American Tobacco campus, with Duke Clinical Research Institute at right

Team Leaders

  • Megan Gray, Social Science Research Institute
  • Leslie Parkins, Office of Civic Engagement
  • Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Kathy Sikes, Service Learning
  • Jessica Sperling, Social Science Research Institute

/graduate Team Members

  • Eric Juarez, Psychology-AM, Psychology-PHD
  • Andrew McGannon, Masters of Public Policy
  • Alverio Nagle, Environmental Policy-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Hadeel Hamoud, Political Science (AB), Int Comparative Studies (AB2)
  • Elaijah Lapay

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Rosa Gonzalez-Guarda, School of Nursing

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Duke Clinical and Translational Science Institute, Community Engaged Research Initiative