Equitable University-Community Research Partnerships (2022-2023)

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, build students’ 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 falling along racial and ethnic lines — and the limited ability of research to meaningfully address issues of inequality and inequity. 

Building on the work of the 2021-2022 team, this project team addressed the following questions: 

  1. What are current practices and processes of research partnership at Duke and in the Durham community? 
  2. How are partnerships initiated and structured, and what prompts these processes? 
  3. What challenges are experienced in the partnership process, and what are key indicators and facilitators of fruitful partnerships? 

The team began by reviewing existing literature on challenges in community-engaged research, through both community and university lenses. They then worked to analyze the data collected during the related 2021-2022 project from both Duke researchers (through surveys and interviews) and community organizations (through interviews). They split into two subteams: one focused on qualitative data analysis and the other focused on quantitative data analysis. 

Once analyses were completed, they synthesized findings across data types for Duke researcher participants and community partner participants. They then began developing a memo to share with university leadership on mechanisms to enhance the availability, success and equitable practice of community-engaged research partnerships. The team will also publish a peer-reviewed manuscript.


Fall 2022 – Spring 2023

Team Outputs 

Paths Forward for University-Community Research (2023 Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase)

Equitable University-Community Research Partnerships (poster by Cai Liu, Joey Rauch, Ryder Buttry, Libby Doyle, Zoe Spicer and Zoe Loh, presented at Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 19, 2023)

Memo to university leadership on mechanisms to enhance the availability, success and equitable practice of community-engaged research partnerships

This Team in the News

Meet Some of the Teams at the Bass Connections Showcase

Bass Connections Teams Share Research Highlights at 2023 Showcase

Graduate and Professional Student Spotlight: Reflections from the Class of 2023

See earlier related team, Equitable University-Community Research Partnerships (2021-2022).


Image: Aerial view of downtown Durham, by Jared Lazarus

Aerial view of downtown Durham.

Team Leaders

  • Jessica Sperling Smokoski, Social Science Research Institute
  • Noelle Wyman Roth, Social Science Research Institute

/graduate Team Members

  • Ryder Buttry, Masters of Public Policy
  • Elizabeth Doyle, Masters of Public Policy
  • Zoe Loh, Pathology-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Caimiao Liu, Psychology (AB)
  • Joseph Rauch, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Zoe Spicer, Political Science (AB)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Leslie Parkins, Office of Civic Engagement
  • Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • Kathy Sikes, Service Learning

/zcommunity Team Members

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