Community Engagement

Community engagement has been emphasised in many recent research ethics guidance documents. The importance of community engagement is seen as both intrinsic and instrumental: it is both an inherent good that expresses respect for local communities and it also helps to avoid ethical problems, promote ethical research and lead to more significant and high-quality research who results are relevant to the local population. Community engagement should begin as soon as research is being envisioned as local input is vital to ensure that the research addresses important community needs. Engagement is typically seen as two-way communication, not only researchers presenting information to the community. Community engagement can also raise ethical challenges. The people who meet with researchers might represent one viewpoint out of several in the community. How representatives are selected can be challenging, especially to ensure the views of local minorities or other disempowered groups are represented. Other challenges can arise if those engaging with the researchers expect preferred treatment or compensation. The community might request changes to the research that are not feasible or methodologically acceptable, raising further challenges. At the same time, especially in conflict settings, engagement between the community and outside researchers could put the community or individuals at risk. Practically, community engagement can occur in many different ways. Community advisory boards have been set up, but informal dialogue can promote good engagement. Engagement also allows trusted relationships to develop so that problems, set-backs and challenges can be addressed as soon as they arise during research. Researchers or data collectors may be involved from local communities and thus facilitate engagement. Participatory Action Research (PAR) has developed as a whole approach to research that emphasises community engagement at every step in contrast to other approaches that emphasise disinterested and objective research methods.

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