Partnering with Communities in Research

July 3, 2024

In the world of market research, we often talk about connecting with “hard-to-reach” audiences. Instead of simple outreach, what if we shifted our perspective and focused on inviting these communities in, creating genuine partnerships that benefit both the research and the community itself?

At PSB Insights, we believe that collaborating with community partners is essential for conducting culturally relevant and impactful qualitative research, especially when working with marginalized populations. To us, it’s not just about gathering data; it’s about building trust, empowering communities, and ensuring that research outcomes are truly meaningful and actionable.

Establishing Equitable Partnerships

True collaboration starts with recognizing community partners as valuable stakeholders throughout the research process. This means engaging with community partners early on, ideally during the initial stages of defining research goals. Co-creation of research objectives ensures alignment with community needs and priorities, fostering a sense of ownership and control over the narratives being built.

This early engagement also allows for open dialogue about the potential benefits and challenges of the research. During our work on the 2020 Census Integrated Communications Campaign, partnering with multicultural agencies provided invaluable insights into the unique perspectives and sensitivities of various communities, allowing us to tailor our approach accordingly.

For example, we learned from G+G Advertising, a specialist in American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) marketing, that when we approach these communities we should split focus groups by age, anticipating that younger participants might defer to elders; and to anticipate higher no-show rates due to skepticism towards research. This allowed us to tailor our recruitment strategies accordingly, taking into account the cultural and historical context provided by our partner.

Tailoring Methods and Instruments for Cultural Relevance

Community input is crucial for selecting research methods and designing instruments that resonate with the cultural norms and communication styles of the target population. This might involve adapting interview guides, preparing appropriate visual aids, or even reconsidering traditional focus group settings.

Last year, as the qualitative research partner for the Pew Research Center’s studies on “Being Asian in America” and “The Hardships and Dreams of Asian Americans Living in Poverty,” PSB Insights identified, trained, and collaborated with community partners to support 84 focus groups across 18 different Asian ethnic origin groups. This included working with a Hmong moderator who provided valuable feedback on our discussion guides. Their input led us to modify a planned whiteboard activity after learning that many Hmong speakers, while fluent in the spoken language, may not be able to read or write as well in Hmong, as the written form of the language is newer. This adjustment ensured inclusivity for the focus group participants and allowed us to gather richer data in a smoother group discussion format.

Bringing Research to the Community

Whenever possible, we strive to bring the research directly to the community. Conducting focus groups in familiar settings like community centers, cultural centers, libraries or even local businesses offers several advantages:

  • Accessibility and Convenience: It reduces logistical barriers for participants, making it easier for them to attend.
  • Cultural Relevance: Familiar surroundings can foster a sense of comfort and trust, leading to more open and honest discussions.
  • Community Investment: Utilizing local facilities provides financial support to community organizations and will be re-invested back into the community.

We were able to implement this approach during the 2020 Census research, conducting Korean-language focus groups at a local community center familiar to many participants. While additional logistical considerations may arise when conducting research at “non-traditional” facilities, the benefits for participants and the research itself is more than worth the extra effort.

Recognizing the Value of Community Partners

Conducting research with marginalized communities often requires a greater financial investment. This is because reaching these audiences involves working with networkers and sub-recruiters within the community, utilizing specialized translation services, and potentially engaging multicultural agencies or in-group research consultants. It’s essential to recognize the value these partners bring and provide fair compensation that reflects their time, effort, and expertise. Investing in these partnerships ultimately leads to more robust and insightful research outcomes. Traditional firms may have limited access to “hard-to-reach” audiences; however, more specialized multicultural firms and community partners will ensure that your research participants are representative of the core audience you want to talk to.

Closing the Loop: Sharing Research Findings

As a final step, it’s essential to bring research findings back to the community whenever possible. This involves:

  • Sharing key findings and headlines with partners prior to publishing: Ensuring that the interpretation of results resonates with the lived experiences of participants.
  • Translating findings into actionable, forward-thinking strategies: Collaborating with community partners to identify ways to utilize the research to inform community development, advocacy efforts, and policy change.
  • Sharing findings in accessible formats: Utilizing formats that are tailored to the consumption preferences of the audience/ community, like community presentations, infographics, and videos.

While not all research is conducted to be shared outside of the organization, we strive to find ways to make our research findings accessible and beneficial to the communities who generously contribute their time and insights to make our research strong.

At PSB Insights, we believe that collaborating with community partners is not just good practice; it’s essential for conducting ethical, insightful, and impactful research that uplifts both our clients and the communities we engage with.

Written by André Sanabia Johnston

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