Research to improve the health of communities benefits from the involvement of community members. Accordingly, major federal and foundation funding agencies are soliciting health promotion/disease prevention programme proposals that require active community participation. However, creating such partnerships is difficult. Communities often perceive conventional research as paternalistic, irrelevant to their needs, manipulative, secretive and invasive of privacy. Many institutions and researchers view community knowledge as lacking in value. Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is a collaborative partnership approach to research that equitably involves community members, organizational representatives and researchers in all aspects of the research process. In this article the authors consider the barriers to institutional change and faculty participation in CBPR, and propose some steps for overcoming the barriers and making CBPR an integral part of a medical institution's research agenda. Training and supporting faculty in the philosophy and methods of this approach is the cornerstone of improved community-based research.