Community-based participatory research (CBPR) in South Africa: engaging multiple constituents to shape the research question

Soc Sci Med. 2005 Dec;61(12):2577-87. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.04.041. Epub 2005 Jun 13.


Community engagement is an on-going, arduous, and necessary process for developing effective health promotion programs. The challenges are amplified when the particular health issue or research question is not prominent in the consciousness of the targeted community. In this paper, we explore the community-based participatory research (CBPR) model as a means to negotiate a mutual agenda between communities and researchers. The paper is focused on the (perceived) need for cervical cancer screening in an under-resourced community in Cape Town, South Africa. Cervical cancer is a significant health problem in this community and elsewhere in South Africa. Unlike HIV-AIDS, however, many Black South Africans have not been educated about cervical cancer and the importance of obtaining screening. Many may not consider screening a priority in their lives. Our research included extensive consultations and informal interviews with diverse community and regional stakeholders. Following these, we conducted 27 focus groups and 106 demographic surveys with randomly selected youth, parents, local health care personnel, educators and school staff. Focus group data were summarized and analyzed cross-sectionally. Community stakeholders were involved throughout this research. Our consultations, interviews, and focus group data were key in identifying the concerns and priorities of the community. By engaging community stakeholders, we developed a research framework that incorporated the community's concerns and priorities, and stressed the intersecting roles of poverty, violence, and other cultural forces in shaping community members' health and wellbeing. Community members helped to refocus our research from cervical cancer to 'cervical health,' a concept that acknowledged the impact on women's bodies and lives of HIV-AIDS and STDs, sexual violence, poverty, and multiple social problems. We conclude that the research agenda and questions in community-based health research should not be considered immutable. They need to be open to negotiation, creativity, and constant reinvention.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Community Health Planning / methods*
  • Community Participation*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Priorities / classification*
  • Health Promotion*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Health Services Research / methods*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data*
  • Medically Underserved Area
  • Program Development
  • South Africa
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / diagnosis*