Community researchers conducting health disparities research: Ethical and other insights from fieldwork journaling

Soc Sci Med. 2011 Jul;73(1):145-52. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.04.029. Epub 2011 May 30.


Lay persons who are trained to conduct research in their own communities form an essential part of many research projects. However, the effects of conducting research in their own communities have not been adequately explored. This paper examines the experiences, perceptions, and challenges faced by a group of community researchers during their involvement in a research project that examined if, and how, the relationships between mothers and their adolescent daughters could be harnessed to develop a daughter-initiated cervical cancer intervention. Seven community researchers interviewed 157 mother-daughter pairs in Cape Town, South Africa. We examine the use of journaling as a tool to document the experiences of community researchers, and we consider how journaling may help the community-based researcher grapple with the research process, and, more broadly, what such journal content illustrates with respect to the nature and challenges of community-engaged health research. An analysis of the content of the journals provides a strong indication of how personal and intimate the research process can be for community researchers by virtue of the background that they bring into the process as well as the additional weight of the research process itself. The complexities of navigating dual and somewhat oppositional roles - the role of impartial scientist or researcher and the role of invested community person - has been both underestimated and insufficiently researched.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Community Participation*
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Health Services Research / ethics*
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Research Personnel*
  • South Africa
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Writing*
  • Young Adult