Introduction: With mounting evidence that poor maternal and child health outcomes are related to the social determinants of health, researchers need to engage with vulnerable and isolated communities to gather the evidence that is essential to determine appropriate solutions. Conventional research methods may not ensure the degree and quality of participation that is necessary for meaningful study findings. Participatory methods provide reciprocal opportunities for often excluded communities to both take part in, and guide the conduct of research.
Method/design: The Having a baby in a new country research project was undertaken to provide evidence about how women and men of refugee background experience health services at the time of having a baby. This two year, multifaceted proof of concept study comprised: 1) an organisational partnership to oversee the project; 2) a community engagement framework including: female and male Afghan community researchers, community and sector stakeholder advisory groups and community consultation and engagement.
Discussion: Inclusive research strategies that address power imbalances in research, and diversity of and within communities, are necessary to obtain the evidence required to address health inequalities in vulnerable populations. Such an approach involves mindfully adapting research processes to ensure that studies have regard for the advice of community members about the issues that affect them. Researchers have much to gain by committing time and resources to engaging communities in reciprocal ways in research processes.