Worth the Risk? Muddled Relationships in Community-Based Participatory Research

Qual Health Res. 2016 Jan;26(1):69-76. doi: 10.1177/1049732315618660. Epub 2015 Nov 26.


Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is a collaborative research approach that has two purposes: (a) to generate knowledge about and (b) to take action to improve the lives of people facing health, social, economic, political, and environmental inequities. The foundation of all CBPR projects is its partnership--its cooperative relationship between community members, service providers, program planners, policy makers, and academics. It is with people--and through relationships--that partnerships are built and sustained. Although relationships between academics and community members are critical to creating knowledge and change, they are overlooked in the literature. We often hear about CBPR "gone wrong," when tensions and conflicts arise because relationship boundaries become blurred. Our purpose is to expose the muddled relationships that can be created between academics and community members in CBPR projects. Drawing upon our experiences presented in a series of vignettes, we consider the nature of these relationships. We explore whether we conduct, in CBPR, good research at the expense of muddling relationships. Despite the potential for muddled relationships, we believe that CBPR is the best approach for research aimed at achieving a more equitable and just society.

Keywords: Canada; community members; community-based participatory research; friendship; partnership; relationship.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alberta
  • Community-Based Participatory Research / methods
  • Community-Based Participatory Research / organization & administration*
  • Community-Institutional Relations*
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Research Subjects / psychology
  • Universities