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Research partnerships between community members and academics are dynamic microsystems that aim to increase community wellbeing within complex environments. Efforts to improve health and social outcomes in communities are challenging in their own right, but even the most experienced researchers or engaged community members can have difficulty navigating the collaborative terrain of community-academic research partnerships. Proponents of participatory research models that engage community members as co-researchers are still examining how the collaborative process interacts with, and impacts, both short- and long-term outcomes. As a result, there has been a call for additional studies that employ qualitative and quantitative methods to contribute to a holistic understanding of this approach to research. This pilot study utilized the participatory tenets of co-researcher models to explore how members of community-academic research partnerships think about partnership processes and outcomes, including how they delineate between the two. Web-based concept mapping methodology was combined with individual interviews in an innovative mixed methods research study to further the field’s understanding of how community and academic members define partnership success and evaluate the impact of their work. Our findings suggest that in the early stages of a partnership members rely on informal and intuitive evaluation of success based on how the partnership is functioning. These partnership processes, which serve as intermediate outcomes, largely influence member engagement in the work, but partnerships are ultimately deemed successful if intended community-based research outcomes are achieved.
Keywords: community-academic research partnerships, participatory research, concept mapping methodology, mixed methods, partnership process, outcomes
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