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Community Engaged Research Partnerships as a SciComm Tool

Title: Leveraging community engaged research partnerships for crisis and emergency risk communication to vulnerable populations in the COVID-19 pandemic

Author(s) and Year: Mark L. Wieland, Gladys B. Asiedu, Kiley Lantz, Adeline Abbenyi, Jane W. Njeru, Ahmed Osman, Miriam Goodson, Yahye Ahmed, Luz E. Molina, Chyke A. Doubeni, Irene G. Sia and for the Rochester Healthy Community Partnership COVID-19 Task Force. 2020

Journal: Journal of Clinical and Translational Science (open access)


TL;DR: Communication gaps with vulnerable and marginalized communities can be improved through leveraging community-engaged research (CEnR) partnerships and a risk communication framework. Benefits of this model include increasing the reach of science communication efforts, co-creating communication messages with community members, and supporting how messages are disseminated.

Why I chose this paper: As a Puerto Rican with a public health background, I’m very interested in how science communication can better engage Latine audiences and how life saving public health information can be more efficiently shared. I strongly believe in community partnerships and their value in increasing the efficacy of communication efforts and representation overall. I was very encouraged by the results of this evaluation and look forward to learning more about how others are interacting with community partners.


Vulnerable and minoritized communities consistently face communication gaps when it comes to health and science communication. This was clearly seen during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, where socioeconomic disadvantages, limited English proficiency, cultural differences, and general mistrust of health institutions led to higher rates of COVID-19 infection, hospitalizations, and complications in BIPOC communities. Addressing these critical communication gaps requires time, bandwidth, and intimate knowledge of these communities, which is often lacking during high risk health crises like a pandemic. So, what can we do about it? How can we best address these communication gaps while being respectful of community partners? Wieland and colleagues believe this is where community-engaged research (CEnR) partnerships and risk communication come into play.


CEnRs prioritize mutually beneficial relationships between researchers and community partners. They are characterized by a spirit of collaboration at all phases of the research and they provide direct access to marginalized communities, strengthening community trust and general buy-in.

Community and academic partners from Rochester Healthy Community Partnership (RHCP) based in Southeast Minnesota followed the CEnR model and developed COVID-19 message maps focused on creating compelling stories for specific communities. Message maps are a framework used to develop fact-based, concise messages for different audiences.

A group of 24 Communication Leaders were recruited mostly from partners of previous RHCP projects, which span back 15 years. The Communication Leaders spearheaded all COVID-19 communication efforts and were in charge of disseminating life saving information to their communities. The leaders received training on the communication content created by RHCP and were given freedom to disseminate the messages widely using the tools they deemed most appropriate. Message content was consistent with regional and national guidance and it was updated on a biweekly basis to adhere to new guidelines and recommendations. All content was also translated to 6 languages. Communication efforts varied by medium (e.g., voice calls, text messaging, social media) format (e.g., audio, video, text) and length (some leaders sent messages in full, others shared edited versions in writing, and others created videos with the most important fact).

RHCP and the Communication Leaders met daily to share progress, adjust and refine messaging, and get clarity on any COVID-19 related doubts directly from infectious disease experts or community partners. Figure 1 provides an overview of this iterative model focused on leveraging existing community resources to facilitate how public health messaging was shared and adapted.

Summary of RHCP’s model for community engaged research partnerships. It discusses how the Communication Leaders were supported as they refined messaging according to changing facts, they were given a space where they could get answers to their COVID-19 questions, and received guidance on how to leverage resources available.
Figure 1 - Overview of the RHCP’s model for community engaged research partnerships.

The communication efforts were measured for reach, acceptability, and feasibility during a 14-day period. Communication platforms used by the leaders totaled 9, with Facebook, phone calls, and text messaging being the most common channels.


By leveraging access to these communities and implementing a risk communication framework, the authors of this work increased the reach of life saving COVID-19 communication, co-created health communication messages with community members, and provided up to date COVID-19 information to support how messages were crafted and how information was shared. A total of 9,882 community members were reached by a message from the Communication Leaders.

Acceptability and feasibility of the program was assesed from the Communication Leader's perspective. Communication Leaders shared that they felt empowered and very motivated during the intervention. They saw the intervention as highly relevant and responsive to community needs. Messages were seen to add credibility to the communication activities as they actively incorporated community voices and experiences while staying true to the facts. The regular interactions and communication space between the Community Leaders and RHCP served to share ownership of the intervention with Community Leaders.

The messages crafted also closely followed the CDC Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication phases of preparation, initial messaging, maintenance, and resolution. By following this model the researchers were able to develop a partnership with the community, co-create a dissemination plan with the Leaders, explain on-going risks and address any misinformation concerns, and promote regular bi-directional communication.


The RCHP’s model centers leveraging community trust, co-creating content with community partners, giving them ownership and freedom to disseminate content in the best way possible for their communities, and creating safe spaces for interaction and knowledge sharing. While this model is centered in the COVID-19 pandemic, it could be beneficial for other science communication challenges like climate change, AI, and misinformation. Additionally, the RHCP's example further highlights the importance of strengthening CEnR partnerships not just during emergencies, but as an integral part of effective science communication.

Edited by: Héctor Torres Vera and Niveen AbiGhannam

Cover image credit: CIVICUS


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