Environmental Justice & Community-Based Participatory Research
Liam R. O'Fallon, M.A.
In 1994, the Institute launched the Environmental Justice: Partnerships for Communication Program. The purpose of the program was to enable community residents to more actively participate in the full spectrum of research. To achieve this goal, the program was designed to bring together three partners: a community organization, an environmental health researcher and a health care professional to develop models and approaches to building communication, trust and capacity, with the final goal of increasing community participation in the research process. The rationale of this program was multifaceted.
- Community residents are challenged daily to make decisions about what exposures may be harmful to their health. Training and education to better understand the exposures and their sources empowers them to make informed decisions.
- Lack of communication has fostered distrust between community members and researchers. Tools and models to promote interaction and communication between the two groups foster trust and mutual understanding, which benefits researchers and community members.
- Active participation of community members in the identification of research questions provides residents with a sense of ownership and understanding of direct benefit to their public health. Consequently, residents are more likely to volunteer for and participate in the research project. Greater community participation may benefit research outcomes.
NIEHS has partnered with other federal agencies in this program. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency supported several projects over the last ten years. Since 2002, NIEHS and the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) have been working closely to address some occupational health issues in the context of environmental justice. The myriad positive outcomes resulting from this program demonstrate the benefit of these partnerships.
Recognizing the importance of community participation in research, NIEHS established the Community-based Participatory Research (CBPR) Program in 1995. The Institute defines CBPR as "an approach that promotes active community involvement in the processes that shape research and intervention strategies, as well as in the conduct of research studies." This program has been instrumental in enhancing and strengthening community-university partnerships in the pursuit of addressing environmental health research and interventions. Research includes the examination of disease etiology and exposure assessment. Researchers within this program have helped advance the acceptance and understanding of this approach.
NIEHS promotes CBPR as a valuable research approach to help us further understand the complexities of environmental health. The Institute believes that CBPR can be used to address environmental justice issues in the context of biomedic, hypothesis-driven research questions. As outlined in the NIEHS Strategic Plan, community participation iessential to the mission of the Institute.
Additional Program Contact
Kimberly Ann Gray, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator
Tel (919) 541-0293
Fax (919) 316-4606