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An Effective Approach to Understanding Communities

Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is increasingly recognized as a potent approach to conducting research with—rather than on—communities. CBPR builds capacity at the same time that it collaboratively studies locally relevant issues and concerns. CBPR begins with a research topic of importance to the community with the aim of combining knowledge and action for social change to improve community health and eliminate health disparities.

A new report, Promoting Healthy Public Policy through Community-Based Participatory Research: Ten Case Studies offers a window into the world of community, health department, and academic partnerships that are working to change policy to improve community health, reduce disparities, and foster equity. This report draws on data from dozens of in-depth interviews with partnership members, community focus groups, and policymakers, as well as document review and participant observation. 

Case Study # 4 is in Southeast Los Angeles with more than 200 toxic hazards and 60 federally designated Superfund sites. The area is predominantly made up of communities of color that experience disproportionately high rates of cancer, asthma, learning disabilities, and other health problems. Although many environmental health and social justice organizations had been active in this area for years, a more coordinated, regional approach to environmental justice was needed, as were high-quality scientific c data establishing the existence of environmental health inequities. Since its founding more than a decade ago, the Southern California Environmental Justice Collaborative (the Collaborative) has focused on addressing these gaps through a three-pronged approach: community organizing, research, and philanthropy.

The Collaborative played a key role in helping to secure a 75 percent reduction in the maximum individual cancer risk standard—the number of risks per million allowed by a government body—for the area and advancing the concept of cumulative, rather than individual, risk exposure among regulators, policymakers, and other stakeholders.

This research was made possible by funding from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.  The report was a collaboration between the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, and PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity by Lifting Up What Works.®


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