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Building Capacity for Productive Indigenous Community-University Partnerships


This paper describes capacity development as a key aspect of community-based research with indigenous communities. University research engagement with indigenous communities includes extensive, and often negative, historical antecedents. We discuss strategies for developing effective, egalitarian, and balanced indigenous community-university relationships to build research capacity of these communities, and to create sustainable partnerships to improve health and wellness, and to reduce health disparities. We draw on the experience of eight investigators conducting research with indigenous communities to assess effective strategies for building and enhancing partnerships, including (1) supporting indigenous investigator development; (2) developing university policies and practices sensitive and responsive to Indigenous community settings and resources, and training for research; (3) developing community and scientifically acceptable research designs and practices; (4) aligning indigenous community and university review boards to enhance community as well as individual protection (e.g., new human subjects training for Indigenous research, joint research oversight, adaptation of shorter consent forms, appropriate incentives, etc.); (5) determining appropriate forms of dissemination (i.e., Indian Health Services provider presentation, community reports, digital stories, etc.); (6) best practices for sharing credit; and (7) reducing systematic discrimination in promotion and tenure of indigenous investigators and allies working in indigenous communities.

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The authors would like to thank the many indigenous communities that have been interested and engaged partners in the IRINAH studies.


Funding support for the studies described was received from the National Cancer Institute (# R01CA192967 MPI: Mishra/English), the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (R01HL122150 PI: Gittelsohn) (R01HL771129 PI: Jernigan; R01HL126578 PI: Jernigan), the National Institute of Minority Health Disparities (R01MD011266 PI: Jernigan), the National Institute of Nursing Research (R01NR014153 MPI: Booth-LaForce/Buchwald/Oxford), the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (R01ES02258303 MPI: Noonan/Ward/Belcourt), the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (R01AA022068 PI: Duran), and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (5R01DA037174-05 PI: Belone/Wallerstein).

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Correspondence to Joel Gittelsohn.

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Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All studies received Indigenous community, tribal colleges and universities, Indian Health Services, and university approvals, and their funding NIH institute’s Certificate of Confidentiality as appropriate.

Informed Consent

All studies collected informed consent on participants as designated by their respective IRBs.

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Gittelsohn, J., Belcourt, A., Magarati, M. et al. Building Capacity for Productive Indigenous Community-University Partnerships. Prev Sci 21, 22–32 (2020).

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  • Research capacity
  • Indigenous
  • Tribal-academic partnerships
  • Collaboration