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Challenges and Facilitating Factors in Sustaining Community-Based Participatory Research Partnerships: Lessons Learned from the Detroit, New York City and Seattle Urban Research Centers


In order to address the social, physical and economic determinants of urban health, researchers, public health practitioners, and community members have turned to more comprehensive and participatory approaches to research and interventions. One such approach, community-based participatory research (CBPR) in public health, has received considerable attention over the past decade, and numerous publications have described theoretical underpinnings, values, principles and practice. Issues related to the long-term sustainability of partnerships and activities have received limited attention. The purpose of this article is to examine the experiences and lessons learned from three Urban Research Centers (URCs) in Detroit, New York City, and Seattle, which were initially established in 1995 with core support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The experience of these Centers after core funding ceased in 2003 provides a case study to identify the challenges and facilitating factors for sustaining partnerships. We examine three broad dimensions of CBPR partnerships that we consider important for sustainability: (1) sustaining relationships and commitments among the partners involved; (2) sustaining the knowledge, capacity and values generated from the partnership; and (3) sustaining funding, staff, programs, policy changes and the partnership itself. We discuss the challenges faced by the URCs in sustaining these dimensions and the strategies used to overcome these challenges. Based on these experiences, we offer recommendations for: strategies that partnerships may find useful in sustaining their CBPR efforts; ways in which a Center mechanism can be useful for promoting sustainability; and considerations for funders of CBPR to increase sustainability.

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The authors appreciate the involvement of all of the partners in the Detroit Community–Academic Urban Research Center, Harlem Community & Academic Partnership, and Seattle Partners who have contributed greatly to the success of the partnerships described in this article and to enhancing the authors’ understanding of CBPR and strategies for sustaining CBPR. Detroit partners: Community Health and Social Services Center, Communities In Schools, Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion, Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, Friends of Parkside, Henry Ford Health System, Latino Family Services, Neighborhood Service Organization, Southwest Solutions, University of Michigan Schools of Public Health, Nursing and Social Work, and Warren/Conner Development Coalition. New York City partners: AIDS Institute (State Health Department), Birdsong Program, Mount Sinai Hospital, Boriken Neighborhood Health Center/ East Harlem Council for Health, Services, Inc, Center for Community Problem Solving at NYU Law School, Center for Multicultural and Community Affairs, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Center for Urban Epidemiologic Studies, The New York Academy of Medicine, Central Harlem HIV CARE Network, Division of General Internal Medicine, Cornell Medical Center, East Harlem Community Health Committee, East Harlem HIV Care Network, East Harlem Interagency Council for Older Adults, Food Change, Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, Harlem Directors Group (Substance Abuse Treatment), Harlem East Life Plan, Human Service Consortium of East Harlem, Hunter College Center on AIDS, Drugs and Community Health, City University of New York, Latino Organization for Liver Awareness, Legal Aid Community Law Offices, Little Sisters of the Assumption, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, Metropolitan Hospital Center, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York Harm Reduction Educators, New York Organ Donor Network, North General Hospital, Palladia, Inc., STEPS to End Family Violence & Incarcerated Mothers Program, Union Settlement Association, Women’s Information Network. Seattle partners: Asian Counseling and Referral Services, Central Area Senior Center, Cross Cultural Health Care Program, Group Health Cooperative, Horn of Africa Services, Harborview Medical Center, International District Housing Alliance, Public Health–Seattle & King County, Puget Sound Neighborhood Health Centers, Rainier Beach Community Center, Refugee Women’s Alliance, Safe Futures Youth Center, Seattle Housing Authority, University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine. (See http://www.sph.umich.edu/urc, http://www.nyam.org, and http://www.metrokc.gov/health/sphc for more details.) The authors also thank Sue Andersen for her assistance in preparing the manuscript, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Barbara A. Israel.

Additional information

Israel, Lichtenstein, and McGranaghan are with the University of Michigan, School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Krieger and Ciske are with the Epidemiology, Planning and Evaluation Unit, Public Health—Seattle & King Country, Seattle, WA, USA; Vlahov is with the Center for Urban Epidemiologic Studies, New York Academy of Medicine, New York, NY, USA; Foley is with the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, Mt. Sinai Medical School, New York, NY, USA; Fortin is City Research Scientist, New York City Department of Health, New York, NY, USA; Guzman is with the Community Health and Social Services, Inc., Detroit, MI, USA; Palerno is with the Center for Multicultural and Community Affairs, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA; Tang is with the Aging and Adult Services Company, Asian Counseling and Referral Services, Seattle, WA, USA.

The first three authors are the Principal Investigators of the three Urban Research Centers. The other coauthors from the three Centers are listed in alphabetical order. See the acknowledgements at the end for a list of all of the partner organizations involved.

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Israel, B.A., Krieger, J., Vlahov, D. et al. Challenges and Facilitating Factors in Sustaining Community-Based Participatory Research Partnerships: Lessons Learned from the Detroit, New York City and Seattle Urban Research Centers. J Urban Health 83, 1022–1040 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-006-9110-1

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  • Community-based participatory research
  • Sustainability
  • Urban
  • Community partnerships