Adapting to Context in Community-Based Participatory Research: “Participatory Starting Points” in a Chinese Immigrant Worker Community

  • Charlotte Chang
  • Alicia L. Salvatore
  • Pam Tau Lee
  • Shaw San Liu
  • Alex T. Tom
  • Alvaro Morales
  • Robin Baker
  • Meredith Minkler
Original paper


Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is increasingly being used to better understand and improve the health of diverse communities. A key strength of this research orientation is its adaptability to community contexts and characteristics. To date, however, few studies explicitly discuss adaptations made to CBPR principles and processes in response to community context and partners’ needs. Using data from our CBPR study, the San Francisco Chinatown Restaurant Worker Health and Safety Project, and drawing from literature on immigrant political incorporation, we examine the links between the contexts of the Chinese immigrant worker community, adaptations made by our collaborative, and study outcomes. In particular, we explore the concepts of contexts of reception and participatory starting points, which may be especially relevant for partnerships with immigrant communities whose members have historically had lower rates of civic and political participation in the US. We discuss contextual findings such as worker partner accounts of language barriers, economic and social marginalization, and civic skills and participation, as well as subsequent adaptations made by the partnership. We also describe the relative effectiveness of these adaptations in yielding equitable participation and building partners’ capacity. We conclude by sharing lessons learned and their implications for CBPR and partnerships with immigrant communities more broadly.


Community-based participatory research Partnership Collaborative research Immigrant Chinese Occupational health and safety 



This study was supported by a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH) and Health/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (R219081), and The California Endowment. The first author was supported by the University of California Berkeley Fellowship and the Occupational Health Internship Program. The authors acknowledge the partners and participants of the Chinatown Restaurant Worker Health and Safety Project, particularly worker partners Rong Wen Lan, Li Li Shuang, Li Zhen He, Hu Li Nong, Michelle Xiong, Zhu Bing Shu, Christy Wu, Huang Pei Yu, and organizer Feiyi Chen. Special thanks also are due Dr. Irene Bloemraad for her contributions. The contents of this article are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

Conflict of interest

None of the authors have any financial interests or affiliations that may cause conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Society for Community Research and Action 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charlotte Chang
    • 1
  • Alicia L. Salvatore
    • 2
  • Pam Tau Lee
    • 1
  • Shaw San Liu
    • 3
  • Alex T. Tom
    • 3
  • Alvaro Morales
    • 4
  • Robin Baker
    • 5
  • Meredith Minkler
    • 6
  1. 1.Labor Occupational Health Program, School of Public HealthUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Stanford Prevention Research CenterStanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  3. 3.Chinese Progressive AssociationSan FranciscoUSA
  4. 4.Alameda Department of Public HealthOaklandUSA
  5. 5.Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, School of Public HealthUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  6. 6.Division of Community Health and Human Development, School of Public HealthUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

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