Building Relationships with At-Risk Populations: A Community Engagement Approach for Longitudinal Research

  • Helen W. WilsonEmail author
  • Gloria J. Coleman
  • Brenikki R. Floyd
  • Geri R. Donenberg


The authors tell a story about the relationships built between their research team and a group of young women from low-income, underserved communities in Chicago followed for over 10 years in a seven-wave longitudinal study. The study examines two major public health concerns, sexual risk and violence exposure, in a population of young women that is overburdened with these problems yet underrepresented in most research. Longitudinal designs are invaluable in capturing change over time but entail a number of challenges, with attrition perhaps the most significant. This narrative describes how the relationships with the study participants have played an integral role in maintaining the sample and enhancing the success of the project. The authors have established meaningful relationships with participants by including community members on their recruitment and tracking team, employing an approach that blends warmth and persistence, and taking a genuine interest in participants’ lives. They have also fostered relationships with these young women by maximizing study benefits, providing support and referrals, assessing safety related to suicidal ideation and intimate partner violence, and integrating a service through testing for sexually transmitted infections. The authors hope the lessons they have learned will be helpful to other researchers who wish to conduct longitudinal studies with hard-to-reach populations.


Longitudinal study Community engagement African American Young women Adolescence Sexual risk HIV/AIDS Violence exposure 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helen W. Wilson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gloria J. Coleman
    • 2
  • Brenikki R. Floyd
    • 3
  • Geri R. Donenberg
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesStanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Juvenile ResearchChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Community Outreach Intervention Projects, School of Public HealthUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA
  4. 4.School of Public Health and College of MedicineUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA

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