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Preparing to apply for CRC funding

Community-researcher collaborations take time and a willingness to share power and compromise.

The process involves community-researcher collaboration at all levels of the research process, including considering and developing the research question, designing the methodology, conducting the research, analyzing the results and disseminating the findings.

These types of collaborations are inherently “cross-cultural” and the differences between how academia and the nonprofit sectors function can be significant. For instance, in academia, publishing in peer-reviewed literature is an important step in publishing research results, yet the process of preparing, submitting and revising drafts can take years before an article is published. In the nonprofit sector, newsletters, town hall meetings and less formal dissemination strategies are valued for their relative directness and accessibility for community members.

Collaborations can also include other differences within your partnership or team — including race, gender, age, class, educational level, sexual orientation or disability. Not all personalities are suited to working in collaborations and not all institutions are prepared for the time and resources required. Be honest with yourself about whether collaboration is right for you and your institution.

Who can apply

A CRC research team must include individuals representing:

  • At least one California-based community organization (formal or informal)
  • Community members, including patients, clients or interested people
  • At least one experienced scientific researcher working in California in an appropriate discipline or setting

Each team must have one person designated as the “Community co-principal investigator (co-PI)” and one as the “Research co-PI.” The co-PIs take leadership on the research project and ensure adequate representation of both community and scientific perspectives.

The team must work collaboratively in all phases of the research project, including:

  • Identifying the problem and formulating the research questions
  • Writing and submitting the application
  • Designing and carrying out the research
  • Analyzing the research findings
  • Preparing reports to the CBCRP
  • Disseminating the results to both community and scientific audiences

Teams must present evidence of broad community involvement throughout the entire proposal and proposed project. This can be accomplished by having community members on the research team or by having an informed and empowered community advisory board.

What makes a good research question?

Meet with other members of your community to identify and prioritize questions you have about breast cancer. Questions might arise from a program you're involved in, wanting to know whether it has an effect or the size of its effect. Or you may want to gain a better understanding of risk factors unique to your community. Maybe you want to gather evidence to advocate for policy action and program funding.

If you want to conduct research on a program, it's important to understand the difference between research and evaluation. Research and evaluation both use a systematic approach to answer a question of interest. Evaluation, though, usually asks questions like “Is the program effective?” or “Do the clients like the program?” Research asks “Does the program have an effect? What is the size of the effect? What components are responsible for the effect?”

Research is an organized and controlled way to answer a question. It is conducted in such a way that you would be able to say that your study results are:

  • Reliable: Are your measurements dependable?
  • Valid: Do your findings accurately reflect what you were attempting to measure?
  • Generalizable: Would your findings apply to people who were not included in your study, but have similar characteristics as the participants?
  • Replicable: Can your study be repeated and would the results be the same?

Once you have an idea of what you might want to focus on, and you are sure you can phrase your question into a research question, you should conduct a literature review to determine what is already known about your topic. One good place to start is PubMed, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine that includes over 17 million citations from MEDLINE and other life science journals for biomedical articles back to the 1950s.

Another step in the process of refining your research question is to look at databases of funded breast cancer research — is your topic under-researched or over-researched? These databases will help you find out the answer to that question:

Kinds of projects we fund

You may apply for an award addressing any breast cancer question identified by your community as important, as long as it is consistent with CBCRP priorities and will add to knowledge about how to make an impact on breast cancer. CRC applicants are welcome to apply under any CBCRP research priority; however, the priorities most commonly applicable to the CRC award include community impact and the causes and prevention of breast cancer. CBCRP does not encourage proposals that focus on increasing primary screening (i.e., mammography).

You must be able to express the issue you have identified as a well-defined research question. For example, you could test whether a certain health service improves a breast cancer patient's quality of life; however, it would be considered an evaluation (which we don't fund) if you just want to know if a service was provided in a timely, efficient manner.

Examples of past research we have funded include:

The San Joaquin Valley Health Consortium and the California State University, Fresno, is designing a breast cancer navigation service that responds to diversity within the community and health system. The pilot will prepare for a larger project that tests health and cost impacts of this navigation service.

The Mendocino Cancer Resource Center, the Humboldt Community Breast Health Project, and the University of California, San Francisco, are studying a treatment decision-making aid previously used in an urban hospital setting, among a mostly white population. The team is determining whether it can succeed as a telephone intervention for a diverse rural community.

The Northern California Cancer Center and Asian Health Services are collecting information on Vietnamese American women working in nail salons in Alameda County. The study examines health care access and utilization, behaviors relevant to breast cancer risk such as smoking and exercise, and occupational exposures to substances that may cause breast cancer.

University of California, San Francisco, and the Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic are examining the beliefs, values, concerns, expectations, and goals about end-of-life from the viewpoints of underserved women with breast cancer, their physicians, complementary and alternative medicine practitioners, and informal caregivers.

You can find more examples of previous CRC awards in our funded research database or funded partnerships.

Finding the right partner

Proposals go through a rigorous scientific review process that considers, equally, both scientific and community elements. Therefore, it is important that the researcher on the project has experience researching your question of interest and the community partner on the project has deep roots in and respect of the community.

If you are a community member or represent a community-based organization you can do a Medline or Google search for researchers who have published on your topic(s) of interest. You can search on university or research institution websites for researchers working in your topic(s) of interest. You can also ask any researchers or health providers who you or your community group has contact with for referrals, even if their area of expertise is not right for your project. Remember that your academic researcher collaborator must work in California, but don't ignore out of state referrals or researchers you find through the searches. You can always ask them for an in-California referral.

“I was the one who took it upon myself to find an epidemiologist. I made many, many phone calls. It was no small task. Lots of dead ends. Then I spoke with a doctor who thought he knew someone who would work with us. She was a former student of his.”
– Community research grant recipient

If you are a research scientist contact breast cancer organizations or community members with whom you have worked or who might be interested in research topics in your area of expertise. Do a Google search using keywords of your area of interest, “community” and your geographic area. Read local community papers, go to community events and get to know the community and what the community's concerns are.

“I had no experience with the community when I started this research. I think, with all modesty, I'm now well accepted by the community. I'm involved in the community besides the research. I take part in the cultural activities. I show a presence.”
– Academic research grant recipient

Starting your partnership off right

Once you have narrowed down your search, interview potential partners to determine their interest, experience, and potential fit as a partner. Be clear about why you are interested in the project you want to create and what you hope to do with the research results.

Talk about how you see the research project benefiting each of the partners, the partner's institutions, the community, and the field of breast cancer research. Make sure that your goals are compatible.

Talk through how others will be involved in your project—who will the co-principal investigators be? Who else will be on the research team and how will they be involved? Will members of the “lay” or grassroots community participate in leadership or decision making roles? If a community organization is involved, how will the board, staff, and Executive Director be involved in the project? CBCRP's own evaluations show that greater inclusiveness of community members and the nonprofit organizations can help the research project succeed.

Once you've formed your partnership, begin working together by focusing on both the research project you want to create as well as the way you want to work together. Focus on establishing good relationships with each other, especially if you are going to include multiple layers of individuals and a larger research team to manage the project. Begin planning early on for how you will achieve equitable distribution of all phases of the project: Developing the research question, developing the research plan, carrying out the research, conducting the data analysis process, analyzing the results, and disseminating the findings.

“She comes with the premise that the community knows best and the community are the experts. It wasn't, ‘I'm the researcher and I'm going to tell you what to do and you're going to use this' it was more like, ‘well what do you think we should do?', and ‘what's going on?', or ‘what would you develop?' or ‘how can I help?'
– Community member