Scholarly Publishing and Open Access blog

The latest news and answers to your questions about scholarly publishing and open access.

Community engaged research initiatives: Going further than open

Published by Alison Moore

This blog post was written by Joe Wright, SFU Library co-op student

Academic research is largely out of reach to those outside of post-secondary institutions, and while the Open Access movement is increasing the accessibility of scholarly research, many barriers (particularly paywalls) remain. This makes it difficult for community organizations to remain informed on emerging knowledge related to their practice, and means that they are not involved in research taking place about their own communities.

So how can we, as researchers, work to improve this? That’s where community engaged research (CER) initiatives come in. Their work is designed to counter the traditional research model of entering a community, extracting information, then publishing work in exclusive journals, with nothing given in return. Most subjects of such research never see the final publication, which is something that these initiatives are working to change.

This collaboration benefits both communities and researchers. Expanding the audience of research to the communities involved and/or affected, as well as the general public, results in more actionable outcomes and broadens potential impact. Not only this, but the process can facilitate the creation of relationships that enable further research to emerge, harnessing the lived experience and expertise of community members and community partners in an exchange of knowledge. Such expertise can also inform research directions and outcomes through community-led practice.

Research grounded in the community

If you’re wondering what it actually means to practice community engaged research, then look no further! SFU’s Community Engaged Research initiative (CERi) has created a Community Resource Handbook which covers both the principles and methods of community engaged research, with real examples included throughout. As the handbook outlines, community engaged research brings those affected by the research issue to the table, creating “space for communities, community members and community-based organizations to work in collaborative partnerships with academic researchers” (Kantamneni et al., 2019, p. 65).

Community engagement happens at every stage of the research process, from developing a question/project idea to sharing knowledge, in an ongoing relationship focused on outcomes that benefit the community as well as the researcher. These principles are maintained by the following processes:

  • Ensuring that the community’s goals and needs are considered when planning research
  • Sharing and prioritizing community ethics and procedures as much as the research institution’s
  • Researchers investing in community members as co-researchers
  • Drawing from a combination of both conventional research methods, such as surveys, interviews, or ethnographies, and participatory research methods, such as citizen science or arts and design based methods
  • Establishing a plan for research findings early on in the process, with both community members and researchers able to use their respective knowledge sharing avenues to advocate for the shared research outcomes

Facilitating engagement

There are many initiatives supporting community engaged research, such as SFU Library's Community Scholars Program, which enables non-profit and charity community groups to access scholarly resources for research through SFU’s Library databases. The program also offers members research consultations and workshops at 312 Main location, nearby many community organizations of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES).

In addition, UBC’s Making Research Accessible initiative (MRAi) improves access to both academic and community-generated research materials focused on DTES through the Research Access Portal (DTES RAP). This enables community members to self-advocate for both policy and funding changes, and in turn, improve service or program effectiveness. The MRAi encourages researchers to submit their publications to the RAP, and works with publishers to negotiate additions to their collection. They also work with local organizations and residents to digitize community materials, as well as providing open spaces for academics to connect with the community. Additionally, their website features information about the research projects currently located in the DTES. This all works to increase the accessibility of research, as well as benefiting researchers by expanding the potential contributions of the community.

For researchers hoping to participate, CERi’s Community-Engaged Research Funding Program provides grants to those currently engaging with or practicing community engaged research. The grant supports faculty and graduate student researchers from all disciplines. CERi also runs a Researcher-in-Residence program to support and widely promote the work of researchers enacting community engaged research.

Meanwhile, the MRAi provides support to connect researchers with people and organizations in the DTES, data collection, translating knowledge for the RAP, and helping researchers navigate new routes of sharing their findings.

In the end, along with a commitment from researchers to the principles of CER, initiatives like CERi and MRAi can facilitate engagement at various stages of the process, including the dissemination of research.


Kantamneni, A., Winkler, R. L., & Calvert, K. (2019). Incorporating community: Opportunities and challenges in community engaged research. In A Research Agenda for Environmental Management (pp. 64–78). Edward Elgar Publishing.