On September 17, 2021, Dr. Katharine Head, PhD, presented “Engaging in Research with/in Rural Communities” as part of the TREATs talks series by the Bioethics and Subject Advocacy Program of the Indiana CTSI . Dr. Head is an associate professor of Communication Studies at IUPUI who focuses on health and medical communication.
In “Engaging in Research with/in Rural Communities”, Dr. Head identifies four pillars that guide her research in rural communities: gatekeepers, trust, relevance, and communication. These four pillars are important to connect to the community and help solve the health disparities that exist in rural populations.
Gatekeepers act as intermediaries between researchers and participants. Gatekeepers are especially important to the project because they will help researchers gain the cooperation of participants in order to do research with the rural community rather than just in it. Gatekeepers cannot just simply be a part of the community, researchers must consider the different factors of each gatekeeper that may enhance or hinder the researcher. Dr. Head uses her research in rural Appalachia as an example, stating that while the local church could act as an intermediary since they were studying cervical cancer, the church could actually hinder their research.
Trust needs to be built especially within marginalized groups. It is important to create relationships with the community and to build rapport. There are also two different levels of trust that researchers may have, including the trust of the research institution that they are doing work with, along with the trust of individual researchers. If a research institution has a bad reputation with the rural community one is trying to enter, then it will be more difficult to build individual trust with that community.
Relevance will be essential to work with the community. If the research is not relevant to them, it could create issues with trust and what researchers’ motivations for being there are. To truly be relevant, questions and outcomes must be co-produced and research should start with reflective listening.
Communication is a critical pillar in research and must be clear, regular, and accessible. It also must be about the study purpose and methods that will be used and why they will be used. The findings and outcomes must also be communicated to the rural community that the research is about. To start communication, a lay summary would be helpful and continuing that communication during and after the research is very important.
Dr. Head states that we need to make an investment in these communities and there is more harm to just do the research and leave, with no impact on the community. She ends the talk with a quote “If you’ve visited one rural place, you’ve visited one rural place.”