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RCHE Subcenter for Community Health Worker Research and Evaluation

A community health worker (CHW) is a frontline public health worker who is a trusted member and/or has a close understanding of the community served. This trusting relationship enables the CHW to serve as an essential link between health and social services and the community to facilitate access and improve the quality and cultural competence of service delivery. As CHWs are oftentimes the gatekeepers to reaching marginalized and underserved communities, they are increasingly being called on to be research partners. CHWs are uniquely positioned for such partnerships in health disparities research because they have knowledge of the values, needs, and cultural norms of their community, communicate effectively with members of their community, and have health-related training—all of which are strengths that increase the likelihood of successful implementation of community-engaged research and interventions. 

These strengths of CHWs are particularly important in research with minority and low-income communities, as many such communities often do not trust researchers. This lack of trust is in large part due to the history of academic researchers engaging in “helicopter research,” which involves researchers getting needed data from community members and leaving without using the research in some way to benefit the community members who participated in it. As such, CHWs can not only be instrumental in the success of community-engaged research, they can also be the key to holding academic researchers accountable for disseminating findings and delivering solutions back to communities. 

Numerous studies throughout the US and globally have shown great success in training CHWs in human subjects research, including participant recruitment, informed consent, data collection, research methodologies, and conducting interventions.  

The Subcenter can offer support services for faculty, community-based organizations, and other researchers interested in integrating CHWs into their research projects:

  • Research planning and study design: provide guidance on hiring, training, and integrating CHWs onto research teams, including optimal study designs, recruitment, consent, and data collection strategies. 
  • Training and capacity-building: provide training and continuing education on ethical research, data collection, and community assessments for CHWs on research studies (e.g. to understand community health disparities or patient-centered outcomes; to test an intervention or new program).
  • Evaluation: design and conduct evaluation studies to understand the effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and policy implications of CHW programs with respect to organizational metrics (i.e. client/patient enrollment and utilization; return-on-investment) and broader community health metrics (i.e. health outcomes; access to healthcare and social services).