Earning Trust by Collaborating with Resident Researchers


by Sonia Torres Rodríguez

A publication of the Local Data for Equitable Recovery Resource Hub

Although resident-led research is not a new practice, traditional researchers still struggle to work with community researchers. Resident-led research can be a key strategy for ceding institutional power to create and execute research agendas, and it can produce more insightful and influential findings. How should organizations already integrating community-engaged methods into their projects start thinking about collaborating with resident researchers?

Engaging in full partnerships for resident-led research and advocacy

Community members and residents — especially in communities that have been under-invested in and over-researched — can have protective distrust and animosity toward researchers. Inverting the purpose of research to meet communities’ needs and aspirations can go a long way toward repairing that relationship.

The first step is to treat resident researchers as long-term partners. This includes giving them equal say over decisions about the research agenda and deciding where in the research process resident researchers could participate in. Engaging in full partnerships enables the people closest to an issue (who are best positioned to understand challenges and solutions) to drive future work. As Goldean Graham, a resident researcher with the Healthy Neighborhoods Study, states, “I think that we’re needed because we are living this every day ourselves, and we could bring truth to it. And I think when we get our ideas heard people actually become empowered in this study.”

In other words, organizations should move away from merely building trust and should incorporate tactics for earning the trust of community members and residents. In Los Angeles County, Para Los Niños, a grantee of the Using Data to Inform Local Decisions on COVID-19 Response & Recovery grant program, is cultivating a full partnership in its Best Start Region 1 initiative, a community and resident movement of groups identifying barriers to healthy outcomes for children. For example, when the pandemic hit, resident leadership was engaged through regular steering-committee meetings to interpret data and help improve service provision.

Investing in resident’s data capacity

Resident researchers need to be supported in transitioning to research roles, especially if they have never been involved in similar initiatives. As mentioned in a previous post, having people with the skills to understand and analyze data is key to fostering communities with strong data capacities. Resident researchers are likely to have expertise about the issue being studied, so helping them transition to research roles is just a matter of providing additional training to strengthen their confidence with data, ethical conduct, technical skills, and communication skills.

Organizations interested in building this capacity among community members and residents can invest in trainings, programs, and collaboratives that create pathways for people who lack formal research experience to build their data capacities. For example, DataWorks NC in Durham, North Carolina, hosted two local student interns: a high-school student doing qualitative research and dissemination related to COVID-19 and eviction impacts on residents, and a graduate student doing spatial analysis of eviction data. Other training opportunities can include workshops on topics such as data literacy, protections of the rights of study participants, and general career readiness. And the effects of workshops can snowball if trainees also receive “train the trainer” trainings that allow them to continue building data skills in their communities.

Implementing a trauma-informed research model

The trauma that research institutions and organizations have inflicted on marginalized communities and these communities’ associated distrust are the result of a long history of broken promises. Resident-led research is an opportunity for communities to begin the trauma healing process.

Strategies for conducting resident-led research that does not replicate or perpetuate traumas include never overpromising the value of a study’s benefits, ensuring consistency of communication between your organization and resident researchers, and removing barriers to participating in research, such as by providing food and child care during planning meetings. Having the opportunity to lead and set the research agenda for one’s community creates the opening to repair traumas rather than perpetuate them.

A comprehensive list of the practices shown in the figure below, as well as field examples, can be found in the Urban Institute’s report, Trauma-Informed Community Building and Engagement.

Sources: Gears” icon by Gustavo Cordeiro from the Noun Project. Trauma-informed practices are from a 2018 Urban Institute’s “Trauma-Informed Community Building and Engagementreport.

Crediting and compensating community members

Organizations considering implementing new community- or resident-led research should think about the exploitative aspects of research projects and how to mitigate them. For instance, it is clear that the economic fallout of the pandemic is disproportionately being shouldered by Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color, who are typically the people we seek to engage with in resident-led research.

Resident researchers should be compensated well for their expertise, which means providing them competitive market pay with benefits. Researchers should also be supported to develop their professional networks independently of institutions and organizations. Lastly, resident researchers should be credited in written products and digital features promoting and sharing research. In addition to being a good practice, this can be a professional development opportunity, because people can list research experience and credits on résumés.

Be hopeful and don’t get discouraged!

Collaborating with resident researchers, or even beginning a program to train new ones, can appear daunting at first. However, as many organizations have shown, it is an extremely rewarding experience and can be one of the most impactful ways of ceding institutional power to local communities. The next blog in this series shares ideas for beginning collaboration with resident researchers in different phases of the research process (such as design or data dissemination).

It is encouraging that more organizations are demonstrating interest in undertaking inclusive research, and @NNIPHQ looks forward to learning from new examples in the field.

Note: Although many people use “resident-led” or “community-led” research interchangeably, sometimes different geographic areas can have stigmas associated with one of the words, making it preferable to use one word over the other. This blog post uses “resident-led research,” but people should use the term most appropriate for their context.



Sonia Torres Rodríguez
Local Data for Equitable Communities

I (she/they/ella/elle) dedicate my mixed methods research to challenging racial inequities and collaboratively building inclusive community power.