Shaping the future: Our strategy for research and innovation in humanitarian response.

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Community engagement is an ethical imperative for health research and response in humanitarian settings. While communities can be engaged at any stage of the research cycle, their role in contributing to uptake of new evidence produced through research is rarely described, and little practical guidance is available to support researchers on this topic. Our Research for Health in Humanitarian Crisis (R2HC) programme commissioned a rapid literature review to inform the content of an online training course for its grantees.  

Key Findings

  • While community engagement in research is universally recognised as important, it is not always clearly defined or operationalised. Multiple terms are used to describe or replace “community engagement” including “participation”, “involvement”, and “mobilisation”, but these do not always mean the same thing across contexts.
  • The dual aims of community engagement in research uptake are both to empower people and to harness their existing power over intervention success. 
  • There is a ‘continuum of community engagement’: from one-off ad hoc interactions, through active collaboration, to more sustained partnerships and, occasionally, true co-creation of research. Researchers can strive to move along the continuum – at each stage of the ‘Cycle of Research’ to maximise uptake of research.
  • Five key components of community engagement are: (1) Building on existing relationships and networks (2) Offering external resources and direction (3) Strengthening leadership and capacity (4) Sharing power and learning and (5) Giving voice and agency to minoritised groups. These should be the focus of guidance and training.
  • Measuring engagement with communities, as an indicator of progress toward greater equity and participation, is a category of activity less frequently addressed in the literature. 

The findings of the literature review informed the development of an online training for R2HC grantees “Community Engagement for Research Uptake in Humanitarian Settings”. For more information contact  

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