Case Study # 3: The CIHR HIV/AIDS Community-Based Research (CBR) Program

The CIHR HIV/AIDS Community-Based Research (CBR) Program supports knowledge development and capacity-building initiatives of relevance to communities engaged in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Community-based research involves community members in all stages of the research process—from the very beginning to define the research question. This ensures relevance to the community, capacity-building, and integration of community members in conducting the research; it also promotes active participation in the development and implementation of the dissemination strategy. In addition to these principles, community-based research maintains the same level of methodological rigour and ethical review as other research approaches.

The program has emphasized capacity-building for research within community service organizations by linking them with new research students, funding capacity-building workshops, funding community-based research facilitators who work with organizations in their region to develop research capacity through training, and establishing contact with research collaborators in academia and government. Operating and Catalyst Grant funding is also available for research projects.

The program receives guidance from the CIHR HIV/AIDS Community-Based Research Steering Committee, which was established in 2006 as a sub-committee of the CIHR HIV/AIDS Research Advisory Committee (CHARAC). The CBR Steering Committee, which has equal representation of researchers and individuals from community organizations servicing affected populations, provides advice to CIHR on future funding opportunities, as well as the creation of internal policies supporting the needs of the program.

Membership on the committee starts with a minimum two-year term with replacement members identified through a call for nomination process. Upon acceptance of a position, new members are sent an information package containing details about the HIV/AIDS Community-Based Research Program as well as the CIHR Conflict of Interest Policy. Departing and incoming members overlap for one meeting to ensure continuity and a smooth transition process.

The involvement of citizens in the HIV/AIDS Community-Based Research Program is demonstrated in the merit review of research proposals; like the steering committee, review committees have equal representation of researchers and individuals from community organizations. Both types of members have equal voting power, with one of each assigned as a reviewer to every funding application being evaluated. This program demonstrates the principles of community engagement in research: Community engagement can be difficult to define clearly, but at its heart, it is the intersection of the complementary efforts of members of the lay community, health practitioners and medical and public health researchers to improve health.

In 2009, CIHR contracted PRI Inc to evaluate the HIV/AIDS CBR Program.  The purpose of the evaluation is to assess the program rationale, the effectiveness of its design and delivery processes, and its successes. CIHR will use the evaluation results to strengthen the HIV/AIDS CBR Program and maximize its impact on Canada’s response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.