Experiences of community members and researchers on community engagement in an Ecohealth project in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Musesengwa R., Chimbari MJ.
BACKGROUND: Community engagement (CE) models have provided much needed guidance for researchers to conceptualise and design engagement strategies for research projects. Most of the published strategies, however, still show very limited contribution of the community to the engagement process. One way of achieving this is to document experiences of community members in the CE processes during project implementation. The aim of our study was to explore the experiences of two research naïve communities, regarding a CE strategy collaboratively developed by researchers and study communities in a multicountry study. METHODS: The study was carried out in two research naïve communities; Gwanda, Zimbabwe and uMkhanyakude, South Africa. The multicentre study was a community based participatory ecohealth multicentre study. A qualitative case study approach was used to explore the CE strategy. Data was collected through Focus Group Discussions, Key Informant Interviews and Direct Observations. Data presented in this paper was collected at three stages of the community engagement process; soon after community entry, soon after sensitisation and during study implementation. Data was analysed through thematic analysis. RESULTS: The communities generally had positive experiences of the CE process. They felt that the continuous solicitation of their advice and preferences enabled them to significantly contribute to shaping the engagement process. Communities also perceived the CE process as having been flexible, and that the researchers had presented an open forum for sharing responsibilities in all decision making processes of the engagement process. CONCLUSIONS: This study has demonstrated that research naïve communities can significantly contribute to research processes if they are adequately engaged. The study also showed that if researchers put in maximum effort to demystify the research process, communities become empowered and participate as partners in research.