Unit 3 Section 3.2: Establishing an Organizational Structure of
Board and Staff

Organizational structure of the partnership

Throughout the process of establishing a CBPR partnership, it is equally important to devote time and resources to developing an effective organizational structure that will provide support to the partnership.

The organizational structure of your partnership will depend on factors such as the geographic location(s) of the community and institutional partner organizations; the number and size of projects developed; and the number, type and capacity of partners involved. For partnerships that have external funding, the organizational structure will also depend on who receives the funding to develop and maintain the partnership and how those funds are distributed throughout the partnership, if at all (e.g., through subcontracts or consortia arrangements). Some of these decisions may have been made prior to obtaining funding for the partnership and others will be considered during the developmental stages of the partnership once it has been established.

If a partnership is being established without initial external funds to support it, it will be important, to the extent possible, to secure some minimal support from the partner organizations to support partnership infrastructure. This support can be in the form of faculty and staff time “donated” to help with coordination, in-kind office/meeting space and other contributions essential to establishing and supporting the partnership (i.e., office supplies, computers with internet access, printers, telephones, fax machine). Institutional partners may be in stronger positions than community partners to provide these contributions; however, all partners should try to contribute something in lieu of core funding for infrastructure.

In addition to the support that partners receive from the partnership, they also need support from the organization or institution they are representing. Partnership work requires time and therefore may interfere with other job-related responsibilities. Supportive deans and Executive Directors can provide important “in-kind support” for partners, including compensated time out of the office and after hours to attend meetings and community events and the additional time needed to collect, analyze, and publish data when using a participatory process. Providing administrative support, equipment, office space, and flexible work schedules are all ways that institutions and organizations demonstrate their value of CBPR partnerships.

Partnership board

Many CBPR partnerships will choose to establish a Board (sometimes called a “Community Board”, “Community Action Board”, “Community Advisory Board” or “Steering Committee”) to oversee and guide the work of the partnership. When the members of the partnership are organizations (rather than individuals), the board members serve as representatives of their respective organizations. Typically, the partners identified as described in Unit 2, Section 2.1 will serve as the members of the partnership’s board. Board membership can include, for example, representatives from the institutions involved (e.g., key university faculty, public health directors or senior staff, and health system senior staff) and representatives from the community-based organizations involved (executive directors, other senior administrative or program staff, board chairs). In this context, the “partnership” and the “board” are one and the same.

Some partnerships may wish to include “ex-officio” members on their boards, especially when one or more large institutions with multiple departments are involved (e.g., universities, local and state health departments, and health systems). In these situations, the board will need to be clear about the decision making process and the roles and responsibilities are of ex-officio participants.

Along with developing an effective organizational structure, it is crucial to support this framework with clearly defined roles and responsibilities that will enable the emerging partnership to work as smoothly and effectively as possible.

Below are some general roles and responsibilities for CBPR partnership board members:

  • Provide overall guidance to the partnership to assure adherence to its CBPR principles and priorities

  • Develop projects, processes, procedures, and policies that support CBPR

  • Provide advice to the investigators and staff on all aspects of the partnership to assure maximum effective representation of the interests, perspectives, and expertise of the partnership’s participating organizations and community members

  • Work with partnership staff to develop grant proposals, scientific journal articles, and presentations

  • Serve on standing and ad-hoc committees within the partnership to fulfill the partnership’s work

  • Serve as the “face” of the partnership to the community and facilitate two-way communication between the partnership and the respective organizations and communities involved through meetings, special events, community functions, and the media

  • Serve as investigators or co-investigators of the partnership’s research project(s)

Activities that support the work of the board can include:

  • Preparing and distributing minutes of board meetings

  • Ensuring ongoing communication with board members between meetings (e.g., calling Board members who were unable to attend a meeting to bring them up to date on what occurred)

  • Meeting with any new board members to provide them with an orientation to the partnership and the process of how the board works and the projects/tasks involved

  • Maintaining ongoing and establishing new linkages across member organizations of the board (e.g., connecting faculty members not previously involved with community-based partners interested in exploring possible collaborative work)

  • Setting up an e-mail list-serve system and interactive website to enhance and facilitate board communications

  • Providing technical assistance to partner organizations on request (e.g., assisting in the design of community assessments and evaluations of programs, grant proposal writing, training and/or assistance with computer technology, leadership training, media advocacy)

Example 3.2.1: The Role of a Community Board in a CBPR Partnership

Excerpt from Bylaws of Seattle Partners for Healthy Communities
(Revised and adopted February 2004)

Role of Community Board

  • Determine priority areas for Seattle Partners for Healthy Communities (SPHC) activities and funding. Activities include, but are not limited to:

  • reviewing and approving budgets

  • determining projects for Board discretionary funds

  • Participate in hiring and approve hiring decisions

  • Involvement in various aspects of SPHC projects through the Community Board and/or on project specific advisory committees. Activities include but are not limited to:

  • selection of important interventions for evaluation

  • project/evaluation design

  • participation in projects as interested

  • review/interpretation of project findings

  • dissemination of project results

Membership: The SPHC Community Board is comprised of individuals who work and/or live in Central and South Seattle and technical advisors with expertise in public health, program evaluation and community collaboration, reflecting the diversity of the Central and South Seattle communities.

Members must identify a primary role on the Board, academic, community, or Public Health. If a member receives salary from an academic or public health institution, they will be considered either academic or public health representatives. Others may define their role, including students.

Section 1 – Participating Members: Anyone who fits the above description may become a participating member.

Section II – Voting Members: Voting members fit the above description and commit to attending nine Community Board meetings per year, attend three meetings consecutively and be active on at least one committee of SPHC. Excused absences are permitted and count towards attendance at 9 community board meetings. The Secretary is responsible for granting excused absences and reporting them to the Board. Excused absences may have to be documented. The proxy rule as stated in Article V can apply to regular meetings as desired.


Example 3.2.2: Criteria for Membership on a CBPR Partnership Board

Criteria for Membership on the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center Board

  • Health, social services, and/or community development-oriented mission; with a prior, positive working relationship with current Urban Research Center (URC) partners

  • Embedded in (through service provision), well respected by, and/or involve staff from the communities in which they work

  • History of working on URC-affiliated projects and/or activities that emphasize prevention, family and community health issues, and/or enhancing community capacity building

  • Interested in and willing to work within the URC’s overall priorities

  • Willing to adapt and adhere to the URC’s operating norms and “Community-Based Participatory Research Principles”

  • Willing and have the capability to assign a representative and an alternate to be a member of the URC Board with authority to make decisions or with easy access to their organization’s leadership

  • Willing to actively participate at the monthly URC Board meetings and on steering committees for specific URC-affiliated projects and at conferences, workshops and meetings

  • Willing and have the capability to facilitate ongoing, two-way communication between the partner organization and the URC Board

  • Geographic considerations: Serving Eastside Detroit only? Southwest Detroit only? City-wide? State or National?


Example 3.2.3: Applications for Membership on a CBPR Partnership Board

Harlem Community and Academic Partnership (HCAP)
Center for Urban Epidemiologic Studies
New York Academy of Medicine

HCAP Committee Membership Application

Name & Title: __________________________________________________________

Agency/Organization: ____________________________________________________

Executive Director: ______________________________________________________

Description of Agency/Organization: _________________________________________

Address (City, State, Zip Code): ____________________________________________


Phone: ______________ Fax: ________________ Email: ______________________

Agency/Individual Category: Check all that apply

⟨ Community Resident
⟨ Public Health Institution
⟨ Healthcare Provider
⟨ Community-Based Organization
⟨ Academic Institution
⟨ Service Provider
⟨ Faith Based Organization
⟨ Other – Please Specify:

Please List Areas of Interest of Agency and/or Representative:


Partnership staff

Staff members working on behalf of the partnership can include, but are not limited, to the following positions (adapted from the Wellesley Institute’s Terms of Reference Contract):

Principal Investigator (PI): The PI provides leadership in every aspect of the CBPR project with support from partners and co-investigators and taking into account individual and organizational capacities (skills, available human and other resources).   This includes overseeing the entire project, coordinating research team activities, managing the budget, reporting to funding agencies, hiring (with participation of partners) and supervising staff, and ensuring the dissemination of research findings. In CBPR projects it is sometimes possible (and highly encouraged) for community representatives to fill the role of the Principal Investigator (PI). In the event that a funding agency insists on an academic or institutionally-based PI (or, if no community representatives meet the funding agency’s requirements for a PI), a creative option is to have two “Co-PIs” leading the project, where the academic or institutionally-based PI works together with a community-based PI. This kind of arrangement can benefit the partnership by encouraging power, resource sharing, and co-learning, which also enhances trust, and ultimately strengthens the partnership.

Co-Investigator(s): Co-Investigator(s) participate in all aspects of the CBPR project, taking into account individual and organizational capacities (skills, available human and other resources).  Co-Investigators participate in team meetings, capacity-building activities and learning exchanges, the formulation of research questions, provide suggestions and feedback on the methodology, and provide input on recruitment, data collection, data analysis and interpretation, and dissemination.  Co-Investigators may also assist with data collection, analysis, interpretation and dissemination if so decided by a CBPR partnership.  In some cases, all or some Board members (community and institutional representatives) may serve as Co-Investigators, though the degree to which they will be actively involved in day-to-day activities of the CBPR project will vary according to their commitments to other responsibilities outside the partnership.

Partnership and Project Staff: Responsibilities will include team building (e.g., facilitating meetings and learning exchanges, working with individual team members on various projects), coordinating project administrative activities (e.g. minutes, meeting agendas), coordinating outreach to communities and research participants, service providers, and key informants.  Staff will also oversee data collection (either doing it themselves or managing others) as well as administrative activities associated with analysis (hiring transcribers, data entry people, etc.), dissemination-related activities to the community, and working with the staff and board to prepare presentations and scientific journal manuscripts

Community-Academic Liaison:Many CBPR partnerships, particularly those that have dedicated funds to support the partnership, establish a staff position to coordinate the partnership.   For the purpose of our discussion here, we refer to this position as a Community-Academic Liaison.  The person in this position works with all of the different members, organizations, and activities in the partnership, and brings all these components together to make the partnership work. It is crucial that the person in this position have experience in working with both the “town” and the “gown”, as s/he serves as a bridge-builder that in some cases can make or break the partnership.  Key tasks of this position include:

  • Facilitating relationship building among partners

  • Supporting the partnership board (e.g., preparing and distributing minutes of Board meetings; ensuring ongoing communication with Board members between meetings; calling Board members who were unable to attend a meeting to bring them up to date on what occurred)

  • Bringing in new community partners (e.g., meeting with any new Board members to provide them with an orientation to the partnership and the process of how the Board works and the projects/tasks involved)

  • Managing partnership logistics (e.g., setting up an e-mail list-serve system and interactive website to enhance and facilitate communication for the partnership

  • Maintaining ongoing and establishing new linkages across member organizations of the Board (e.g., connecting faculty members not previously involved with community-based partners interested in exploring possible collaborative work)

  • Providing technical assistance to partner organizations on request (e.g., assisting in the design of community assessments and evaluations of programs, grant proposal writing, training and/or assistance with computer technology, leadership training, media advocacy)

  • Assisting with policy and procedure development

  • Assisting with the conduct of research activities

Below is an example of a job description for a Community-Academic Liaison.


Example 3.2.4: Job Description for a Community-Academic Liaison (Seifer SD)

Other titles:
Program Manager, Center Manager, Research Broker, Community-Academic Liaison Coordinator, Partnership Staff

Reports to:
Research Partnership, Community Advisory Board, and/or other Partnership Governing Body

May be housed in a community-based organization or a university building (located on- or off-campus). May depend on who the lead organization is or available resources. Ideally, community-university research partners would have a shared position or two positions, one based at the academic partner’s site and one based in the community. This would help build community infrastructure and address concerns about the inequitable distribution of resources.

Key responsibilities:

  • Establishing trust among partners.

  • Relationship-building. E.g., coordinating with other colleges and departments, helping to develop/maintain relationships between university and community, staying connected within the community, and helping to build trust among partners.

  • Acting as a bridge.  E.g., helping to translate research processes and findings so they make sense in a given community context and keeping the flow of communication open and accessible among partners.

  • Acting as a point person for problem-solving.  E.g., connecting university researchers with the right community agency staff person and assisting community partners with subcontracting questions.

  • Supporting the community advisory board.  Includes assisting in the preparation board meeting agendas, sending out board meeting materials, taking and distributing board meeting minutes, touching base with board members between meetings, providing technical assistance to board members, ensuring follow-up on issues raised during board meetings.

  • Developing policies and procedures in collaboration with partners to assist with the partnership process.

  • Supervising students or research assistants working with research partnerships.

  • Assisting with the research or implementation of the project, including report-writing.

  • Bringing in new community partners or assisting community board in bringing in new partners.

  • Supporting new academic partners and/or supporting the principal investigators as they bring in new academic partners.

  • Balancing demands among partners, including the pressures to be involved in every community activity and/or confusion over role as advocate or objective staff.

Characteristics: The ideal candidate is characterized as being a team-player who is encouraging, positive, inquisitive, flexible, resourceful, and passionate about the principles of community-university research partnerships. This is someone who might also be described as open-minded while at the same time being “thick-skinned” (able to tolerate challenges and conflicts). This person will work well under stress and under public scrutiny. The ideal candidate will be able to translate their life experiences and grass roots knowledge into the work of the research partnership.

Knowledge & Skills:

  • The ideal candidate will have either direct personal knowledge of the community (as defined by the community partners) and/or have a positive track record of working collaboratively in community settings.  This includes placing a high value on community perspectives, knowing the community resources, and being known in the community.

  • Interpersonal and facilitation skills, including sensitivity to community needs; excellent listening skills; good team building  and conflict resolution skills; ability to gain people’s trust and to understand/appreciate diverse groups; ability to communicate well in order to keep partners motivated and informed; ability to understand/feel comfortable in both the academic and community setting.

  • Technical skills, including skills or ability to obtain skills in such areas as planning and organizing, evaluation, research methods and dissemination techniques, writing, computer software programs, and multiple languages. The candidate should also have the ability to negotiate the requirements of the academic partners and funding organizations (e.g., financial procedures, forms).

  • Cultural competency skills, including the ability to negotiate at all levels of cultural differences: ethnic, socioeconomic, academic/non-academic, bench research/CBPR.

  • Commitment to the substantive issue and the partnership process, including a desire to see the partnership grow, to see all partners develop to their full potential, and a deep interest in community health issues.

Hiring partnership staff

Before a CBPR partnership begins to hire staff, a number of key questions should be considered, including:

  • Who should do the hiring?

  • Who should be hired?

  • Can people be hired in a way that strengthens a partner (i.e. community or youth researchers)

  • Where should they be located? 

  • Who will be each staff person’s supervisor?

  • If the Project Manager/staff person is employed by the community partner, yet being supervised by an institutional PI, how will conflicting demands be resolved?

  • Are there any partner or partner union policies, restrictions or limitations that may affect the partnership’s hiring process and decision making?

  • What policies should be established to guide the hiring process and decision making?

To the extent possible, local community members should be hired for positions created for partnership-related activities, especially for activities taking place in the community involved with the partnership. Academic/institutional researchers and the staff hired to support the partnership should reflect the diversity of the community involved and be able to facilitate communication and collaboration among partners and conduct CBPR. This applies to academic/institutional representatives on the board, ex-officio board members, researchers who may contribute to the work of the partnership “behind the scenes” but not participate directly on the board in any capacity, and any staff interacting with the partnership.

Example 3.2.5 below provides an example of an approach to hiring staff taken by one partnership board.

Example 3.2.5: Establishing Guidelines for Employment

Genesee County Community Board Guidelines for Employment
Excerpted from the Prevention Research Center of Michigan Genesee County Community Board Member Handbook

The Prevention Research Center of Michigan Genesee County Community Board (PRC GCCB) is predicated upon partnerships characterized by respect, equality and mutual trust. The PRC GCCB Statement of Purpose and community-based research principles guide our work. The achievement of our mission requires the collaboration of personnel who work closely with the GCCB or its core and affiliated projects. To promote this result, GCCB partner organizations are encouraged to involve other GCCB partners in the hiring process for such personnel, according to the requirements and duties of the position and the constraints of organizations involved.

  • Consideration will be given as to which organizations are best suited to employ and/or house new positions created as a part of the PRC infrastructure or GCCB core projects and affiliated projects.

  • GCCB partners may have a minimal role, an advisory role, or a decision-making role in hiring. When GCCB partners are asked to participate in hiring processes the scope of responsibilities will be clearly delineated in advance by the employing organization. Examples of potential roles may include reviewing resumes, conducting interviews, providing consultation, or full participation on a hiring committee.

  • It is recognized that hiring procedures and employment decisions are ultimately those of the partner organization seeking to fill a position

  • All new employees who work closely with the PRC GCCB and/or GCCB projects will become oriented to the PRC, the Flint community, and community-based research principles.

GCCB partner organizations will develop and implement an agreed upon mechanism for providing timely feedback to new employees working with the GCCB to ensure their success in their respective roles.

Addressing roles and responsibilities

Participation in all parts of a CBPR partnership is one of the key principles of CBPR but determining what this means for each partner is important. It may not mean that everyone is involved in the same way in all issues and activities. Different levels of involvement may be appropriate for different partners. It should also be recognized that there may be areas where community partners are interested in enhancing their skills. Given the multiple skills and expertise of the partners involved and the multiple demands on their time, choices need to be made on how best to draw on the diverse capabilities and interests that exist. However it is crucial the partners are not excluded from major decisions such as determining priority issues to address and budget expenditures.

Roles and responsibilities in CBPR projects should be based on these factors:

  • Interest levels of respective partners

  • Knowledge bases of respective partners

  • Skill sets of respective partners

  • Capacity-building needs of respective partners

  • Research objectives and activities the partnership wants to accomplish

A necessary strategy in ensuring that CBPR project partners understand (and agree to) project expectations and roles is clearly laying out the goals and objectives of the research project(s). Project roles and expectations should flow out of these agreed upon goals and objectives. In times of conflict, project teams will find it helpful to reflect back on these to get back on track.

  • One sentence project description:  This research project is a community-based study committed to identifying/understanding/changing…

  • One sentence project goal:  The results of this study will be used to enhance quality of life through mobilizing community, building capacities, identifying programmatic gaps, and impacting social policy.

  • Project objectives:  The project will achieve this goal by identifying specific factors that impact on quality of life and will put forth strategies for program enhancement, community-building and policy change.

Community and institutional partners can play multiple roles in a CBPR project. These can include:

  • Project Initiator

  • Advisor (e.g., researcher serves as an advisor on methodological issues of research design, community member serves as an advisor on feasibility and acceptability of the design in the community)

  • Consultant/expert (more in-depth than an advisor)

  • Principal Investigator

  • Co-Principal Investigator

  • Research Coordinator

  • Community-Academic Liaison

  • Community Outreach Workers (e.g., community health worker, lay health advisor)

CBPR project teams should recognize that roles and responsibilities will differ among Principal Investigators, Co-Investigators, staff, board, volunteers and students based on principles of equity, empowerment, capacity building, and collective ownership of the project.

Team members should engage in a collaborative and honest process in which discussions are focused on:

  • Accountability to funders (for example, who takes the heat if a project doesn’t get done)

  • Availability of time to commit (roles should be adjusted according to this)

  • Finding an appropriate balance between process and action (stressing how important it is to keep a project moving forward while wrestling with process issues as they will always emerge)

  • Expectations of performance (for example, community members may need a paid position, graduate students may need to complete activities that will “count” for academic credit, faculty members may need to publish journal articles to advance in their academic careers)