For the iHEART-SA study team, community-engaged research (CEnR) and community-based primary healthcare are integral approaches for integrating hypertension and diabetes care into HIV care. By combining these approaches with stakeholder engagement and a community advisory board, the hope is to integrate health services across South Africa. With this in mind, community and research partnerships are crucial for effective implementation.

In order to continue improving community/research partnerships, Claudia Ordóñez, an adjunct assistant professor at Emory Univerity’s Rollins School of Public Health and the lead for the implementation of CEnR strategies for the iHEART-SA team, conducted a process improvement evaluation of iHEART-SA’s community advisory board (CAB) in late 2022.

Goals of the evaluation included quality improvement and capacity building for the community advisory board and research project implementation, dissemination of CEnR lessons learned to improve stakeholder engagement, and development of a process evaluation template to use for CAB and stakeholder activities.

The evaluation utilized a mixed methods approach with a short survey related to the implementation of the CAB and key informant interviews (KII) to measure the bi-directionality in CEnR. KII participants included patients, health activists, ministry of health leadership, and community liaisons. Preliminary results included seven KII’s that were transcribed, coded, and categorized into three dimensions. These dimensions and specific strategies recommended by CAB members to improve community and CAB/researcher partnerships are below.

  • Values for trust building in partnerships: Specific strategies included bridging the gap between project and community-based stakeholders, cultivation of interpersonal relationships, and mitigation of assumption by researchers.
  • Key elements for CAB & project outreach towards community-based stakeholders: Constant bi-directional communication through project liaisons, identifying effective communication technologies such as WhatsApp, and awareness campaigns.
  • CAB meeting logistics: Identifying key agenda items for each meeting, the frequency and length of meetings should be established early on, and preparing for CAB meeting in advice.

Keep an eye out for the full evaluation results, along with details of iHEART-SA’s CEnR activities, coming soon!