When Dr. Omar Martinez begins a new research project, he starts by talking to the community. As an assistant professor at Temple University School of Social Work, Dr. Martinez understands that community involvement is important in social work practice, but as a researcher, he also integrates community participation into every stage of a project—from creating participant screeners to disseminating study findings. It’s one way to make sure that studies meet the needs and concerns of individuals in vulnerable populations, such as those who are part of ethnic, sexual or gender minorities.
In a new study on HIV prevention and treatment in transgender women, Dr. Martinez consulted with a community advisory board before even recruiting participants. The board vetted screening questions, recruitment materials and questions asked of the participants; they provided feedback on the strengths of the study and areas of improvement; and they were asked of their thoughts on other ways to improve overall health of transgender populations.
Dr. Martinez plans to continue the community engagement throughout the project, which is still in its early stages. The project — strengthening the Trans Equity Project (formerly the Transhealth Information Project), a peer-led intervention that aims to address the sociocultural factors that may lead to increased HIV risk in transgender women — is an example of Dr. Martinez’s commitment to community based participatory action research. For the study, he is working with the two organizations that created the Trans Equity Project: Galaei, a queer Latin@ social justice organization, and Prevention Point Philadelphia, which has a history of working in HIV/AIDS prevention.
When designing research projects or interventions, it’s important to create campaigns that are linguistically and culturally appropriate by including the people from the population being studied, Dr. Martinez said. He aims to include these communities at every stage of the process, from those initial community advisory board meetings to co-authorship of publications and the dissemination of findings.
“Even in topics unrelated to health, we should engage community members in research,” he said. “It’s beneficial not only to the quality of the research and study design, but it ensures that the community members benefit from the research, as well.”
Read more in the Temple University College of Public Health’s Year in Review.