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Here’s what happens at a ‘speed dating’ event for researchers and community groups

Over 100 people attended this year's Community-Driven Research Day. February 5, 2016 Category: FeaturedMediumResults
A strong organizational partnership is like a marriage, advises Marjie Mogul, research director for the Maternity Care Coalition: “It takes time and a lot of patience.”

“It’s simply about developing these relationships of trust — how you’re going to communicate, how you’re going to bring your cultures together,” she said.

A first meeting at Community-Driven Research Day could lead to the perfect marriage of academia and, you guessed it, community.

Community-Driven Research Day, held on Wednesday at the University of Pennsylvania, is an annual event at which community groups pitch their causes to academic institutions with the goal of making connections that could lead to future research collaborations.

“Think of today as speed dating,” said event planning committee member Ayana Bradshaw, who is the administrative director for the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The goal is to match similarly minded organizations to solve public health issues in Philadelphia. At the event, organizations pitched solutions to a variety issues, including fighting depression, helping the hungry and combating distracted driving.

The event was sponsored by Penn, CHOP, Temple University, Drexel University and Thomas Jefferson University. The 32 presenters included Broad Street Ministry, Chinatown Clinic, Mobile CPR Project, Mujeres Luchadoras and the Schuylkill River Town Program. Over 200 people attended this year. 

In a keynote, a city official said partnerships with community groups have been vital to some major public health initiatives in Philadelphia.

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“Community partnerships and collaborations expand our reach in communities far beyond what we can do ourselves,” said Cheryl Bettigole, division director for Chronic Disease Prevention at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. “They help us to generate new and innovative ideas – things we never could have come up with on our own because we’re not working in that field, necessarily. They help us to bridge cultural divides.”

Research Day posters.

Research Day posters. (Photo by Adam Bender)

Bettigole said she experienced that last benefit firsthand when the city’s Get Healthy Philly group launched a Healthy Chinese Takeout Initiative, an effort to reduce sodium at Chinese restaurants across the city. The city partnered with the Temple University Center for Asian Health, the Chinese Restaurant Association and the Asian Community Health Coalition.

“There’s no way I could have gone in by myself to a Chinese takeout in North Philly and convinced them to change what they were cooking,” she said.

For Community-Driven Research Day attendees, collaboration could pay off: Event sponsors are offering pilot grants of up to $10,000 each to support joint projects of institutional researchers and community groups that came out of the event.

The pilot grants will be worth between $2,000 and $10,000, with funding to come from the event sponsors. Each organization is expected to award at least one grant.

“This call for proposals will offer competitive, pilot grant funding to support interdisciplinary, community-based, participatory research in public health,” Bradshaw said. “The basic tenet is that community organizations and research partners are involved in all phases of the research, and working hand-in-hand on the research project.”

The event’s planning committee said it plans to send a formal call for proposals next week to the 32 organizations that presented posters at the event. Only attendees will be eligible. The pilot funding grantees will be announced in early June.

Collaboration is no buzzword, stressed Glenn Bryan, assistant vice president of community relations for Penn.

“We see it as an increasing reality for us to really solve issues and create a better, healthier environment,” he said, adding that Mayor Jim Kenney supports partnerships between academic institutions and community groups: Bryan reported that Kenney sounded “excited” when he told him about Community-Driven Research Day in a meeting earlier this week.

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