Negotiating Agendas and Expectations

Title of Proposal

Negotiating Agendas and Expectations in a Diverse Community-University Research Team: Learning from a Sexual Health Study with LGBTQ Youth Labeled with Intellectual Disabilities

Presenter Name(s)

Denise Nepveux, Zack Marshall, Tess Vo, Devon Proudfoot, Stephanie Nixon, Sarah Flicke


This presentation explores the engagement of a diverse research team in a university-community research partnership involving a drop-in program of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth labeled with intellectual disabilities. It offers a structural analysis of challenges related to power sharing, accessibility and youth engagement that emerged in the course of this CBPR project. It suggests institutional and practical changes that would better support community engaged scholars and their teams.

Working together for the first time, the research team included cross-disciplinary academics, graduate students, and service providers from the developmental services sector. This team coalesced late in the research funding period, when research plans envisioned in pilot grant funding applications had proven untenable and a single community partner was needed. The agency also had a number of deliverables to be met using limited resources. The partnership, then, was cobbled out of goals that academics and providers perceived to be mutually beneficial, and we sought to engage the youth (on whom the project depended) by dovetailing research activities with the group’s sexual health peer education experience and their desires to incorporate more leisure activities into the group’s programming.

Although the team was committed to principles of community-based participatory research and consulted regularly with youth on aspects of research decisions, at times the project was not as community-based, accessible or collaborative as some members initially hoped. The team’s effectiveness in negotiating competing agendas was complicated by career demands arising from tenure requirements as well as multiple hierarchies and differing research paradigms and working styles within the partnership.

Although in many ways the project was successful in engaging youth and service providers in building relevant knowledge, this ad-hoc partnership faced some unanticipated difficulties. In order for the partnership to work, team members had to come to understand and recognize each others’ unique goals, structural positions and constraints.

After exploring this particular case, this paper recommends institutional changes to better support community engaged scholarship and argues that successful practice depends upon the team’s ability to construct an environment in which members can openly acknowledge and address existing structural tensions and ways in which they may impact interpersonal dynamics within the team.

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