A Call for Collaboration: Community-Based Participatory Research

July 16, 2021

News Type:  Director's Corner

Collaboration and integrating lived experience are keys to effective suicide prevention. But how often do researchers and practitioners in our field collaborate with individuals who have lived experience with suicide? How often are the perspectives of those we are trying to help folded into what experts consider best practice? When and how does our field draw on community-based participatory research (CBPR)?

While there is increasing consensus about the value of lived experience in suicide prevention, the practice of CBPR is too often not the standard practice in our field. Yet, tailoring our evidence-based practices to reflect the experiences of those who are directly affected by suicide can profoundly increase their impact. Let’s consider how.

In 2004, Viswanathan et al. wrote that CBPR improves research quality, enhances community capacity, and improves health outcomes:

CBPR creates bridges between scientists and communities, through the use of shared knowledge and valuable experiences. This collaboration further lends itself to the development of culturally appropriate measurement instruments, thus making projects more effective and efficient. Finally, CBPR establishes a mutual trust that enhances both the quantity and quality of data collected. The ultimate benefit to emerge from such collaborations is a deeper understanding of a community’s unique circumstances, and a more accurate framework for testing and adapting best practices to the community’s needs.

Nearly 20 years later, SPRC is committed to putting lived experience at the center of our work. We have developed tools to help prevention practitioners consider the value of lived experience and how to include it in their prevention efforts. We have also recently established a Lived Experience Advisory Committee that will have input throughout our resource development efforts. As part of meaningfully integrating lived experience and evidence-based research into our work, SPRC aims to help reduce social and health inequities by incorporating the critical perspectives of communities that have been marginalized.

As our field increases its efforts to involve communities and people with lived experience in our work, current power structures and ways of defining expertise may be disrupted. But this approach is not new or untested. Consulting a wide range of stakeholders and those affected by a social phenomenon or event in order to solve problems and innovate is a hallmark of Native communities and collectivist cultures and societies worldwide.

The canoe is one example of a lasting technology that continues to offer an effective solution in current times. Created centuries ago through the ingenuity of indigenous societies, no Western engineering degrees have improved on the time-tested shape. Materials have changed over time—instead of burnt-out birch trees we can now use fiberglass—yet the design of the canoe remains an ideal match of form to function, one devised outside Western thought.

We feel the canoe is an apt symbol of the transformative potential of lived experience’s incorporation into suicide prevention. What currently exists outside our mainstream ways of knowing can reshape suicide prevention through CBPR. It just so happens, as Viswanathan and colleagues wrote in 2004, that research also shows CBPR improves outcomes and reduces health inequities.

This is important because, as recent CDC data show, gaps in suicide prevention infrastructure persist across the U.S., including in tribal communities. Yet there are Native nations with great success in reducing suicide rates by drawing on cultural protective factors and approaches that may not reflect mainstream suicide prevention methods. What gaps in our field could be identified and filled by the perspectives and approaches of those with lived experience?

CBPR allows us to empower those who have navigated the structures of suicide prevention, including the inequities that restrict our social systems, to help us create the best road map forward. SPRC strives to center the perspectives of marginalized communities and those with lived experience in our work toward the goal of decreasing suicide rates as well as inequities.

Dolores Subia BigFoot, PhD

Presidential Professor

SPRC Co-Director

Center on Child Abuse and Neglect

Indian Country Child Trauma Center

University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

Beverly W. Funderburk, PhD


SPRC Co-Director

Center on Child Abuse and Neglect

University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

Shelby Rowe, MBA

SPRC Program Manager

Center on Child Abuse and Neglect

University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

This piece was produced with support from SPRC Communications Team members MaryAnn Martin, PhD, Jesse Danielle Gass, MPH, and Linda Sobottka, MLIS.