Something happening in the research community is exciting and a great source for news coverage. It’s important that people receive research news in an understandable way; after all, they have a stake in it through funding, location, or direct involvement. A great deal of Canadian research starts at universities. Sometimes researchers turn to their own communities to draw participants for their studies, like the Guelph Family Health Study which involves Guelph families who have stepped up to take part in an extensive study of nutrition and health.
The nature of the community being studied is a key factor in the design and implementation of a good research project. At Guelph, proposals for every research study involving humans are reviewed by the university’s research ethics boards, who meet monthly to review proposals, suggesting ways to minimize risk to the humans and the communities, and the benefits of research maximized. Topics have a wide range, from childhood malnutrition and self-abuse, to international development and outreach. The board involves members from the community who bring the needs and rights of the community, and of the individual research participants, to the discussion. Some particular community sensitivities may exist which need to be taken into account to ensure that the rights of the individual and the community are respected during the research process.
The composition of the ethics boards, and the reviews they do, foster involvement of the community before and during the research project. These boards promote input from the communities contributing to the research process. Right now, the University of Guelph has openings for community board members on its research ethics boards. Without the contribution of such volunteers, research cannot proceed … underlining yet another way volunteers are essential to the lifeblood of all communities.