This is a summary, written by members of the CITF Secretariat, of:

Kandasamy S, Chabrotra R, Khan Z, Rana D, Suddle N, Desai D, Khan F, Nocos R, Lear SA, Anand SS. Engaging participants through hybrid community-centered approaches: lessons learned during the COVID CommUNITY public health research program. Health Promot Pract. 2024 Jan 5:15248399231221161. doi: 10.1177/15248399231221161.

The results and/or conclusions contained in the research do not necessarily reflect the views of all CITF members.

A CITF-supported study, published in Health Promotion Practice, presents field notes to provide insights into culturally responsive, trust-centered, and communication-focused strategies that could be used to improve research conducted during a respiratory pathogen pandemic. Recommendations include establishing trust and building a connection with participants to maintain a virtual relationship, developing responsive and proactive study recruitment approaches, and working within public health guidelines to create opportunities for engaging sub-communities of South Asian populations in Ontario and British Columbia. The study was led by Dr. Sonia Anand (McMaster University), head of the COVID CommUNITY public health research program.

Key findings:

  • A significant challenge was obtaining blood sample collections during the pandemic due to social distancing measures. To solve this problem, the research team executed “Porch Pickups,” collecting blood samples outside of participants’ homes.
  • Data collection was facilitated by using the REDCap software designed for self-administered surveys sent via email or completed over the phone with trained research staff. The research team developed condensed health surveys with priority questions and prioritized phone completion due to limited in-person meetings. They successfully limited attrition by building trust through voice-to-voice contact during the shift from in-person to virtual data collection.
  • To improve recruitment strategies for sub-communities of the South Asian population, recruitment strategies were culturally tailored to maximize engagement, study staff focused on cultural interests, and “gift-exchange” incentives were provided. Recruitment in Ontario and British Columbia was also conducted in partnership with faith-based organizations.
  • The research team created a remote “calling team” consisting of student volunteers and research assistants who were trained to engage with participants via phone or Zoom. They were responsible for completing data collection through short surveys, available in both English and participants’ native languages.
  • The team prioritized cultural awareness by ensuring that participants’ names were pronounced correctly, collecting data in their preferred languages, and using flexible approaches to data collection. To develop these strategies, the team held weekly meetings to discuss improvement strategies and address concerns in real-time.

This study to establish risk factors for SARS-CoV-2 infection and vaccine confidence, interest, and access among diverse South Asian populations was conducted through 2021–2023. Researchers adjusted their safety measures and implemented pandemic-specific guidelines to provide insights into culturally responsive, trust-centered, and communication-focused strategies for the conduct of forthcoming studies. The COVID CommUNITY study staff at the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI)/McMaster University took field notes from their experience navigating this observational prospective cohort study at sites in Ontario and British Columbia.