Little attention has been given to the processes and dynamics involved in community-engaged research with hard-to-reach and marginalized communities. This concept paper focuses on experiences with and lessons learned from the developmental phase of a community-engaged research project aimed at promoting the economic self-sufficiency of refugees with disabilities in Illinois. Steps taken to foster collaboration between academic researchers and community stakeholders are described, followed by the authors’ commentary on challenges encountered and how these were addressed. Several methods were used to facilitate engagement of community stakeholders. In the pre-funding stage, lead researchers identified potential community partners by networking with coalition groups and task forces focused on disability- and refugee-related issues. In the post-funding stage, relationships with partners were formalized, partners’ roles were defined, and contractual agreements were developed. An advisory board consisting of representatives from partner agencies and self-advocates with disabilities was also assembled to help guide the project goals and deliverables. Structured group and one-on-one meetings were held to sustain community partner engagement. These community engagement strategies were deemed successful. However, challenges did emerge due to conflict between community stakeholders’ preferences, and research logistics and regulatory requirements of the academic institution. Findings suggest that with careful planning, barriers to community-academic collaborations can be addressed in ways that benefit all parties. This paper offers practical strategies and a roadmap for other community-engaged research projects focusing on vulnerable and marginalized groups.
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