What is Community Engagement?

Community engagement, as it pertains to research involving Indigenous peoples, is a process of relationship-building between a researcher and the Indigenous community relevant to the research project. Because Indigenous communities are deeply diverse, there is no one universal way to do community engagement. 

Now! It is never too early to start building relationships, connections and learning about Indigenous research and communities. Ethical community engagement starts before your REB application as you identify who you will be working with, invest in your own learning about Indigenous Peoples, and specifically the communities or peoples you will working with). Community engagement includes developing a plan of how you will build good, equitable relations with Indigenous Peoples in and through your project. Community engagement includes reviewing the TCPS 2 Chapter Nine, learning about community-led ethical guideline such as Ownership, Control, Access and Possession, National Inuit Strategy on Research, and Principles of Métis Research. Community engagement begins at the earliest stages of your research and continues through (and potentially beyond) the entirety of your project. 

Great question, your community engagement will be unique to your research project, your partnerships, your methods, your research location, your research questions, your outcomes, your knowledge mobilization processes and your research funding requirements. This is why there is not prescribed and specific practices of community engagement that researchers must follow. It can be helpful to consider community engagement falling within different stages of the research.  

For more information and examples of Community Engagement, we suggest the following resources: 

Community Engagement Approaches for Indigenous Health Research, (Yang Lin et al., 2020) 

It can be helpful when designing your project and completing your ethics application to consider community engagement as a protective factor that should meet or exceed the level of risk found in the research project. IRST encourages you to consider risk (contextualized by the history of Indigenous peoples and research) and community engagement. i.e. the more risk, the deeper community engagement needful for equitable and ethical research to take place. This is also why there is not a specific path to/or level of community engagement articulated by REB. 

IRLET: Indigenous Research Level of Engagement Tool 

In a project that includes or is focused on Indigenous Research writing the REB ethics application should start after the establishing relationships and research needs stage and before you begin your research activities

1. How are you going to ensure collective benefit?

2. How will this research project be accessible to the community?

3. How will you fulfill your responsibilities to the data and the community?

How will you accomplish ethical research with the community/communities involved?

We at IRST recommend employing Indigenous research assistants in community-based projects. Chapter 9 of the TCPS encourages researchers to support and strengthen capacity building through the enhancement of skills of community personnel in research methods, project management, and ethical review and oversight. 

Article 9.14 outlines that extending skills transfer through a program of training will further support collaboration with institutions and advance the capacity of communities to initiate and implement their own research. 

The Indigenous Research Level of Engagement Tool (IRLET) also makes this recommendation to researchers when it comes to partnering with Indigenous rightsholders as it relates to long-term training and capacity building. 

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Community Engagement by Keeta Gladue

Respect for Community Customs and Codes of Practice

Researchers should honour and respect that Indigenous communities and organizations require time to engage in their own governance and cultural processes. If communities or organizations do not have specific engagement protocols and processes in place, depending on the community’s priorities, there may be opportunities to integrate capacity building into research proposals. See TCPS Article 9.8 for more information about Respect for Community Customs and Codes of Practice.

If the community partner or organization identifies that capacity building is an area of interest for them, provisions to address this in the research proposal is highly encouraged. The Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC) along with the federal research granting agencies developed a strategic plan, Setting new directions to support Indigenous research and research training in Canada 2019-2022. This document provides an overview of ways researchers can contribute to capacity building and supporting Indigenous community research priorities.

Resources and Further Reading

Community Engagement Approaches for Indigenous Health Research: Recommendations based on an integrative review by Lin, C. Y., Loyola-Sanchez, A., Boyling, E., & Bernabe, C., (2020).

The Indigenous Research Level of Engagement Tool (IRLET) aims to provide guidance to researchers and grant review committees who are involved in or are new to Indigenous research with guidelines on how to ensure a project proposal is being planned and executed in an appropriate manner. The Saskatchewan Centre for Patient-Oriented Research (SCPOR) developed the Indigenous Research Level of Engagement Tool (IRLET), a tool that “measures the degree to which a given project meets patient-oriented research criteria in the context of Indigenous communities” (SPCOR, 2019). The First Nations University of Canada – Indigenous Continuing Education Centre provides a course on the use of the IRLET, provided in partnership with the Saskatchewan Centre for Patient-Oriented Research (SCPOR) and the Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre (IPHRC).

A Start to Finish Guide on Partnerships. This module is dedicated to general principles and common practices for developing and navigating several types of partnerships.

Achieving Effective and Meaningful Engagement with Indigenous Communities this webinar provides insights into Indigenous governance structures, operations structures, lands, and treaties, and how to develop an effective framework for Indigenous engagement planning.