Principle 5

Trusting Relationships

Community-based research requires open, trusting, ongoing relationships


Relationships are the foundation on which all the other principles in this report are possible. CBR requires relationships that are built on honesty, trust, and an interest in learning from one another. When partners work together on a project they are becoming, at least partially, members of one another’s communities.

However, relationships can be challenging, particularly when outside researchers partner with communities facing marginalization and oppression. There is often tension and distrust between communities and universities because of the long history of researchers doing harm in the name of science and the racism and exclusion built into the higher education system.

Building RElationships

Relationships in CBR do not just happen. They take explicit effort. Some of this can be done in formal meetings, for example through story sharing and check-ins. But, it also requires more informal interactions: chatting in the parking lot after a meeting, attending one another’s events, having a meal together, etc. 

Building relationships requires showing up. But, just as important is how we show up. To build trusting relationships, partners must be:

• Genuine about why they are there

• Present and engaged in what is happening

• Willing to engage in discussions about power and privilege

• Accountable for what they say they will do

• Able to hear and respond to feedback

• Ready to listen and learn from others

Relationship Facilitators

Relationship facilitators are people who can jump-start and support the relationship building process. Many universities have community engagement centers that can act as matchmakers between communities and faculty. Similarly, there are often leaders in a community who know the university and can make those connections. These facilitators can also help keep a partnership going when individual people leave. However, this does not replace the need for partners to build their own relationships. 

Relationship Facilitators at the U

These offices at the University of Utah can help facilitate CBR relationships:

Making the Time

Building trusting relationships cannot be rushed. It is about engaging consistently, in multiple ways, over time. Many projects have failed because relationship building was rushed due to grant deadlines or other pressures. Often, partners begin getting to know each other before a project is even conceived. That way, research ideas emerge from the relationship and, when opportunities arise, trust is already built. For example, a researcher might begin scheduling get-to-know-you meetings and volunteering with an organization whose mission relates to their research topics.

Sometimes partners start a project without a relationship. Perhaps a community group reaches out to a department with an idea already in mind. In that case, it is even more important to plan time for relationship building. However, relationship building is not a “phase” of a project: relationships need attention and strengthening throughout the project.


Relationships in CBR do not suddenly end just because a project is over. In fact, successful partnerships often evolve and grow over long periods of time. Partners get better at working together and can have an even larger impact. 

Partners may continue working together to take action on the research findings. Or, they might launch a new project based on questions that came up in the first one. Or, they may just stay in touch, looking for ways to support one another and work together in the future.

Of course, not all relationships last. Sometimes the partnership is not a good fit. Sometimes people move. Sometimes organizational leadership changes. For many reasons, partnerships may end. In that case, it is important that the partnership is ended respectfully and openly.

The Principle In Action

A housing facility for people experiencing homelessness has an unexpected number of resident deaths one year. The director reaches out to a nursing faculty member for support. The faculty member and her students work with the facility to analyze the root causes. They look at resources needed to avoid future deaths and grief support for case workers and residents. Based on their findings, the partners collaborate on a grant. They begin a program in which nursing students work directly with residents and staff to address resident health issues and coordinate healthcare. The program runs for three years. Then, there are changes in leadership for both partners. Funding for the program ends when the university shifts its funding focus. The partners try to maintain the partnership but it starts to “fizzle out.” After the program ends, the partners wonder if they could have done anything to keep the program going, or this was the “natural end.”

Resources for Trusting Relationships

Join our Community

Share your email to receive updates about CRC projects, funding opportunities, classes, and more!