Increasing Accessibility for Community Participants at Academic Conferences
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BACKGROUND: To decrease the gulf between academic and community perspectives, there has been an increased call among stakeholder groups to collaborate in solving complex urban health problems. Despite these recent shifts, however, community partners face barriers to participate in conferences, ultimately limiting exchange of ideas and uptake of research data. This paper reports on the evaluation of the strategy used to engage community participants at the 4th International Conference on Urban Health (ICUH) held in Toronto, Canada, in October, 2005. METHOD: We surveyed participants (n = 98) and conducted follow-up interviews (n = 23) to assess factors that facilitated attendance at ICUH 2005 as well as the impact of the conference on their work. RESULTS: Community registrants were drawn by accessible fee structures, scholarship opportunities, and preconference workshops relevant to their interests. Both community and academic registrants were drawn by the presence of a separate conference stream showcasing high-quality and rigorous community-based participatory research (CBPR). The conference provided valuable opportunities for networking with other community-based researchers by facilitating the development of relationships between community registrants and researchers, increased the profile and legitimacy of CBPR, and reinforced the value of community input in research. It also provided opportunities for capacity building-knowledge sharing and heightened awareness of CBPR. CONCLUSION: The 4th ICUH had a significant impact on community registrants and provided valuable opportunities to bridge academic and community divides. These data support the need for comprehensive strategies for community engagement at health conferences.
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