Community advisory boards (CABs) often serve as a source of leadership in the partnerships of community-based participatory research (CBPR) and provide structure to guide the partnership's activities. CAB composition typically reflects the community of interest; its members may share a common interest, identity, illness experience, history, language, or culture (1
). CABs provide an infrastructure for community members to voice concerns and priorities that otherwise might not enter into the researchers' agenda, and advise about suitable research processes that are respectful of and acceptable to the community (2
). Research assessing the roles, responsibilities, and processes of CABs supports their effectiveness in building mutually beneficial partnerships between academic researchers and communities (3
). However, not all community-based researchers have incorporated CABs, nor have CABs been successful in every setting or situation (8
The Center for Community Health Partnerships at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) is a group of community partners, researchers, clinicians, and educators whose purpose is to engage and mobilize academic–community partnerships that promote health and lessen the impact of chronic illness (10
). The Center provides a systems-level infrastructure for MUSC academic–community partnerships and promotes institutionalization and sustainability of these partnerships and their products. The Center's founding members formed a CAB to guide its vision and mission. This process prompted a review of the literature and discussions about the purpose of the board, membership, operating procedures and principles, leadership roles, training needs, sustainability, and evaluation. Our immediate goal was to identify the best processes for forming, operating, and maintaining a CAB. To accomplish this goal, we adopted the integrative practice framework from Cargo and Mercer, which identifies a continuum of CBPR processes from initial engagement to maintenance (11
). We based the concept of best processes on Green's recommendations that academic–community partnerships tailor established processes to meet their unique needs (12
). A central issue in the adoption of these processes is the transfer of knowledge to the practitioners in the field, whether academic or community, and to recognize the multiple factors that influence adoption and implementation of these processes in all settings and stages (13
). In this article we present best processes
for forming, operating, and maintaining CABs that guide CBPR, by synthesizing processes reported in the literature and demonstrating their adoption and implementation in the field using exemplars from our Center members' experiences.
Two of the Center's academic researchers (S.D.N., J.O.A.) conducted a review of the literature to identify processes of CAB functioning. We searched Ovid/Medline, CINAHL, and PsycINFO databases for manuscripts published in English from 2000 to 2009 by using the following search terms: "community advisory boards," "advisory boards," or "community steering committees," and "community-based participatory research" or "participatory research." Inclusion criteria were descriptions of CABs, which included in-depth discussion of roles, purpose, and structure in guiding community research. Our search revealed few published, peer-reviewed articles that focused solely on the development and functioning of a CAB (2
). Rather, we found discussions of CABs embedded in articles discussing CBPR, often making this valuable information difficult to find through traditional search strategies. Additionally, bibliographies provided a rich resource for other publications and sources that described CABs. Additional searches were conducted in CBPR textbooks (17
) and other CBPR-related documents, such as websites and listserves (20
During our analysis and synthesis of the literature, we identified key processes of CAB functioning and coded our findings in an organizational matrix with 3 domains (formation, operations, maintenance) on the basis of an adaptation of Cargo and Mercer's framework (11
). We then solicited input from Center members (G.S.M., C.J., M.J.C., D.C.W.) who had experience with CABs and requested that they review the matrix and reflect on best processes on the basis of their experiences. We held team meetings to cross-check the literature synthesis and personal experiences, reconcile analyses to identify processes for each domain of the matrix, then refine description of the processes on the basis of discussion and consensus. We quickly determined that the processes of CAB functioning are not linear but are iterative and cyclical, and may overlap or be revisited. We presented the initial findings at a national conference of academic CBPR researchers and to the Center's academic and community representatives to further validate the findings. We held subsequent team discussions to refine the findings on the basis of feedback we received.