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Understanding Trust Among Partners

In 2001 the Prevention Research Centers (PRC) began to identify and describe the program components that are common to all of the PRCs. This information was used to create a national conceptual framework, or logic model. In developing the framework, the project team found that the ability to develop and maintain productive relationships with partners is critical to all centers and that the level of trust between centers and partners affects that ability.

In a similar activity designed to obtain partners’ views on the PRC program, “trust” was rated as the most important characteristic of an effective PRC from the perspective of both community and academic partners.

The project Understanding Trust Among Partners, which began in 2003, builds on this earlier work and is designed to meet the following two goals:

  • To determine the attributes of trust and the partner behaviors that lead to trusting relationships.
  • To explore the feasibility of developing a tool that can assess trust in the PRCs’ partnerships

With guidance from PRCs’ communities, academic centers, public health partners, and representatives of the CDC program office, an external research team conducted a literature review to determine whether a relevant measure of trust was available from the published literature and to identify the main theoretical and empirical components of trust. Next, the research team conducted focus groups with the PRCs’ community, academic, and public health partners, who shared experiences with and opinions about trust in their PRC partnerships. Based on these results, the research and guidance team developed a written tool to help PRC partners identify and discuss characteristics of trust and the opportunities and challenges around building and maintaining trust in their partnerships. A second set of focus groups was conducted with PRC partners to obtain feedback about the tool.

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The literature review provided an overview of how trust is defined, characterized, and measured in various contexts. Although the review provided some useful points to consider for measuring trust within PRC relationships, little to no information was available that described trust in the context of relationships similar to those within the PRCs.

Discussions from the first set of focus groups helped shed some light on the concept of trust within the context of the PRCs and the unique relationships and interactions that contribute to its definition. Some key findings from the focus groups are as follows:

  • Participants discussed the development and maintenance of trust among individuals, rather than the organizations they represent.
  • Participants from the community, state, and academic groups placed the responsibility for improving trust and PRC relationships on the academic partners.
  • Community representatives described the tension between wanting to improve the quality of life, health, and environment of their communities and allowing outside researchers, whose intentions may be viewed as questionable or insincere, into their communities for PRC studies or interventions.

Participants from the second focus groups provided some insight on the feasibility and usefulness of the written tool. Overall, participants thought that the tool was too long and cumbersome and needed to be condensed for it to be useful for the PRC partners. Another suggestion was that the tool should be modified to allow each PRC to tailor it to the specific needs of their partnerships. As a result of this feedback, the tool was revised to address the concerns of the participants.

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Next steps

Many questions have surfaced during this research. The next step is to pilot test the revised tool with several PRCs, which will ensure it is useful in supporting relationships and enhancing trust.

Because the PRCs hold promise for public health advances, creating an environment of trust in which their partnerships can flourish is necessary not only for appropriate functioning of the PRCs, but also for the future of these types of partnerships in many public health settings.

For more information, see the Understanding Trust Among Partners executive summary [PDF 1.8MB].

“Community-Institutional Partnerships: Understanding Trust” Among Partners published in the July 2007 issue of Health Education and Behavior, reports on the methods and findings of the trust project.

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