New Connections Research Spotlight: Melody Goodman

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New Connections Research Spotlight: Melody Goodman

Last fall, New Connections alumna Melody Goodman (Cohort 2) published her first book, Public Health Research Methods for Partnerships and Practice . Based on her work training community stakeholders in public health research methods, the book offers a practical, step-by-step guide to fostering equitable community engagement in research by increasing community health stakeholder capacity for research partnerships.

Could you share a summary of the book?

This book is about disseminating a curriculum that was designed for community health stakeholders who are interested in becoming partners in the research process. As researchers, we often partner with community members in research, but that partnership can result in an imbalance of power because community members don’t know about research methods and procedures. Researchers, therefore, end up being in control, leaving community members with little opportunity for feedback or input.

When we were developing the Suffolk County Minority Health Action Coalition (New York) our coalition members requested training in research methods. We boiled down an MPH research curriculum into a 15-week course on research methods that was friendly to lay audiences. The program was then brought to St. Louis, MO, where it was adapted for that community and continues to be taught today. The program was also used by the Mississippi Department of Health, which trained three cohorts of community stakeholders across the state.

Helping people implement the program beyond Suffolk County and St. Louis inspired me to write the book, so that this course could be disseminated more broadly and adapted to any community. Several New Connections alums and network members helped teach the sessions in Suffolk County  and St. Louis, so I asked them to help me with the book. These colleagues include: Janice Johnson Dias (Cohort 3, in Suffolk County), Keon Gilbert (Cohort 7, in St. Louis), Darrel Hudson (Cohort 8, in St. Louis), Keith Elder (Cohort  4, in St, Louis), Cassandra Arroyo-Johnson (Cohort 8, in St. Louis), Kimberly Enard (Cohort 10, in St. Louis), and Sula Hood (network member, in St. Louis).

What was your role as an editor? What did the process look like?

I’m a biostatistician, so writing a book was never something I thought I would do. As an editor, my work was more like that of an administrator. I wrangled academics, which is like herding cats, getting them to hand drafts in on time, then reviewing the drafts. I focused on what content should be included or needed to be reworked for our audience. My co-editor and I split the editing by our research expertise—she focused on qualitative methods, and I edited the quantitative sections.

Besides editing, I co-wrote the introduction, co-wrote one chapter on one of the sessions I led, and wrote the final chapter on program evaluation.

What compelled you to do this work?

I’ve always been passionate about developing solutions for racial disparities in health. I believe that in public health, it’s our job to move past defining a problem and think about how to solve it, so my work in biostatistics involves identifying problems and designing ways to address them.

I began this book for the same reason I founded the Suffolk County Minority Health Action Coalition. I believe it’s our social responsibility to have people experience and work in public health on the ground level. I feel like it’s my responsibility to help underserved and minority communities, so the next young black girl isn’t as confused about what to do with her life as I was. I want to create healthier spaces to show girls like me that we can do this, because there aren’t a lot of black female statisticians. I also want to show that underrepresented researchers do work that matters to the people and communities that are important to us.

Who should read your book and why?

People shouldn’t read my book—they should use it. I make that distinction because it’s not the type of book that works if you just sit and read it. The activities in the book require you to get involved and interact with your community.

This book is for anyone looking to form or enhance an equitable community-academic partnership—scholars or community members. It’s a self-paced, action-oriented guide to build research literacy and knowledge. We’re trying to create good consumers of research and engaged partners in the research process.

The book translates beyond public health, even though we use public health examples. The book is about research methods—we talk about quantitative and qualitative methods and ethics. It’s transferrable to any research field.

What was your favorite thing about writing your book?

My favorite thing was getting the book in the mail—seeing it all come together. As an editor, you tend to see it chapter by chapter, but to hold the book in my hands—particularly a book written by mostly young black authors—was exciting.

How does this work relate to RWJF’s focus on a Culture of Health?

This project really brings a Culture of Health from the research institution back into the community. We also wanted to demonstrate that researchers don’t have all the answers. If we’re really interested in addressing disparities, we can’t do it isolated without communities. We’re trying to put health and health resources into the hands of the people who need it most—disparate populations and people working on the ground in those communities.

As academics, we talk about social determinants of health, but to have lay people collect their own data and see it in real time helps them think about their communities and their health more broadly.

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