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By: Patricia Moore Shaffer, PhD

Principal & CEO

Embarking on a community-based participatory research project involves more than just data collection and analysis. It demands a deep dive into the heart of the community, understanding its pulse, and, most importantly, facilitating meaningful participation of community members. The success of such projects often hinges on the engagement and collaboration of local residents, whose insights, knowledge, and experiences are invaluable. Reflecting on a recent site visit to St. Paul Island, Alaska, here are some tips for facilitating community participation in a research project.


Understanding the Community Culture

Understanding the community's culture is the first step in facilitating meaningful participation. Before initiating any research project, it's crucial to immerse oneself in the community's history, values, and social dynamics. This understanding not only fosters respect but also allows researchers to tailor their approaches in ways that resonate with local residents. Engaging with community leaders and elders can provide invaluable insights into the community's heart and soul, paving the way for smoother project initiation and implementation.


Building Trust through Transparency and Communication

Trust is the cornerstone of effective community participation. Building trust starts with transparency about the research project's goals, processes, and potential benefits to the community. Establishing regular, open channels of communication is vital. This could take the form of community meetings, newsletters, or informal gatherings where updates are shared and feedback is sought. Making the research team accessible and approachable within the community can help break down barriers, making it easier for community members to express concerns, ask questions, and offer insights.


Involving the Community in the Research Process

Involving the community in the research process not only enhances the quality and relevance of the research but also fosters a sense of ownership among community members. This can be achieved by involving community members in decision-making processes, employing local residents in research activities, and facilitating community-led initiatives that complement the research objectives.


Providing Tangible Benefits and Feedback

Communities are more likely to engage in research projects when they see tangible benefits. These benefits don't always have to be financial; they can also be in the form of capacity building, improvements to local infrastructure, or contributions to local conservation efforts. Equally important is providing feedback to the community about the research findings and the project's impact. This can help sustain interest and engagement throughout the project duration and beyond.


Respecting Local Norms and Ensuring Ethical Practices

Adhering to ethical research practices is non-negotiable. This includes obtaining informed consent, ensuring confidentiality, and respecting local norms and values. It also means valuing research participants’ time by paying them the equivalent to a living wage. Sensitivity to cultural practices and traditions is particularly important in communities like St. Paul Island, where traditional ways of life are honored. Ethical practices also mean that researchers should be prepared to adapt their methodologies to ensure that they are culturally appropriate and respectful.


Leveraging Local Education and Outreach Programs

Education and outreach programs can be powerful tools for engaging communities in research projects. By partnering with local schools, community centers, and organizations, researchers can raise awareness about their projects, stimulate interest in research, and inspire local youth. Workshops, seminars, and interactive sessions can be tailored to different age groups, providing educational benefits to the community while fostering a collaborative environment for the research project.



Facilitating community participation in research projects requires a multifaceted approach. It involves understanding the community culture, building trust, involving the community in the research process, providing tangible benefits, respecting local norms, and leveraging education and outreach programs. Through these efforts, researchers can not only enrich their projects with valuable local insights but also contribute positively to the communities they engage with.

By Patricia Moore Shaffer

Principal & CEO

The Title III Strengthening Institutions grant program, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, aims to support eligible institutions in improving their academic quality, institutional management, and fiscal stability. This grant provides an opportunity for colleges and universities to enhance their capacity to serve low-income students and students with limited access to higher education. To successfully apply for this grant, institutions should follow a step-by-step process that includes careful planning, thorough research, and effective proposal writing.

Step 1: Understand the Grant Program

Before starting the application process, it is crucial to thoroughly understand the Title III Strengthening Institutions grant program. Review the program's guidelines, objectives, and eligibility criteria. Familiarize yourself with the specific legislation and regulations that govern Title III grants.

Step 2: Develop a Comprehensive Development Plan

A key component of every Title III grant application is the development of a comprehensive development plan. This plan must include an analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, and significant problems of the institution's academic programs, institutional management, and fiscal stability; identification of the institution's goals for its academic programs, institutional management, and fiscal stability; measurable objectives related to reaching each goal and timeframes for achieving the objectives; and methods and resources that will be used to institutionalize practices and improvements developed under the proposed project. Your comprehensive development plan is unique to your institution and intended to develop its capacity to better serve your student population. See, for example, Lincoln University's comprehensive development plans.

Step 3: Develop a Project Plan

Based on the comprehensive development plan, develop a project plan that outlines the strategies and activities you propose to implement if funded. Ensure that your plan aligns with the grant program's objectives and priorities. For instance, if your institution aims to enhance faculty development, your project plan may include workshops, training programs, and mentoring initiatives.

Step 4: Gather Data and Evidence

Collect relevant data and evidence to support your project plan. This may include student enrollment and retention rates, graduation rates, financial data, and any other information that demonstrates the need for the proposed activities. Use this data to build a strong case for your project's effectiveness and impact.

Step 5: Budget Preparation

Prepare a detailed budget that clearly outlines the costs associated with your proposed activities. Ensure that your budget aligns with the grant program's guidelines and restrictions and also mirrors your project plan. Provide a breakdown of expenses, including personnel, equipment, supplies, and any other necessary resources. Justify each expense and demonstrate how it directly contributes to achieving the project's objectives.

Step 6: Proposal Writing

Write a compelling and well-structured proposal that clearly articulates your institution's needs, project plan, and expected outcomes. Address each component of the grant application, including the executive summary, project description, evaluation plan, and sustainability strategy. Consider partnering with a professional program evaluator specializing in higher education to develop a logic model and evaluation plan. Throughout the narrative, use clear and concise language, provide evidence to support your claims, and adhere to the specified word limits. Sample Title III grant application are available online; see, for example, Santa Fe College's Title III application.

Step 7: Review and Revise

Before submitting your application, carefully review and revise your proposal. Ensure that it is free from grammatical errors, typos, and inconsistencies. Seek feedback from colleagues or experts in grant writing to improve the clarity and coherence of your proposal. Make any necessary revisions to strengthen your application.

Writing a successful Title III Strengthening Institutions grant application requires careful planning, thorough research, and effective proposal writing. By following this step-by-step process, institutions can increase their chances of securing funding to address their specific needs and enhance their capacity to serve underrepresented students. Remember to align your proposal with the grant program's objectives, provide compelling evidence, and demonstrate a clear plan for sustainability. With dedication and attention to detail, institutions can create a strong application that stands out among the competition.


Shaffer Evaluation Group welcomes partnerships with higher education institutions applying for Title III grants. We prepare the logic model and evaluation plan at no cost in exchange for an agreement to work on your grant project should your application be awarded. Contact us today for more information.

By: Stacy Ashworth, PhD

Evaluation Project Manager, K-12

Shaffer Evaluation Group has the pleasure of providing evaluation services for 15 current Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) projects. In addition, SEG has been able to support 16 other DoDEA projects that have been completed since SEG’s inception.

The DoDEA grant program seeks to support projects in school districts that serve military-connected students ( Each year, pending funding availability, a new solicitation is announced around the end of January. Grants are provided for five-year projects.

In prior years, DoDEA mandated awarded program topics for their Military-Connected Academic Support Program (MCASP). Topics included social-emotional learning (SEL) and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). However, over the past few years, DoDEA has left the topic of the MCASP program open. DoDEA also developed a second program, the World Language Advancement and Readiness Program (WLARP).

While the deadline for the new DoDEA grant solicitation is quickly approaching, it is never too early to start thinking about 2025! The flexibility with the MCASP program results in a wide variety of projects designed to meet districts’ needs. SEG works with projects spanning topics from instructional coaching to career and technical education. Our current projects are categorized by topic below. The hyperlink for each project links to the published abstract on the DoDEA Grants website.

World Languages

Career Education and Career and Technical Education (CTE)

Computer Science

Instructional Coaching


Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)


Reading Language Arts


Shaffer Evaluation Group offers limited pro-bono grant writing services to support grant applications, like DoDEA. Specifically, we write the evaluation section at no cost in exchange for being named as the evaluator in your grant application. SEG would be happy to talk about your ideas and discuss future opportunities with the DoDEA Grant Program.  Contact us today to set up a free consultation!


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