Community Engagement Definitions

To effectively support community-engaged research, it is important to provide the working definitions that underlie and provide scope to our work. There are several different ways to define concepts like “community” or “community engagement,” and how these concepts are defined can greatly affect the actions and relationships for those involved in research. Below are the definitions that the Community Engagement and Outreach (CEO) Core use to describe community, community engagement, and community-engaged research. Using these definitions enables us to have a shared understanding which, we believe, will then lead to better relationships and more impactful research.


Community: Persons or entities affiliated by geographic proximity, special interests, or similar situations which can be further defined using the following perspectives:

  • systems (e.g., specialized functions, activities, or interests operating in specific boundaries to meet community needs)
  • social (e.g., individual, community organizations, and leaders)
  • virtual (e.g., communicating via online mechanisms), and
  • individual (e.g., how a person thinks about himself or herself and how others see and think about that person)

Community Engagement (CE): the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger community for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.

Community-Engaged Research (CEnR): the process of working collaboratively with groups of people affiliated by geographic proximity, special interests, or similar situations with respect to the investigation and resolution of issues affecting their well-being. It is a powerful vehicle for bringing about environmental and behavioral changes that will improve the health of the community and its members. It often involves partnerships and coalitions that help mobilize resources and influence systems, change relationships among partners, and serve as catalysts for changing policies, programs, and practices.