Action research involves a co-learning process between researchers and community members that emphasizes the use of the research process to create social change. The involvement of community members ensures that the topic under study is important to the community. This approach often improves the ability for researchers to recruit members of the community to participate in a research study. Additionally, the focus on community participation gives a study's validity in the eyes of community members and can improve the quality of the data collected. However, it is sometimes challenging to involve marginalized community members directly in research activities.
The academic institution and community health clinic who partnered on this case study have been working together for 20 years developing and evaluating community health worker programs to address farmworker health in Southern Yuma County on the U.S.–Mexico border. A community health worker is a frontline public health worker who is a trusted member of the community and serves as a bridge to health and human services. In our case study, we describe how community health workers used the focus group methodology to engage farmworkers in discussions about mental health, a highly stigmatized topic in the community. We discuss how the community health workers took ownership of the process and utilized the format of the focus group to engage participants in the co-construction of knowledge regarding their contextual experience of mental health. We discuss the extent to which the farmworkers authentically represented the broader community in addressing mental health, as well as the impact of this experience on the community health workers acting as community researchers.