CSA Online Toolkit

The Community Scientist Academy Toolkit is a comprehensive guide to create and facilitate an academy at your institution.  The toolkit describes the academy and its purpose and provides detailed instructions on start-up issues to consider, curriculum formation, logistics, marketing and recruitment, and evaluation tools.

Additionally, the toolkit includes downloadable documents including PowerPoint presentations, news releases, sample flyers, REDCap Data Dictionaries, and other templates.

Our Community Engagement Team is more than happy to help walk you through this guide and provide additional training via onsite visits and webinars.

The links below provide access to the entire toolkit as well as specific sections.

CSA 2018 students learning


Complete CSA Toolkit (click to download)

CSA Toolkit

Introduction and Background


The Community Scientist Academy (CSA) is a lay training program supported by the Translational Research Institute (TRI) at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ (UAMS) to educate and engage community members and patients in the research process. This CSA Toolkit was developed for others interested in using our resources to implement their own training. More information about how the CSA was developed and piloted is available in our article in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Science at this link: https://doi.org/10.1017/cts.2018.20.

JaJuan Johnson of Little Rock thanked the TRI for “an insightful six weeks of engaging with medical research experts.” He further stated, “I cannot begin to list the areas that most resonated with me, but I can definitely say I am more enlightened and trustworthy of medical research. I look forward to continued work with the Translational Research Institute and will encourage others to get involved.”

“I loved it. I’m sad that it wasn’t longer,” Ashley Young, said of the six-week program. “I loved the interactive activities, and I loved how we had a different speaker each week. I also loved the people I met so it’s been a great experience all around.”


In 2014 Dr. Cornelia Beck, then PI of the UAMS TRI asked the TRI Community Advisory Board for ways to get community members more involved in the process of research. The CAB felt that people needed more information about research, and they needed to better understand what research was and what it was not. With that in mind, a CAB member, who had previously attended a Citizen’s Police Academy hosted by the Little Rock Police Department, suggested we use a similar format and suggested the name of our training. The rest of the CAB enthusiastically supported the idea, and thus the Community Scientist Academy (CSA) was born.
The planning committee was comprised of all three members of the UAMS TRI Community Engagement (CE) Team and representation from the TRI CAB. The invitation to serve on the committee was extended to all of the CAB members and three accepted the invitation. The committee then met weekly for nine months via conference calls to plan a learning experience that would address the original question of the TRI and still be appreciated by community members.

The CSA planning committee conducted a review of materials developed by other research institutions engaging and educating community members about research. The University of Minnesota’s Partners in Research Curriculum provided a foundation for the CSA curriculum. The planning committee, along with the rest of the CAB members, continued refining the content to ensure it was interactive, engaging, and lay friendly.

The CE team conducted two pilots, with the first focused on community based research and the second engaging patients and more focused on clinical research. Revisions and improvements were made based on feedback received from participants from these two pilots and the TRI CAB.

The CSA attempts to dispel the misconceptions of research within communities. As it is well known, the term research often brings up memories of the unethical behavior of researchers towards vulnerable populations. Additionally, the lack of dissemination and implementation of research findings has lessened community interest in participating in research. Topics introduced through the CSA using slides, video clips, guest researcher presentations, and interactive exercises include the research process, partnerships, research ethics, study design, grant funding, study implementation and dissemination, and how to get involved in research. Through this program, the CSA is demystifying research for community members, facilitating open dialogue between researchers and community members, and providing opportunities for partnership between the university and community.

When CSA graduates return to their communities, they are better equipped to be research advocates who can draw on their CSA experiences and new knowledge of research, interaction with academic researchers, and current opportunities to influence TRI’s research.


  • To educate individuals about the research process and
  • To create a cadre of stakeholders who can influence the TRI’s research serving on steering committees, mentoring committees, review committees, research projects and in other leadership capacities.

Start-Up Issues to Consider

Gauge community interest

Prior to implementing the CSA, it may be helpful to determine the level of community interest in attending the academy. We did this by hosting 2 hour information sessions accompanied by a meal in the community.

Information Session Structure:

  • Brief Overview Presentation by the CE Team/Institutional Staff Leads
  • Small Groups (5 or fewer community members) where 1 researcher shared about their research and participated in a Q & A discussion

Other possible ways of measuring the community’s interest could be:

  • Reaching out to existing local community partners, organizations, faith communities

Determine your target population

While there is no mandatory target audience, we suggest that this material be used as a training for lay community members and/or patients and other stakeholders.

Determine length/dates/time of the CSA

This will vary based upon your location and your target population. It would be helpful to reach out to your community partners/stakeholders to help narrow down the most appropriate time of day and academy length for your potential participants.

We have found participation to be best when we offer the CSA in the early evening (5:30- 7:30 pm) one night a week, each week for six weeks for 2 hours. The first five weeks are lessons and the sixth week is the graduation celebration.

Select location

When considering a location, you will need to consider the community’s:

  • Accessibility to the venue
  • Access to reliable public transportation (if available)
  • Parking availability and cost

From the institutional perspective, it might be that hosting the CSA on your campus is the most fiscally and reasonable option for logistics and guest researcher participation in the CSA.

Invite guest researchers

Identify a list of potential guest researchers to invite for each session based upon the topic of each week. These researchers can include those from within your institution along with community co-investigators and other community members who have participated in research. We try to engage two researchers as guest presenters in each session.

Create a budget (See Appendix A for a sample budget)

The CSA is a relatively low cost program. We do not compensate participants for participation but they do receive a signed certificate.

However, the following costs (when applicable) should be included within the program’s budget:

  • Marketing (flyers, social media “boost” posts)
  • Materials (Paper, Folders, Index Cards, Flipcharts, Pens, Name Tents, Markers)
  • Light Refreshments
  • Parking Validation
  • Graduation:
    • Catering for hot meal
    • Venue
    • Decorations (including linens for tables)
    • Photographer
    • Certificates
    • Program

Identify and assign the roles and responsibilities of the members of the training team

Within our TRI, the community engagement team members are involved in all aspects. An example of roles/responsibilities:

  • Recruitment of participants and guest researchers
  • Registration and communication with participants
  • Modification of curriculum/PPT slides/evaluation tool(s)
  • Setting up the room
  • Organizing classroom material
  • Primary facilitator
  • Logistics lead of graduation ceremony
  • Data entry

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csa candid

csa candid

Curriculum & Session Structure

The lay friendly curriculum involves the six sessions facilitated by a member of the TRI CE team.*

SESSION 1: The Research Process, different types of research, IRB, and research partnerships
SESSION 2: Study and intervention design
SESSION 3: Implementation, Analysis, and Dissemination
SESSION 4: Basics of Research Funding
SESSION 5: Ways to be involved in the research process and in the TRI
SESSION 6: Graduation Celebration and Next Step

*See Appendix B for PowerPoint presentations

Structure of a CSA Session

Pre-Knowledge Survey:

  • Request each participant to complete the pre- training knowledge survey before beginning the session.


  • Give each participant 3 minutes to provide a brief introduction and answer a question    (ex: why did you decide to attend the CSA, what are you most interested to learn, etc.)
  • Approximate Time: 15 minutes

After the 1st session, a review of the previous week’s content will be facilitated using an interactive exercise.

  • Approximate Time: 10-20 minutes

PowerPoint Presentation:

  • Didactic content on introducing basic information on session topic
  • Video clips: Include lay friendly, short video clips embedded in the PPT presentation to clearly and simply define the content of each session.
  • Approximate Time: 30 minutes

Guest researcher presentation:

  • For individual sessions, invite up to two researchers to provide a presentation in a story telling fashion without PPT slides. Request that they focus their talk on the aspect of their research that relates to that session’s topic leaving time for Q&A. For example, describe the study design and why you chose that design, etc. Break participants into two groups and rotate the guest presenters between groups after 10-15 minutes.
  • Approximate Time: 30 min

Small group content review exercises:

  • The participants are divided into 2-4 small groups to complete interactive exercises. In these preplanned activities, look to the 33 different Liberating structures to guide this process to allow for an alternative approach to learning. (http://www.liberatingstructures.com/)
  • Approximate Time: 20 minutes

Wrap up and Dismissal:

  • Discussion of Housekeeping items and any remaining questions
  • Approximate Time: 15 minutes

Final Session:

  • Administer post-training knowledge survey and interest and feedback forms.

Total Class Time: 2 hours

Marketing & Recruitment

Ideally, the promotional efforts of your CSA would be  coordinated  by  someone  from  the    marketing/communications division of your institution, department or organization. However, if this is not an option, you can still successfully advertise the CSA. The information below can be implemented by anyone on your planning committee.

We advise that you begin advertising your CSA 2-3 months prior to your start date. Advertising efforts should be done simultaneously using as many diverse methods as possible. When advertising, consider your target audience and be intentional in your efforts to appeal to said audience. Consider using photographs and clipart that feature representations of your intended participants. Make honest efforts to have your advertising placed in areas where your target audience will most likely come into contact with your efforts.

Suggested means of advertising: (See Appendix C for sample marketing materials)

  • Social Media
  • Public service announcements (or any donated time your institution can secure)
  • Press releases
  • Flyers – paper and electronic versions
  • Email blasts

Suggested placement for advertising efforts:

  • Flyers – Have both hard and electronic copies of a flyer that you can distribute in areas and outlets where potential participants may encounter this information (including on social media).
  • Press releases – Send your press releases to all news outlets that could potentially reach your targeted audience. After the releases have been sent, follow up with the media outlets to see if you can answer any questions for them or provide them with any additional information. Also, if given the opportunity, share with them ways the CSA will benefit the larger community.
  • Email blasts – Send electronic copies of the flyer out by email to list servs housed or maintained by your institution or department. Share the information with partnering organizations and local community leaders.
  • Social Media, when used correctly, can be a valuable tool. Be sure to use the social media that is used most often by members of your target audience. Consider paying the fee to have your Facebook post boosted.
  • Community Partners – If you have established community partners within the target population, ask for their assistance in recruiting participants.

Participant Registration & Logistics

Participant Registration


After speaking with interested individuals to ensure they understand the objectives of the academy, we advise using a short REDCap form to gather contact information, demographics, history of participation in health research, and self-reported trust of research. Once you have entered the data into REDCap you will have the ability to pull reports at a later date.

Supplies Needed

The following is a list of supplies we used during the CSA. The purpose of some of the items (copies of the handouts) will be obvious. However, the purpose of some of the items will be revealed throughout the toolkit. This list of supplies should be considered a guide. Toolkit users are free to add or delete from this list as they see fit.


  • Presentation saved on a jump drive
  • Folders for each participant
  • Index cards
  • Handouts (ppts, sample research projects, etc.)
  • Name tags or name tent cards
  • Ink Pens
  • Pre-knowledge survey
  • Post-knowledge survey
  • Interest survey
  • Feedback form
  • Sign in sheet
  • Refreshments (we offered a variety of snacks and bottled water each week)
  • Laptop
  • Projector
  • Screen or white wall to use to project slide show onto
  • Flip chart paper and markers

Setting Up the Room

We advise being intentional in how you set up the room. You want to create an environment that encourages conversation both between the participants and with the presenters rather than a traditional lecture or classroom setting. A traditional classroom setting separates the presenter from the participants and can be intimidating to some community participants. We recommend a “U” or semi-circular formation for the participants with the presenters sitting or standing in the middle of the group. The presenter should be as close to the participants as possible (without invading anyone’s personal space). If at all possible use tables so that participants will have something to sit their materials and personal belongings on.

Below are pictures of examples that may help you.
csa room set up
csa room set up


The final session is a graduation celebration for you and your participants.

You will need to identify the institutional staff who will be responsible for arranging and decorating the banquet room, ordering the catering, and designing the graduation program and participant certificates (See Appendix E, F for a sample graduation program and certificate).

We advise having a keynote address by a guest speaker who has served in various roles within research. For example, our previous guest speakers have included community engaged academic researchers and community members who have been involved in one or more of the following: community review board, community co-investigator, grant reviewer, community advisory board, and research participant.

Additionally, you can also invite a few of the CSA participants who are graduating to share their experience attending the CSA.

We believe it is absolutely necessary to honor the participants who took time out of their day to increase their knowledge of research. As mentioned previously, we do not offer an incentive to our CSA participants other than snacks and the final graduation ceremony.


Pre/Post Knowledge Surveys: See Appendix G for sample surveys

We recommend administering a pre and post knowledge survey to assess the effectiveness of the CSA in improving knowledge about the topics presented. We have participants create a unique identifier to allow linkage of pre and post surveys and include a question about which sessions they attended since some participants may not be able to attend each session. Both surveys are completed on paper and an institutional staff member enters their responses into RedCap.

Feedback Survey: See Appendix H for sample survey
This survey is to be administered on the final week of the CSA. This form will ask open and closed ended questions in order to garner possible improvements to your academy. As with the pre-/post survey knowledge forms, the participants complete a paper copy and then the data are entered into REDCap.

Participant Interest Form: See Appendix I for sample form

At the 5th session, we recommend asking participants to complete an interest form. This form allows the participants to identify specific ways they would like to be involved in your institution’s research process and if they would like to participate in any additional advanced training. This information will provide a way to continue engaging the CSA graduates per their interests and building a cadre of stakeholders to help influence your institutions’/organizations’ research. We recommend that you create a database or spreadsheet with data about your participants and the activities in which they indicate an interest for facilitate future recruitment of CSA graduates for reviewing grants, etc.

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A. Sample Budget
B. PowerPoint Presentations: Session 1; Session 2; Session 3; Session 4; Session 5
C. Sample Marketing Materials: CTSA News Release; Flyers; Local News Release; News Clips; Social Media Posts
D. Sample Registration Form: Registration Form; RedCap Data Dictionary*
E. Sample Graduation Certificate
F. Sample Graduation Program
G. Sample Pre-/Post Evaluation Tools: Pre-Knowledge Survey; Pre RedCap Dictionary;* Post-Knowledge Survey; Post RedCap Dictionary*
H. Sample Feedback Survey: Feedback Survey; Feedback Survey RedCap Dictionary*
I. Sample Participant Interest Form: Participant Interest Form; Participant Interest RedCap Dictionary

*RedCap Data Dictionaries are provided in Excel, you will need to save and convert to CSV before uploading it into RedCap for use.

If you have any questions, please contact:

Rachel Hale, rbhale@uams.edu or Nicki Spencer, ndspencer@uams.edu