Project Summary

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Background: COVID-19 is having a profound impact on the way people engage with each other and on the notion of community. Virtual engagement has never been more important, given the requirements for physical distancing to avoid transmission of the virus. Mothers of childbearing age with mental illness and substance use are a high-risk group, likely to be even more vulnerable during this stressful time.

Proposed Solution: The project team is uniquely positioned to rapidly leverage the Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative (MMHRC) of mothers with mental illness and substance use, providers, and researchers to build out the infrastructure and tools to support virtual community engagement, research implementation, and knowledge dissemination. Using the experience-based co-design participatory research approach, stakeholders will reflect on their experiences, identify priorities, and implement innovation.


  • Help communities increase capacity to participate in all phases of PCOR/CER by preparing the Virtual Community Engagement Studio Toolkit
  • Summarize new research questions and evidence needs across mothers, providers, and researchers in community engagement memos
  • Implement dissemination strategies as recommended by stakeholders and compiled in the MMHRC Virtual Community Engagement Strategy

Activities: Four co-design teams of mothers, providers, and researchers will adapt the in-person Community Engagement Studio (CES) model to a virtual format, generate new research questions, and contribute to MMHRC social media and sustainability strategies. The project team will prepare community engagement memos to shape project activities and dissemination efforts. Feedback from mothers and researchers, recruited remotely for two virtual community engagement studios, will be incorporated into the V-CES Toolkit for this target population. The project team, with input from community experts, will develop and implement the MMHRC Virtual Community Engagement Strategy.

Outcomes: The team’s goal is to engage community experts from the target population of mothers with mental illness and substance use, and researchers who share their interests and concerns, in all project activities. The team will increase the number of people it reaches and their engagement through social media over the course of the project. The longer-term outcome is an active, informed community of mothers and researchers, and the virtual capacity, resources, and tools to support collaborative efforts in the design, development, and testing of effective treatment models and the dissemination of findings.

Patient and Stakeholder Engagement Plan: Meaningful stakeholder engagement is paramount in achieving the objectives of this project, which was developed and is sustained through the concerted efforts of stakeholders, including mothers/patients, providers, and researchers. Throughout the team’s PCORI-funded engagement activities, the team has learned the strategies and approaches that work best with the target population of mothers with mental illness and substance use. Patients and stakeholders will participate in all activities to shape project processes and outcomes.

Project Collaborators: Joanne Nicholson, PhD, professor and project lead, from Brandeis University, and Shannon Hennig, MA, MMHRC Program Director and project co­lead, work together on the current PCORI-funded project, “Creating a Community with Mothers with Mental Illness Using Opioids.”

Engagement Resources

Project Information

Joanne Nicholson, PhD
Brandeis University

Key Dates

12 months


State State The state where the project originates, or where the primary institution or organization is located. View Glossary
Last updated: April 12, 2024