Community Belonging Measurement Project

"You Belong" text on mosaic background

Project Overview

The Community Belonging Measurement Project’s goals are: 

  1. To measure belonging and resilience in Central Oregon (Crook, Deschutes, Jefferson, Northern Klamath Counties, and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs).  
  2. Inform the creation of programs and strategies that promote a sense of belonging for all Central Oregonians.  

Belonging is the feeling of value and respect that you gain through sharing experiences or characteristics with others.  

Resilience is a process of adapting well to challenges. Belonging and resilience are important for physical and mental health and can be strengthened through healthy relationships and community support. 

To measure belonging and resilience, the study team conducted a survey with 1,019 Central Oregon residents and 42 focus group participants in 2023. We plan to conduct a survey in 2024 to understand changes over time.  

Read the 2023 Report

The Central Oregon Health Council contracted with the Oregon Health & Science University Community Research Hub and Oregon State University-Cascades' researchers to lead this project. The project has received additional funding from United Way of Central Oregon and the St. Charles Community Benefit Department. 

If you are interested in speaking with our team about using the data or developing strategies to promote belonging, please contact us.  

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Key Findings from the Community Belonging Measurement Project

This report examines belonging, community attachment, and resilience among Central Oregonians through survey data, focus groups, and community co-interpretation sessions. This report also specifies concrete strategies for action based on these findings and national recommendations.  

  • Belonging is multi-dimensional and rooted in various communities and identity groups. Family, shared hobbies, and lived experiences are significant sources of belonging for Central Oregonians. Participants expressed a strong desire for warm, supportive interactions, emphasizing the importance of interpersonal connections in fostering a sense of belonging. Engagement in shared activities, volunteering, and participation in community events also contribute to a deeper sense of connection within Central Oregon communities.  

  • Belonging is an important determinant of health for Central Oregonians. Belonging plays a vital role in the health and well-being of Central Oregonians, affecting both physical and mental health. Survey findings highlighted a clear relationship between community attachment and self-rated physical and mental health. Individuals with higher levels of community attachment reported better overall health, while those with lower community attachment and connectedness experienced poorer self-rated physical and mental health.   

    “It’s one of our human needs is to feel like we belong... it creates stress and can affect our health if we don't feel that.” [Parent/caregiver focus group participant]  

  • Major drivers of belonging include safety, relationships, and reciprocal, active participation.  The findings highlighted that safety is a necessary condition for belonging. Moreover, physical and emotional safety creates a foundation for Central Oregonians to feel secure, accepted, and valued within a group or community. Findings from the focus groups further demonstrated that belonging is nurtured by warm and supportive relationships with family, friends, coworkers, and mentors. Belonging is cultivated by active participation, reciprocity, and shared interests with others (e.g., shared hobbies, recreational interests, religious beliefs, values, and lived experiences).   

    “Everybody has a different idea of what community should be and what this community should be... I realize that community takes initiative on my part. I can’t expect it to come to me. It’s saying hello to someone, introducing myself on the trail, or whatever. I think it’s up to us to initiate community. I’m trying to do that, and it works.” [Older Adult focus group participant]  

  • Identities, including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and age, are strongly associated with belonging among Central Oregonians. Participants express the importance of shared backgrounds and experiences in fostering a sense of connection within their communities. However, barriers related to identity, such as discrimination and exclusion, present challenges to belonging. Promoting inclusivity and addressing systemic barriers are crucial steps in ensuring that all Central Oregonians feel a sense of belonging in their communities. Additionally, we found substantial generational differences with older adults placing greater importance on age-specific communities (including clubs and activities tailored to their age group, like gardening or book clubs) and shared political beliefs, while young adults leaned toward connections built through school, college, and in the LGBTQA+ communities.  

  • Barriers to belonging include discrimination and economic and political divides. Discrimination— based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation – creates substantial barriers to individuals feeling accepted and valued within their communities. Participants identifying as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color shared experiences of microaggressions and tokenism in predominantly white spaces, underscoring a lack of genuine inclusion and representation. Moreover, our findings demonstrated that economic disparities can contribute to feelings of exclusion, as financial constraints limit access to resources and opportunities for social engagement. Similarly, political divides deepen social fragmentation, fostering an environment where differing ideologies can be a barrier to interpersonal connections and community cohesion. Addressing these barriers necessitates concerted efforts to prevent discrimination, alleviate economic inequality, and bridge political divides, fostering a more inclusive and cohesive community environment.  

    “I fall in a few [marginalized identity] groups and sometimes I feel like because I'm in all the groups that people judge me three times as hard. They assume... Well, you're this, then you must be that and then you're also this and you're that." I feel like I'm coming out the gate negative three.” {LGBTQA+ Focus Group Participant]   

Read the full report to learn more about the key findings. 

Community-Engaged Research Approach

The Community Belonging Research study is community-engaged research study which means that community voice and input is incorporated into every phase of the project, including development of the data collection tools (survey and focus group guide), outreach strategy, and even data analysis. This included:

Literature Review: Examination of population and context-specific literature. 

Collaborative Planning: Engagement of community advisors in project design and integration of community knowledge into the development of data collection tools and outreach strategies.

Data Collection: Adapt research design to meet potential participants where they are. Community champions support participant outreach and recruitment.

Data Analysis and Interpretation: Conduct data co-interpretation to frame study findings within the experiences of community members and develop community-informed recommendations. 

Read the full report to learn more about our community-engaged research approach. 


We shared our findings in 5 community co-interpretation sessions. The purpose of these sessions was two-fold: To seek validation of our findings and to interpret the meaning of key discoveries for priority populations. 

Each session was focused on a priority population with an open invitation to interested community members who shared the priority identities. Two of the sessions were held in-person and three took place online in a virtual meeting. All were co-facilitated by OHSU’s Central Oregon community research liaison and a community member. The findings were shared to participants verbally and via posters and slide presentations with visual representations of quantitative and qualitative data. Participants were given time to reflect and share their views, but facilitators had also prepared activities to invite comments and written feedback on post-it notes. The feedback received from each session was carefully collected and written down. 

The co-interpretation panels of each priority population can be found here: 
Spanish speakers
Older Adults
Black, Indigenous, and People of Color

Dissemination & Implementation

Our community partners helped develop materials that highlight the key findings and recommendations from five priority populations. Select the tab to view the materials and guidance for how these population-specific data may be used to leverage strengths and provide support for areas of opportunity.   

Thank you to our community partners who helped coordinate and design our co-interpretation sessions and develop these dissemination materials: Better Together Central Oregon, Family Resource Center of Central Oregon, Gender Hive, La Pine Activity Center, and Restorative Justice & Equity Group.

The Community Belonging Measurement Team has also presented findings to academic and local community organizations.  

For more information, contact the Community Research Liaison, Kaitlin Greene, at

Study Team

Brianne Kothari, PhD, Oregon State University-Cascades 
Shannon Lipscomb, PhD, Oregon State University-Cascades  
Jackilen Shannon, PhD, Oregon Health & Science University 

Project Staff 
Camilla Dohlman, MPH, Oregon Health & Science University 
Kaitlin Greene, MPH, Oregon Health & Science University 

Graduate Research Assistants   
Christina Jäderholm, OHSU-PSU School of Public Health 
Beth Phelps, Oregon State University  

Undergraduate Research Assistants 
Allie Barr, Oregon State University-Cascades 
David Ngo, Oregon State University 

Community Partners 
With special thanks to the various community partners who have been instrumental in making this project a reality, including the community organizations who helped to facilitate community data analysis sessions. They include the Central Oregon Family Resource Center, Better Together, Gender Hive, and the Restorative Justice & Equity Group.