The rhetoric of the new public health urges a focus on health promotion achieved through policy and structural change, and places emphasis on primary health care services based on community involvement. Research should contribute to the implementation of such policies at the local level. Methods for community-based research, however, are not well developed. This article, drawing on the experiences of a South Australian community health research unit, describes approaches that can make research (especially needs assessment and evaluative research) more relevant and useful. The factors discussed include the relationship between researchers, service providers and service consumers, and appropriate research methodologies for community research.