The National Career Education Strategy identifies the critical role of communities partnering on locally relevant career education, including knowledge about education and career pathways. The first symposium presentation noted that families, friends, employers, community groups and universities can act as ‘key influencers’ of rural career and education aspirations, and of education and career pathway choices. How to partner with communities to sustainably equip key influencers to best support rural people while they navigate the options available to them, is therefore a research critical area.A community based participatory research (CBPR) approach involves community members more equitably than traditional research methodologies. CBPR is characterised by involvement of different stakeholders as active partners in the research process, such as community members, organisational representatives, policy makers and service providers as well as researchers. CBPR situates those with lived experience as experts, in contrast to more positivist methodologies which set the researcher up as expert, and separate to participants. CBPR advocates for a process of research, reflection and community ownership to impact policy and change at a local level. CBPR was chosen for the Key influencers project because it allows exploration of ways in which communities can partner to inform people’s educational and career decisions, and had the potential to leave a legacy of community capacity to support education and career pathway decision after the project concluded. This project used community pathway working parties to provide local contextual input and play a key role in decisions throughout project phases. Working parties acted as incubators, creating a supportive environment for development of new ideas and promoting connections with other efforts within the community. Working parties acted as internal community activators, developing a charter of action for a whole of community approach. They established expected project outcomes, assisted in development, implementation and evaluation of interventions and confirmed the relevance of findings to local context.Overall, CBPR was highly useful for our research and has promise for others wanting to research or otherwise work with rural communities. Learnings from the project include that communities are different: our sites wanted different types and levels of involvement and control in the project. Laying out tasks and having early, open conversations helps establish where people’s interests lie, and avoids later conflict over roles or responsibilities. Effective partnerships not only meant interventions were authentic, matching local needs and preferences, they allowed for flexibility that mitigated COVID’s impact on the project.