Wanted: Creative Research—From Any Field—Revealing What Makes Everyone In America Healthier

Jul 6, 2016, 11:00 AM, Posted by Claire Gibbons

Researchers: RWJF wants to fund your best ideas, and most rigorous study designs, to help us learn what works to promote the health of everyone in America.

What does it take for Americans to lead healthier lives? Seems like a simple question, but it takes research to get answers we can act on.

Research is how we will discover what happens to resident and community health when a low-income community in Seattle—pocked with aging infrastructure and troubled, publicly subsidized housing—is transformed into one that sports mixed-income housing, new parks and services that support well-being. It’s a way we can measure the value of litigation aimed at forcing school districts in California to comply with state requirements for physical education in schools. Through research, we can pinpoint whether the presence of children in a defendant’s life influences sentencing decisions. And only through research can we further understand how criminal sentences impact the overall health and living arrangements of these children.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is funding these and other studies through its Evidence for Action (E4A) National Program, now in its second year. We want to continue making grants through E4A, which is why we invite you to explore our Call for Proposals (CFP).

At RWJF, we are committed to building a national Culture of Health that enables all in our diverse society to lead healthier lives, now and for generations to come. A pillar for realizing that vision is evidence—we need to discover programs, policies, practices, procedures and partnerships that are good for our health so we can promote them.

What is Evidence for Action?

In a nutshell, Evidence for Action seeds information and learning so that the Culture of Health agenda can blossom. To do that, we are seeking researchers who can bring us fresh approaches, untapped datasets or methodologies that may be commonplace in one realm but not in another. We are looking for expertise lodged not only in public health and health services, but also in many other disciplines, because we know there are skill sets and analytical techniques with which we are not familiar. We are particularly interested in proposals designed to stretch across fields—like an econometric study of an educational initiative or a business analysis of a community-based social service.

Examples of what we’re supporting

Evidence for Action is already supporting many pathways to knowledge:

  • In Dallas, researchers are asking whether a community-based food distribution program is more effective than one in a centralized location in reducing food insecurity and enabling access to other local services.
  • A grantee in Wisconsin is developing new ways to assess health outcomes in adults with multiple chronic conditions. 
  • Still another project is teasing whether interventions that promote financial security also improve health in low-income communities. 

Each of these grants is unique, and that’s deliberate. Evidence for Action does not specify study design, topic or a set of research questions we want answered. We fund investigator-initiated projects because we are interested in your hunches about what makes a difference. Bring us your best ideas and put together a study that will allow you to figure out if you are right. We encourage you to take risks—if your findings reveal that a seemingly innovative idea didn’t work, that is important for us to know.

Pose original questions or apply new perspectives to familiar ones. Display the kind of creativity we saw in our current grantees when they asked: Are Medicaid recipients more likely to quit smoking if their state has a strong commitment to tobacco cessation efforts? How is the health and productivity of teachers affected when a clinic equipped to manage chronic conditions is located within a school?

Guidelines to consider as you craft your proposal 

The research must measure health outcomes or other factors that are well established as determinants of health. We also want the study question and methodology to meet rigorous scientific standards, so we are primarily targeting researchers in universities, think tanks, policy shops and similar venues.

If your expertise is mostly in program implementation, consider seeking out a partner with a strong research background. And remember that for this initiative, we are not trying to document existing health inequities or design new ways to address them—we want to assess strategies for their potential to foster a Culture of Health.

Broad by intent, the CFP sends a siren call to new partners with novel ways of thinking. Help us extend our reach, travel beyond our established networks and benefit from conversations we have not yet joined. Point us in new directions so that we can learn from researchers who come with different kinds of training and use different idioms. Show us how other disciplines think about—and measure—health impacts.

We need all of that, because RWJF can’t possibly do this work alone. We must come together if we are to make all of our communities flourish and allow every American to thrive.

Read the Evidence for Action Call for Proposals or watch our informational webinar to learn more about this grant opportunity. This is a rolling application process, so proposals can be submitted at any time.

Claire Gibbons is a senior program officer dedicated to understanding and measuring key health and health care issues and analyzing programs that seek to improve the value of the nation’s health care and public health systems. Read her full bio.