Our Focus Might Change, But We’re Still Guided by Our Research

Nov 19, 2014, 1:47 PM, Posted by

A girl pictured at the bottom of a playground slide.

There is change afoot at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as our entire organization reorients its focus to implementing our Culture of Health strategy. At the heart of this new approach is the belief that everyone—regardless of their ethnic, racial, geographic or socioeconomic circumstances—should have the means and the opportunity to lead the healthiest lives they can. Achieving a Culture of Health requires us to broaden the understanding that good health is far more than the absence of illness; where we work, where we live, what we eat, and where our children play and go to school fundamentally affect our ability to lead healthy lives.

Looking ahead, we see this new focus on building a Culture of Health as catalyzing a larger national movement toward real societal transformation—a chance to eliminate health disparities caused by social, environmental, and economic factors, and a powerful way to improve and advance public health. This is a big challenge for all of us, but there are significant pockets of progress around the country where a diverse range of activities is already driving such transformation.

Alonzo Plough Alonzo L. Plough VP, Research-Evaluation-Learning and Chief Science Officer

How do we plan on realizing these ambitious goals? It really comes down to continuing what RWJF has always done best: identify and support research that promotes progress in improving the health and well-being of our diverse populations. The Foundation has funded such research for more than 40 years, greatly contributing to a common understanding of the major health and health care issues of our time. That’s a legacy we’ll continue even as our research efforts focus more intently on understanding and realizing our vision, and finding the most effective ways to measure our progress. Our grant-making will always be grounded in sound research, good data, and strong evidence that informs the discussion and leads to a healthier nation.

As the vice president for Research and Evaluation and chief science officer, this heightened focus on research is especially gratifying to me. Although I am relatively new to the Foundation—I joined in January 2014—my staff and I have been fully engaging people both within and outside of our organization, in helping us shape the vision for RWJF’s extensive research and evaluation efforts across all areas of study.

As we continue to make these connections and work in tandem to achieve our strategic goals, I am excited to announce that significant funding will be available next year to pursue new research directions that can help us build and strengthen the evidence base. Specific research strategies will include exploring the most promising trans-disciplinary  approaches for advancing our strategy: identifying action–oriented research that can create real cultural change through engagement with key populations and sectors; and expanding and deepening our relationships with emerging research fields and experts not usually associated with health and health care. We will continue supporting ongoing RWJF work on issues that support our strategy.

Over the next few months, with your help, we will translate our strategic framework into a set of tangible measurements that resonate at all levels—from health professionals to community members to policymakers. To better prioritize our research we have identified four interrelated “Areas of Action” that will inform all future work at RWJF. If we can make strong progress in all of these domains, we believe we can move the needle further.

Areas of Action:

1) Making Health a Shared Value

This Area of Action focuses on engaging communities, providers, and advocates in understanding social and economic determinants of health. When people join forces and place a high value on health they are more likely to demand health-affirming policies and practices. Many of our current partners and grantees are likely to find their work falls within this Area of Action, including Healthy Communities, providers, and organizations who are trying to reduce chronic illness in underserved communities, and advocates for local policy and environmental changes to prevent childhood obesity.

2) Fostering Collaboration to Improve Well-Being

Let’s face it, the U.S. has some serious health issues, and we can’t rely on any one sector to solve them alone. Leaders across sectors, including health professions, academia, business, and government, must bring their skills to the table and work together to improve health in communities and across the nation.  In this Action Area, an activity might bring policymakers, school health officials, local businesses and parents together to achieve healthy weight for children. In others, employers and health insurers might team with community partners on wellness programs to improve both worker and broader community health.

3) Increasing Equity in Healthy Community Environments

Your ZIP code should not negatively determine your health status—nor should your race, income, or level of education. All residents deserve to live in neighborhoods that are safe and free from environmental threats. They should have access to nutritious and affordable food, recreational facilities, healthy school environments, and access to bike trails and sidewalks. This Area of Action focuses on interventions that promote health through equal access in all communities to activities and conditions that promote wellbeing where we live, work and play.

4) Re-Envisioning Health and Health Care

The current health care system remains too fragmented, too costly and too out of reach for too many people. This Action Area focuses on improving access to high-quality, effective, prevention-focused and affordable health care, for everyone around the country. Specific activities will include reducing overuse or misuse of services, increasing cost transparency, and improving care coordination and prevention strategies. Collaboration will be a key focus. For example, when providers are linked with community partners they can better address the complex health and socioeconomic factors affecting many lower-income people with chronic disease.

It's a lot to take in, but we'll continue to break it down for you with stories of progress, sharing evidence from innovative projects and research directions, new research funding opportunities, and robust measurement tools to track our national progress in building a Culture of Health.

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