Larger & Longer Research Awards Enable More Powerful Studies of Medical, Social & Public Health System Alignment

The year 2019 continues to be an exciting period for those of us interested in nudging public health systems toward more productive forms of interaction with medical and social systems. A growing number of health care providers, social service organizations, and government agencies throughout the U.S. are taking steps to address social determinants of health by building stronger connections across the medical, social, and public health sectors. Hospitals and health systems are forging new relationships with public health agencies, housing authorities, food banks, transportation councils, schools, and a host of other community-based organizations. These approaches to system alignment are extremely diverse, including new ways of sharing health and social services data, new financing models and payment methods, new organizational and governance structures, and new staffing models.

As with any newly emerging area of practice, the pace of innovation far exceeds the supply of evidence right now. This means that system leaders have very few research-tested models, tools and guidelines they can use to inform their work in multisector systems alignment. And the organizations currently engaged in systems alignment work are often too busy to rigorously evaluate the impact of their work.

The danger of this situation –where innovation outpaces evaluation–is that communities are prone to repeating the same mistakes and failing to learn from them rapidly. Scarce resources may be wasted. Successes may be difficult to distinguish and detect. Experience may fall short of expectations. This dynamic ultimately can dampen enthusiasm for multi-sector work and lead to attrition from collective actions.

With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, our Systems for Action Research Program seeks to counteract this dynamic by building rigorous research designs around some of the most innovative approaches to system alignment. We recently announced the fourth round of funding available for studies that carefully evaluate the implementation and impact of new mechanisms for aligning medical, social, and public health systems. This year’s awards will support studies of up to 3 years in duration and up to $500,000 in total costs per award.

This year our call for proposals focuses on a specific subset of system alignment strategies that have not been explored fully by previous Systems for Action studies, including:

  • Alignment mechanisms that are designed and implemented in the social services or public health sector, rather than the medical sector;
  • Studies that include a focus on financing systems and/or incentives for system alignment;
  • Studies that examine system-level change and impact, as opposed to only person-level or patient-level impact; and
  • Studies that include explicit methods for evaluating impact on health equity.

Research proposals must be submitted by the deadline of November 6, 2019. Make sure to read the Call for Proposals brochure,  view our virtual workshop on developing a successful research proposal, review the portfolio of currently funded studies, watch a recording of our informational webinar on this funding opportunity, review our updated research agenda, and check out our list of frequently asked questions.

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