Report Helps Funders Advance Equity in Research

Posted March 20, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A Black man sits at a conference room table, surrounded by a diverse group of colleagues. As he speaks, he gestures with his hands; his colleagues listen intently.

A new report from Child Trends pro­vides insights into equi­ty-focused research and offers rec­om­men­da­tions to fun­ders — includ­ing fed­er­al and state agen­cies, phil­an­thropies and non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tions — to bet­ter sup­port this work. The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion fund­ed the report.

There’s grow­ing inter­est in equi­ty-focused research among pub­lic and pri­vate fun­ders,” says Kim­ber­ly Spring, direc­tor of research and eval­u­a­tion at the Foun­da­tion. This report can help them devel­op cri­te­ria for sup­port­ing thought­ful approach­es to research that advance equi­ty while strength­en­ing find­ings and mak­ing them more action­able for communities.”

Defin­ing Racial Equi­ty in Research

Based on inter­views with a diverse group of 10 Child Trends researchers with expe­ri­ence con­duct­ing equi­ty-focused research, the report describes the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of an equi­ty-focused approach. They include:

  • inves­ti­gat­ing the root caus­es of racial disparities;
  • apply­ing an approach to research that focus­es on strengths and assets instead of problems;
  • ensur­ing research process­es and deci­sions are shared and clear; and
  • valu­ing the con­tri­bu­tions and involve­ment of com­mu­ni­ty members.

The report shows that researchers’ own per­son­al expe­ri­ences in life have shaped their approach to equi­ty-focused work. Respon­dents of col­or said that racial equi­ty issues had always been part of their iden­ti­ties, and there­fore insep­a­ra­ble from their pro­fes­sion­al work.

These expe­ri­ences — com­bined with an under­stand­ing of the com­mu­ni­ties in which they worked — helped Black and white researchers rec­og­nize that the authen­tic expe­ri­ences of com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers often are under­val­ued and under­uti­lized in research. For exam­ple, one researcher men­tioned how rec­og­niz­ing the expe­ri­ences of com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers helped to improve an indi­ca­tor of pos­i­tive fam­i­ly func­tion­ing by tak­ing into account the ways strong fam­i­ly ties can devel­op when sev­er­al gen­er­a­tions of a fam­i­ly live togeth­er — as many fam­i­lies of col­or do.

Inte­grat­ing Racial Equi­ty Into Research

The report explores strate­gies for devel­op­ing and main­tain­ing trust­ing part­ner­ships when engag­ing com­mu­ni­ties in research. Among the meth­ods researchers employ are:

  • explain­ing research deci­sions in plain lan­guage and with more detail than they might have oth­er­wise, and being open to questions;
  • incor­po­rat­ing com­mu­ni­ty feed­back into the research process;
  • com­pen­sat­ing com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers for their time and insights; and
  • pro­vid­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for com­mu­ni­ty part­ners to build their research capacities.

Researchers seek­ing to include a com­mu­ni­ty voice should be care­ful to reduce the poten­tial bur­dens research can pose for com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. When enlist­ing them as part­ners, mul­ti­ple options for involve­ment should be offered, with appro­pri­ate com­pen­sa­tion and clear esti­mates of the time com­mit­ments involved.

Improv­ing Process­es to Facil­i­tate Equi­ty-Focused Research

Child Trends staff empha­sized the need to build inter­nal prac­tices with­in research orga­ni­za­tions to sup­port equi­ty-focused work. Adjust­ments to inter­nal admin­is­tra­tive process­es are inevitable.

For exam­ple, insti­tu­tion­al review boards (IRBs) are nec­es­sary for pro­tect­ing the rights of research par­tic­i­pants. Yet the tech­ni­cal research issues and relat­ed aca­d­e­m­ic jar­gon of IRB admin­is­tra­tive process­es are bar­ri­ers to non-researchers’ under­stand­ing of them. The report offers tips for mak­ing IRBs more acces­si­ble to com­mu­ni­ty research partners.

Research orga­ni­za­tions and fun­ders also should under­stand that putting process­es in place to advance racial equi­ty takes time. Devel­op­ing part­ner­ships and trust with­in com­mu­ni­ties is a process that can range from sev­er­al months to years.

Equi­ty Rec­om­men­da­tions for Research Funders

The report pro­vides a detailed series of rec­om­men­da­tions to fun­ders. For exam­ple, when request­ing and eval­u­at­ing pro­pos­als, fun­ders can turn to com­mu­ni­ties to help devel­op cri­te­ria and mea­sures of suc­cess that are impor­tant to advanc­ing equi­ty and strength­en­ing research.

By con­nect­ing with rel­e­vant com­mu­ni­ty stake­hold­ers and lead­ers, fun­ders can bet­ter deter­mine the research sup­port com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers need, their views on deliv­er­ables and mea­sures of suc­cess and, more gen­er­al­ly, their def­i­n­i­tion of healthy researcher-com­mu­ni­ty partnerships.

Oth­er rec­om­men­da­tions for fun­ders include:

  • request and assess infor­ma­tion about racial equi­ty strate­gies that poten­tial grantees plan to use;
  • reflect on their own process­es for how they select research part­ners, con­sid­er­ing how they may make changes to be more equi­table and inclusive;
  • fos­ter com­mu­ni­ties of learn­ing among researchers, fun­ders and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, each of whom has a wealth of knowl­edge in their respec­tive areas of exper­tise; and
  • encour­age a flex­i­ble scope of work from appli­cants to accom­mo­date evolv­ing com­mu­ni­ty input through­out the course of a project.

Use an inter­ac­tive matrix that helps eval­u­a­tors incor­po­rate prac­tices that advance equity

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