2020 IRL Themes

Each year, Interdisciplinary Research Leaders teams focus on one of two annual themes in order to build cohort cohesiveness and to generate a critical mass of evidence for change. Our two themes for 2020 are “community environment and health” and “families and child health.” In both themes, the emphasis is on action-oriented research that is applied to create change in communities.


Community Environment and Health

This theme is focused on the physical, chemical, and biotic factors that impact human health and health equity—land use; noise pollution; solid, liquid, and hazardous materials management; underground storage tank control; septic and sewer systems; vector control; drinking water quality; water sanitation, and similar factors.

Though a great deal of research has been conducted on the relationships between biophysical environments and human health, relatively little has focused on engaging communities in developing and testing evidence-based solutions to such problems. Our aim is to generate action-oriented research projects that advance environmental health equity at the local or state level.

We’re especially interested in unexpected teams whose mix of perspectives and expertise can surface innovative approaches. For example, imagine:

  • An urban landscape planner teaming up with a forest researcher and a health disparities expert to work with a neighborhood long deprived of trees and their many benefits.
  • An anthropologist and an environmental health researcher collaborating with a weatherization product distributor to extend energy-efficiency and climate-adaptation opportunities to all city residents.
  • Teams exploring questions like: How can studies of environmental health engage more consistently and effectively with the communities most impacted by pollution? How can equity-oriented infrastructure improvements, such as removal of leaded water pipes in marginalized neighborhoods, be prioritized?


Families and Child Health

Families can provide diverse resources that enhance the health of all members, especially children. Yet many children lack necessities crucial to their well-being, including healthy food and a positive emotional environment. This theme invites applied research projects focused on any aspect of families (e.g. novel work on food policy, vaccination resistance, minimum wage floors, urban Indian health programs, childcare subsidy efforts, caregiver mentoring programs, etc.).

While families and child health—and especially maternal and child health—have been widely investigated, family structures are changing and new questions are emerging. Therefore we have a particular interest in addressing issues related to fathers (biological and social) and their children’s health.

Here again, we’re especially interested in unique, unexpected teams who can engage communities in improving family and child health and well-being. For example, imagine:

  • A sociologist and a health communication researcher collaborating with the director of a nonprofit traditionally focused on maternal and child health to incorporate fathers into a caregiver mentoring project.
  • A faith leader teaming up with a psychologist and a criminal justice researcher to assess programs designed to reconnect recently incarcerated fathers with their children.
  • Teams exploring questions like: How can local food assistance strategies be improved to more effectively reach single-parent households? How can county family-support programs better serve parents and children in particular immigrant communities?


Distinguishing features of the program across both themes

The approach to this research, in both themes, is unique in three key ways:

  • Our focus on community engagement, equity, and real-time action and impact—the foundations of our program—sets this research apart from the existing literature.
  • Our focus on interdisciplinary approaches and fresh—even unexpected—partnerships on our teams. Who are new collaborators you could team up with to transform your approach and deepen your impact?
  • The inclusion of leadership development—grounded in equity, authentic engagement, and application of research to influence policy—distinguishes this program from other research grants. Through intensive learning, mentoring, and research, our fellows deepen their influence and impact as leaders with the power to transform their workplaces and communities. For an overview of prior IRL themes and how teams have addressed them through their projects, visit IRLeaders.org.

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