2021 IRL Themes

The teams in each cohort of Interdisciplinary Research Leaders (IRL) focus on themes to generate a critical mass of evidence for change.

For 2021, our themes focus on structural racism and its impact on health outcomes. The IRL program seeks proposals that build evidence for solutions and remedies to eliminate the structures that perpetuate racial inequities in health. We do not seek proposals to further document the existence or impact of structural racism and racist policies.

Structural racism in health care

This theme is focused on systemic racism in health services delivery. We encourage projects on the development of equitable approaches for improving the well-being of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people in health care settings. We are especially interested in projects that address public health crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

We seek innovative projects that address the priorities of communities of color. Projects should focus on moving beyond simply describing conditions of structural racism to generating actionable evidence to mitigate its impact within health care systems.

The ideas below are merely illustrative, and we welcome proposals on a range of topics and approaches. For example:

  • A community advocate collaborating with an economist and a psychiatrist to examine the strengths and weaknesses of community oversight and review of mental health initiatives on service delivery for migrant health workers.
  • A health services researcher and an organizational behavior expert working with a community development leader to assess the impact of community representation in hospital governance.
  • A sociologist and a racial and health equity researcher partnering with a workers’ rights advocate to compare Medicaid expansion, Medicaid buy-in, and a universal coverage system on gaps in health outcomes between low-income Americans, disaggregated by race and ethnicity.
Structural racism and community health and well-being

A host of policies, practices, systems, and programs uphold structural racism in education, employment, housing, criminal justice, economics, and political participation, beyond the direct delivery of health care services.

We seek project proposals that seek to better understand how these policies, practices, systems, and programs uphold structural racism, and to develop actionable solutions and remedies to improve community health and well-being.

We are interested in innovative, interdisciplinary approaches, welcome proposals on a range of topics, and offer these ideas merely as examples:

  • An economic policy researcher and an epidemiologist teaming up with a community organizer to identify what mix of hiring practices, employee benefits, and workplace conditions are most effective at minimizing the incidence of COVID-19.
  • A community-based housing coalition leader working with a sociologist and a policy analyst to identify housing policies that lead to improved health outcomes.
  • A community nonprofit leader collaborating with an ethnographer and a psychology researcher to identify remedies for unintended negative mental health consequences of a jobs program for adolescents across communities of differing racial/ethnic compositions.
Distinguishing features of the program

The IRL approach to research is unique in three key ways:

  • Community engaged research that emphasizes equity, action, and impact.
  • An interdisciplinary approach that prioritizes partnerships.
  • Research leadership that is grounded in equity, authentic engagement, and application of research to influence policy.

Through intensive learning, mentoring, and research, our fellows deepen their impact and influence in transforming 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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