Reflections from Our Interactive Chat on Racial Justice and Health Equity Research

Graphic of different colored hands reaching toward the Earth.

Introduction

Evidence for Action (E4A) and Race Forward recently had the pleasure of hosting an incredibly dynamic and thought-provoking discussion between Drs. Thomas A. LaVeist, Assata-Nicole Richards, and George Ayala moderated by our very own Dr. Janice Johnson Dias on the role of research in advancing health and racial equity and ways to ensure that the research itself is conducted in an equitable manner. This was also an opportunity for funders to better understand and invest in democratic research. Although our main takeaways are captured below, we strongly encourage you to watch the entire discussion and identify your own learnings and calls to action. Please reach out or leave a comment below if you have additional thoughts or takeaways.

For us, there were three main takeaways from the event. Racial equity cannot be achieved without acknowledging all of the levels of racism: interpersonal, internalized and institutional/structural. Even if we were somehow to wave a magic wand and eliminate interpersonal and internalized racism, institutional racism would perpetuate inequities even if every single person involved centered equity and had good intentions. Or, similarly, if you waved away interpersonal and institutional racism, internalized racism would sustain inequities and prevent society from achieving racial equity.

Any interventions or evaluations of those interventions meant to advance racial equity need to be developed in partnership with the people and communities most impacted by racism. While researchers can bring their knowledge and experience of conducting research and analyses, communities especially Black, Indigenous and communities of color (BIPOC) bring their knowledge of what questions need to be answered, how results should be interpreted or contextualized, and what’s going to be most effective at altering the narrative to turn research into real change. Engaging meaningfully with the community also means figuring out power-sharing and even power-shifting agreements, equitable compensation, and other considerations that promote authentic partnerships. Equitable compensation of partnering community members and organizations, as well as investment in the time and resources to build authentic partnerships emerged as urgent calls to action for funders in this space.

Answering complex questions about whether interventions happening in the real world are  moving the needle on advancing health and racial equity will require more than a single research method or approach. Both quantitative and qualitative approaches are necessary to truly understand what works best, for whom, under what conditions. Because while the numbers and “objective” measures may be informative, qualitative results can best illustrate the why behind the statistics, helping to interpret the results and influence decision-makers by changing the narrative and capturing community voice, particularly when it comes to BIPOC communities.

Example Research Questions

In our blogs, we generally use this space to provide clear research questions. However, in the spirit of the discussion we’re featuring in this post, it seems most appropriate to discuss the development of the research questions - who is “at the table”, what their motivations are, and what decisions or actions the research is intended to inform.

Questions that may be of theoretical interest to academic researchers may not be in alignment with the goals that BIPOC communities are striving for, such as racial justice and liberation.  BIPOC communities have “the right to research” (Appadurai 2016), the right to increase that stock of knowledge which they consider most vital to their survival and liberation. The people most impacted by an intervention are often best positioned to determine which research questions  will inspire meaningful change or move the needle on health and racial equity. Let’s hear an example of this process from Dr. Richards.

Possible Approaches

Too often, researchers are siloed in their respective disciplinary biases - leading to the belief that one method is superior to another when, in reality, complex questions require complex multi-method approaches.

While not all researchers can be all things, cross-sector, cross-discipline teams that include researchers, policy analysts, community members, and other stakeholders can together form a team that is better capable of  conducting the research, analyzing the data, and making sense of the findings to produce high quality evidence and advance health and racial equity.

Putting Evidence into Practice

Advancing health and racial equity through equitable research requires working with BIPOC individuals and communities most impacted by the research from the start of a research project right through the end, ensuring that community members are compensated fairly for their time, instituting power sharing and power shifting agreements, considering dissemination as part of the project from the beginning, and more. Let’s listen to Dr. Ayala’s words on this:

This is only a small portion of the content discussed and the examples presented by our esteemed colleagues. We strongly recommend that you watch the entire session and let us know what you thought in the comments or by emailing us at evidenceforaction@ucsf.edu.

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About the author(s)

Shweta Moorthy, PhD is the Research Director at Race Forward and works to design and implement research strategies and related projects for the organization in service of racial justice movements in the country.

Steph Chernitskiy is the Communications Manager for E4A and works to promote E4A funding opportunities, initiatives, and grantee research findings.