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Interdisciplinary Research Leaders (IRL)

Grants to USA Nonprofits and Agencies to Support
Research Teams Addressing Health Disparities

Agency Type:

Foundation / Corporation

Funding Source:

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Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)

Conf. Date:


Deadline Date:

03/14/18 3:00 PM ET


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Grants to USA and territories nonprofits and public agencies representing teams of researchers and community partners for research addressing health equity throughout the nation. Teams will work together to provide action-oriented, community-relevant research to improve the health and wellbeing of rural communities, and to promote health equity.

Interdisciplinary Research Leaders (IRL) is a three-year national leadership development program that brings together teams of researchers and community partners to:
-Develop leadership and advanced research skills for building a Culture of Health, enabling all people to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come.
-Connect a community’s pressing needs to health research and policy efforts;
-Collaborate and share expertise to build healthier, more equitable communities.

For this third IRL cohort (beginning September 2018), applicant organizations will be represented by teams of three that will focus on one of the following research focus areas (called themes):

1. Solutions for better health care delivery in rural America

2. Addressing the social and economic determinants to prevent chronic conditions and to promote health, well-being, and equity in rural America

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has long been committed to research aimed at filling gaps in knowledge and building evidence-based approaches to the most pressing issues affecting the nation’s health. The Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program was created to fill the critical need for a network of researchers and community-based leaders who can collaborate to produce research that is action-oriented and relevant to community organizations and policymakers alike. The leaders in this program will include individuals working with or on behalf of communities, as well as researchers working within academic institutions or other organizations. The participants in the Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program will be charged with working collaboratively to build the case for a Culture of Health with strong qualitative and quantitative research. They will also represent diverse disciplines and sectors, including those that are typically underrepresented in health research, such as urban planning, education, political science, or engineering. They will develop capacity to produce and translate timely research results to inform policy change, and apply creative dissemination approaches to communicate to policymakers and the general public.


As a country, we face critical health challenges—challenges that demand new and different solutions, challenges that require us all to work together more than ever before. Life expectancy varies widely based on where people grow up, live, work, and play. As a nation, we spend more for our health care than any other developed nation, yet the quality of our health care and our overall health status don’t reflect that investment. The nation’s population is increasingly diverse, yet inequities in health care and health persist.

That’s why the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is committed to working and collaborating with all to build a Culture of Health to enable all in our diverse society to lead healthier lives, now and for generations to come. RWJF believes health should be a fundamental and guiding social value—and that America should become a nation in which promoting health is as important as treating illness.

Our nation’s ability to tackle these health challenges depends on the skills and creativity of our leaders. However, many people in leadership roles have not had the benefit of formal leadership training, the opportunity to work with skilled mentors and coaches, the chance to network with and learn from others who are faced with similar challenges, and the opportunity to build and contribute to a network of leaders advancing health, well-being and equity.

The Foundation recognizes that a new kind of leader is needed to build a Culture of Health. The nation needs leaders who refuse to be siloed, leaders who refuse to do things the way they have always been done, leaders from all walks of life who reflect the marvelous diversity of the nation. The Foundation has been investing in leadership from its earliest days, and its current programs are built on the solid foundation laid by those programs.

Our four newest programs, which include Interdisciplinary Research Leaders, as well as Health Policy Research Scholars, Culture of Health Leaders, and Clinical Scholars, are designed to equip just that kind of leader—leaders with the skills needed to create and sustain a Culture of Health. These programs aim to connect people across sectors as well as disciplines, capitalize on technology to promote collaboration and mentoring, and reach and support more people. The Foundation believes participation in these programs will lead to enriching and lifelong partnerships with other participants and the Foundation as agencies work together to build and strengthen healthy practices. The Foundation also expects that alumni of these new programs will serve as valuable role models and mentors to future participants.

These programs are part of a broader spectrum of leadership programs that RWJF offers to leaders across sectors at varying stages of their careers. The Foundation’s other leadership programs include:

-Summer Health Professions Education Program is a free summer enrichment program focused on improving access to information and resources for college students interested in the health professions.
-ASTHO Leadership Institute aims to accelerate the leadership development of new state/territorial health officials as policymakers, administrators, and advocates for the health of the public.
-Harold Amos Faculty Development Program is designed to increase the number of faculty from historically disadvantaged backgrounds who can achieve senior rank in academic medicine, dentistry, or nursing.
-New Connections aims to provide networking and skill-building opportunities to early- and mid- career scholars who are from underrepresented or historically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Foundation’s goal is to help build the next generations of leaders—leaders who will collaborate across sectors to upend the status quo, address health disparities, and take bold steps to achieve greater equity in communities across the country.

The Program:

This call for applications (CFA) seeks teams of researchers and community members who are committed to working together to produce community-relevant, action-oriented research to improve health and wellbeing. Funding to support the work of the team will go to one organization. This applicant organization will identify the team members on its application.

Program Goals:

The broad goal of the Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program is to produce diverse interdisciplinary leaders who conduct and apply high-quality, community-engaged, action-oriented, equity-focused health research in order to drive improvements in the health of communities. Accordingly, the program will recruit and select applicant organizations represented by teams of three people (“IRL team”): two mid- career researchers and one community member to become IRL program fellows. IRL teams will join together as a diverse cohort of fellows that will participate in a three-year program. During this time, fellows will receive: leadership training; opportunities to learn and apply cutting-edge research methods; expert mentoring; networking opportunities; and both fellowship and research funds. With these experiences, IRL fellows will be better-equipped to effect change and become the next generation of leaders in population health and health equity research.

Another central goal of the IRL program is to foster and support new interdisciplinary action-oriented research collaborations that will help build the evidence base for effective community interventions that will improve health for all.

Program Activities:

Each cohort of the IRL program will work within designated topic areas related to the social determinants of health and other issues related to health equity (e.g., health care in rural populations). Future cohorts will focus on different topics, which will be identified and announced over time.

This is a three-year experience. Each fellow on an IRL team should expect to consistently spend at least one day per week on program-related activities. During the first four months, the team will focus on becoming oriented to the IRL curriculum and experience, and on refining their research plan and gaining program approval to conduct their proposed research project. In the subsequent two years, the team will focus on executing the research project and on broader leadership development activities. The final six months will be focused on dissemination of research results and action. Distance learning, in-person meetings, and tailored mentoring will run throughout the three-year period.

Over the three-year duration of the program, teams are expected to participate in regular (e.g., weekly) online learning activities, networking and collaborative opportunities, and occasional (e.g., two to three times per year) in-person meetings. They are also expected to develop a detailed proposal for the team’s specific research project, execute the research project, and actively disseminate its findings.

Team research projects, either qualitative or quantitative, should focus on issues for which there is clear potential for action and change. They must be methodologically rigorous and properly scaled for a two- year study time frame and budget constraints.

Research conducted by IRL teams should draw from multiple scientific and social scientific disciplines, especially those typically underrepresented in health research (e.g., civil engineering or anthropology). Research designs may be case studies; evaluations of interventions; experiments; financial, economic or cost-effectiveness studies; health impact assessments; legal analyses; natural experiments; policy analyses; existing data analyses; or qualitative/ethnographic investigations or other action-oriented designs.

Learning objectives for all team members include:
-Increase leadership skills for the promotion of health equity and social justice;
-Improve facilitation of rigorous action-oriented research that benefits community members and advances health equity goals;
-Increase understanding of the constraints to action, such as structural racism, in both the historical and contemporary contexts;
-Enhance skills to ensure ethical research and community standards remain a priority; and
-Understand the policy process and how best to communicate research evidence to inform policy.

Learning objectives directed toward community partners include:
-Increase capacity for partnering with researchers aiming to answer critical community-oriented questions; and
-Foster skills to find, understand, and interpret research findings and to leverage them for action.

Learning objectives directed toward researchers include:
-Increase expertise in interdisciplinary research team-building and authentic community engagement; and
-Develop new and/or enhance competencies in a variety of rigorous qualitative and quantitative research methods that help identify causal relationships critical to effecting change.

Participants will also become members of the nationwide RWJF Leadership Network, a community of thousands of leaders committed to building a Culture of Health.

Program Support:

The IRL program will support an IRL fellow’s time; provide infrastructure for electronic collaboration; provide IRL teams with expert mentoring to ensure success; and supply grant funds specifically for each IRL team’s research project.

Themes/Topic Areas:

The IRL program requires applicant teams to address one of two focus areas, which are called themes. IRL requires such focus in order to build cohort cohesiveness and to generate a critical mass of evidence for change. Applicant selection procedures aim to balance the number of accepted teams across themes so there are approximately the same number of teams in each thematic focus area within each cohort.

Both themes for the 2018 IRL cohort are centered on health in rural America. Different definitions of “rural” are based on various thresholds of population density and/or geographic isolation. For purposes of this call for applications, the Foundation defines rural as not metropolitan and some reasonable level of geographic isolation from metropolitan areas, or any place that defines itself as rural. The Foundation strongly encourages applicants with questions about the eligibility of their selected area to contact staff prior to submission.

While the Foundation reserves the right to consider other areas, for those seeking a more precise definition of “rural,” the Foundation recommends they examine the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Health Resources & Services Administration Data Warehouse’s Rural Health Grants Eligibility Analyzer. Note that applicants themselves need not reside or maintain office space in rural areas, but as the goal is to conduct community-engaged research in such areas, having such deep, local knowledge is advantageous. Teams will be selected to reflect a range of relationships (resident and nonresident) with the communities of study.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to propose research that reveals actionable solutions for improving the health and well-being of persons and populations through public or private sector policy and/or programs. The program has a particular focus on communities of color, low socioeconomic status, and, especially for this CFA, Native populations.

Teams in this IRL cohort, beginning in September 2018, will focus on one of two themes, which are detailed here.

Solutions for better health care delivery in rural America:

The IRL program seeks leaders who will conduct research projects focused on improving health care, broadly defined, in rural America. Abundant research documents a growing crisis caused by the closing of rural hospitals and clinics, provider shortages and scope-of-practice restrictions, changes in insurance/reimbursement policies, and related issues that leave persons residing in rural areas especially vulnerable to acute and chronic conditions, along with long-term disability. While documenting problems is important, the IRL program is primarily interested in developing and testing potential health care transformation solutions. Because there is abundant existing research addressing telemedicine/telehealth solutions, the Foundation will only consider projects on that topic that are especially novel. The IRL program is keenly interested in research leaders conducting projects that aim to improve care for the elderly or disabled who rely on long-term supports outside of clinical care; or to provide better behavioral and/or oral health care to underserved rural populations—all in partnership with rural communities themselves. The IRL program will prioritize projects that aim to improve health equity.

The following research projects are examples of topics of potential interest under this theme. These examples are merely illustrative, and the Foundation welcomes proposals for a range of topics and approaches, provided they are consistent with the discussion above.

A case study of multiple health care delivery systems, describing how and why systems are (or are not) able to successfully maintain access to services in rural areas by integrating practices, pursuing new financing arrangements, and working with communities to connect residents to critical services in new or novel ways.

-A randomized evaluation of a community-based program that provides home health aides to rural- dwelling elderly persons or persons with disabilities seeking to “age in place” (live independently in their home communities).
-A quasi-experimental study to assess the impacts of a community-based organization’s program to reduce the stigma of seeking care for anxiety and depression in rural teen populations.
-A rigorous qualitative evaluation of a novel community-engaged program to increase access to oral health services in under-resourced areas.
-An examination of promising practices to transform rural health care delivery in especially high-need areas, such as the Black Belt, Appalachia, and frontier communities.
-A quasi-experimental study to assess the impact of Medicaid expansion on rural health care delivery and/or sustainability.

Addressing the social and economic determinants to prevent chronic conditions and to promote health, well-being, and equity in rural America.

The IRL program seeks leaders who will conduct research projects focused on preventing chronic conditions by addressing the social and economic factors that affect health and well-being in rural America. Those social and economic factors are considered “upstream” causes of health and health inequity, relative to the “downstream” medical determinants of health. These include factors such as poverty; housing; employment availability and conditions; education; racism; access to nutritious food; public safety; transportation; infrastructure (e.g., water, sanitation, broadband); social isolation; environmental conditions; and the presence and strength of anchor institutions; among other factors. This theme is focused on community-engaged solutions that address the social and economic factors that affect health to demonstrably prevent disease and illness and promote health equity. The Foundation is interested in action- oriented efforts that can lead to change and improvement, or demonstrate that certain approaches should be modified or abandoned.

This description is intentionally broad. The Foundation offers the following examples in order to give prospective applicants a sense of the types of projects that may be of interest to the program.

-A quasi-experimental study of the effect of public subsidy programs focusing on rural populations on outcomes, such as family economic well-being and child poverty.
-A mixed-methods evaluation of a novel program to decrease automobile accidents in a Native American community.
-A mixed-methods study of the effect of high-speed internet adoption on outcomes, such as educational attainment, economic stability or health behaviors.
-A qualitative in-depth study of successful and unsuccessful examples of immigrant populations integrating within an existing rural community, or how a community is addressing long-standing racial tension.
-A quasi-experimental study of the effects of community-based vocational re-training programs for middle-aged adults on economic outcomes.

These research project examples are provided for illustrative purposes only. IRL applicant teams may choose to pursue other research projects beyond these examples.

Selection Criteria:

RWJF, with the input of the IRL national program center and program’s national advisory committee, will select the grantee organizations of the IRL program.

The grantees that are selected must:
-Meet the eligibility criteria described below.
-Include team members who have the capacity and desire to become leaders in advancing population health and health equity at local and national levels.
-Articulate a compelling vision for how the research and community partners will work together collaboratively, without any team member serving in a subordinate role, and be accountable to the community.
-Submit a preliminary research proposal for a project that fits within one of the two topics/themes described above; this research should have a strong potential to inform policy or action at the local and/or national level. The team must be able to execute the research project within the time frame and budget of the IRL program.
-Include researcher partners on the team with demonstrated expertise in their respective disciplines.
-Include community partners on the team with demonstrated investment and expertise in the proposed research topic and authentic relationships with local community.
-Have the potential to contribute to the broader vision of building a Culture of Health.

Additionally, the overall cohort will be selected to be diverse in terms of geographic location, disciplinary background, research and leadership experience, and community partners. Among other characteristics, the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity of the populations proposed to be studied will also be considered.

Diversity Statement:

Consistent with RWJF values, this program embraces diversity and inclusion across multiple dimensions, such as race, ethnicity, gender, disability, age, and socioeconomic status. The Foundation strongly encourages applications from organizations that will help expand the perspectives and experiences it brings to its work. The Foundation believes that the more it includes diverse perspectives and experiences in its work, the more successful it will be as it strives together to build a Culture of Health.

GrantWatch ID#:

GrantWatch ID#: 179183

Number of Grants:

The Foundation anticipates supporting up to 15 organizations during this funding cycle, or cohort, each represented by an IRL team

Estimated Size of Grant:

Total awards will be up to $350,000 per grantee organization for the duration of the three-year program. This amount includes grant funds to support the ongoing participation of all team members for all three years and a research project award. Note that additional resources, in the form of training, collaborative opportunities, and travel expenses, are also provided independent of this award.

The grantee organization will be responsible for managing the grant budget and for reimbursing the team members and/or their institution(s).

The award budget consists of the following:

-Up to $25,000 per year per fellow is to be allocated to support the fellow’s time in the program (approximately one day per week). This represents up to $225,000 of the total award. Recognizing that some team members may not be employees of the grantee, this may include subcontracts to other organizations to support team members’ time.

-In order to support each team’s research project, a portion of the total grant will also be allocated to each team for research purposes. The Foundation anticipates that the total 24- to 30-month budget, including indirect costs/overhead for the project, will be up to $125,000 (range $25,000–$125,000). This portion of the grant will support research activities only (e.g., purchasing data or supplies, support staff, travel related to project execution). It is not intended to support intervention/program development or implementation. Funds for the research project will not be released until submission and approval of a full research proposal approximately four months after the grant start date.

-Travel expenses for all required program meetings and trainings will be paid directly by the national program center or RWJF.

The Foundation strongly encourages grantees to waive indirect/overhead charges, particularly on the portion of the grant intended to support the fellows’ time. If indirect/overhead charges must be applied, they will result in a reduction of the funds available to support the fellows’ time to participate in the program. Recognizing that $25,000 may not be sufficient to fully fund a one-day-per-week time commitment to IRL for some fellows, the Foundation asks for explicit acknowledgment by the applicant’s employer of their willingness to help underwrite that amount of time.

Research grant funds may be used for project staff salaries, consultant fees, data collection and analysis, meetings, supplies, project-related travel, and other direct project expenses, including a limited amount of equipment deemed essential to the project.

Term of Contract:

The program is three years in duration.

Research grant funding for teams will be initiated March 1, 2019.

Additional Eligibility Criteria:

Eligibility Criteria:

-The applicant must be an organization based in the United States or its territories.

-Preference will be given to applicants that are either public entities or nonprofit organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and are not private foundations or Type III supporting organizations. The Foundation may require additional documentation.

-Applicants should have the administrative and financial capacity and experience to accept the award and to be able to distribute funds consistent with the permitted use of funds described herein, and within the approved budget. This includes having proper governance, sufficient staffing and strong policies, procedures, and internal controls.

-Applications must relate to one of the program themes to be considered for this cohort of the IRL program, as noted above.

-Applicants must be represented by a three-person team that will participate in grant activities. Each team must be comprised of three mid-career individuals: two researchers and one community partner. The Foundation defines “researchers” as people with a terminal degree in their field (e.g., PhD) or extensive research or evaluation experience. The third individual must be a non-researcher “community partner.” The Foundation defines community partners as individuals with close ties to a community of interest who do not regularly engage in research as a main function of their job; these individuals must have the potential to take action on the issue themselves or have relationships with entities that can take action. There are no strict rules for who is or is not mid-career, but the Foundation anticipates that mid-career applicants have approximately five years of high-quality experience and are not within 10 years of retirement.

Team members listed on the application should meet the following criteria:

-Researchers must come from diverse disciplinary backgrounds or scientific perspectives; novel interdisciplinary partnerships are desired. The IRL program especially encourages researchers from fields that traditionally do not study health, or researchers who do not have prior direct experience in health research, to apply. Researchers may hold academic appointments or positions in applied research firms or community organizations. Research partners on an IRL team do not need to be located in the same geographical area, but a plan for maintaining team cohesion is a necessary component of the application and selection process.

-Community partners may work in a variety of organizational settings, as long as their experience and expertise are relevant to the proposed research project and the partner has authentic engagement with the community involved in the research project. The program uses a broad and inclusive definition of community partners; they may be community organizers, educators, leaders, local government workers, or any of a wide range of people working in the nonprofit and private sectors, whether health-care-related or not.

-IRL teams are expected to be fully collaborative, meaning researchers and community partners must share a cohesive vision and demonstrate an ability to work together equitably to achieve program goals. Each team must thoroughly describe their experience and plan for establishing and/or maintaining an effective, equitable collaboration.

Further, each team member must:
-Be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or individual granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) status by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at the time of application. Changes in federal policy or law may necessitate that the Foundation considers adjustments in eligibility and grant terms.
-Be at least 21 years old by September 1, 2018.
-Not be receiving support from other research fellowships/traineeships at the time they begin the program. This includes NIH K award and similar training support.
-Not be a government official1 under Section 4946 of the Internal Revenue Code. Other federal, state, tribal, and local government employees are eligible.
-Not be related by blood or marriage to any Officer2 or Trustee of RWJF, or be a descendant of its founder, Robert Wood Johnson.
-Not have an official job description or responsibilities that are primarily government relations.

In keeping with RWJF policy, grant funds may not be used to support clinical trials of unapproved drugs or devices, to construct or renovate facilities, for lobbying, for political activities, or as a substitute for funds currently being used to support similar activities.

Pre-proposal Conference:

Interested applicants are encouraged to participate in an optional applicant webinar scheduled for February 8, 2018, from 3:00 - 4:00 PM ET; you must register in advance. See Contact Information below to register. The webinar will be recorded and made available to those who are not able to participate.

A recording is available for the webinar (January 23, 2018) for potential applications of all four leadership programs. Click here for the recording:

Pre-Application Information:

Applications are due online by March 14, 2018, 3:00 PM ET.

A committee made up of representatives from the national program center, the program’s national advisory committee (NAC), and RWJF staff members, will review applications based on the criteria described in this call for applications.

Semifinalists will be invited for online (e.g., Skype) interviews, and all team members must participate in the interviews to be eligible for selection. After the semifinalist interviews are completed, the NAC and the national program center will make recommendations to RWJF, and RWJF will make the final decisions.

Finalists will be required to submit additional information about the organization and, if any team member is employed full-time by another organization, finalists will be required to submit a form completed by the individual’s employer acknowledging the employee’s potential participation in the program.

Once selected, and with the help of IRL mentors, each team will have approximately four months to refine and submit its particular research proposal for review and approval by the national program center. Research funds will be released upon approval of the research proposal.

Key Dates:
-February 8, 2018: Informational webinar for prospective Interdisciplinary Research Leaders applicants.
-March 14, 2018 (3:00 PM ET): Deadline for receipt of fellowship applications from applicant organizations.
-April 30 - May 25, 2018: Semifinalist interviews.
-Mid-June 2018: Finalist teams notified of recommendation into fellowship program.
-July 11, 2018: Deadline for receipt of finalist supplemental applications.
-September 15, 2018: Fellowships begin. Grant funding initiated.
-October 23 - 26, 2018: Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program meeting, Twin Cities, Minn. (attendance required).
-December 8, 2018: Refined research proposals from invited teams are due.
-January 12 - 15, 2019: RWJF Annual Leadership Institute, Indianapolis. (attendance required).
-March 1, 2019: Research grant funding initiated for teams.


Contact Information:

Before starting your grant application, please review the funding source's website listed below for updates/changes/addendums/conferences/LOIs.

Register for the February 8 webinar:

Apply Online:

Interdisciplinary Research Leaders
University of Minnesota School of Public Health
1300 South 2nd Street, Suite 300
Minneapolis, MN 55454

(844) 210-9072

URL for Full Text (RFP):

Geographic Focus:

USA: Alabama;   Alaska;   Arizona;   Arkansas;   California;   Colorado;   Connecticut;   Delaware;   Florida;   Georgia;   Hawaii;   Idaho;   Illinois;   Indiana;   Iowa;   Kansas;   Kentucky;   Louisiana;   Maine;   Maryland;   Massachusetts;   Michigan;   Minnesota;   Mississippi;   Missouri;   Montana;   Nebraska;   Nevada;   New Hampshire;   New Jersey;   New Mexico;   New York City;   New York;   North Carolina;   North Dakota;   Ohio;   Oklahoma;   Oregon;   Pennsylvania;   Rhode Island;   South Carolina;   South Dakota;   Tennessee;   Texas;   Utah;   Vermont;   Virginia;   Washington, DC;   Washington;   West Virginia;   Wisconsin;   Wyoming

USA Territories: American Samoa (USA)   Guam (USA)   Puerto Rico (USA)   Virgin Islands (USA)   Northern Mariana Islands (USA)