Keep communities designing transformative interventions by communities themselves!

If we keep doing what we have been doing, the odds of getting the same results will be high. It’s for this reason I am drawn to grants that ask for innovation. Transformative ones too. Today, I sat through an NIH webinar focused on a transformative grant application to address health disparities and advance health equity. I was curious to know what the NIH was interested in. For starters, they want the most innovative and most impactful research. It must have the potential for transformative impact. No preliminary data is required too. Bring your best ideas the NIH says and when you do, may they be transformative, as such activities are urgently needed to prevent, reduce, or eliminate health disparities and advance health equity.

Ever since I came across this request for application, I have been struck by 2 things: 1) what does the word ‘transformative’ mean and 2) by whom. One of the best grants I have ever read once stated the follow and I’m paraphrasing; ‘individual researchers innate tendency to group think often results in homogeneous ideas that are then implemented on communities without an understanding of whether these interventions are truly what communities want in the first place.’ Ever since I came across that grant, I have always wondered whose agenda truly wins in the end. Certainly not the communities as many of them do not have the necessary skills or time to write such complex grants in 2 months. You guess it. You only have 2 months to write this particular grant. Meanwhile, communities have more pressing issues to deal with like today. Then there is the word ‘transformative’, by who, another researcher, another member of the academic community with their views on what is right or wrong that is often not in alignment with those of communities. It’s for this reason that I adore my background in culture. For starters, as my advisor would say, I don’t have any answers. It’s a privilege to even work in communities. Our research approaches communities from the standpoint of communities themselves having all the solutions to their problem. They live in and love their communities after all. We get to come in and out but communities remain with or without us. Making sense of what then is transformative would be futile if the community is not invited to the table in the first place.

So back to the request for proposals. What does the NIH want? You guessed it, transformative research to address health disparities and advance health equity. And how will we know that a research is transformative. Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. But if individual researchers innate tendency is to group think, then what is transformative would indeed be subjective since it left to researchers to decide what they feel per your scientific rationale of course. Now when you bring in the lens of communities, when you tell them that it’s up to them to decide just what they believe is transformative to them, then maybe we may get to the bottom of health disparities. It’s why I am drawn to these types of request for proposals and ask that you pray for our success. Keep communities designing transformative interventions by communities themselves not researchers in mind with our own agendas. That to me is where transformation begins.

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