To pave the way for further interdisciplinary research for health we, Farrah Jacquez and Lina Svedin (IRL Cohort 1), have developed a book series with the University of Cincinnati Press. Each volume in the edited series describes silo-breaking research that partners with community stakeholders to do work that will lead to community benefit. Individual volumes represent the work of Interdisciplinary Research Leaders, Culture of Health Leaders, and other consortiums focused on research for action. The books are purposefully designed to be easy reads for several target audiences: researchers interested in starting this kind of research, potential community partners who want to partner with researchers to help improve local conditions, and students who want to learn how to do this work and need concrete methodological examples and experience. The chapters in each book are centered on a theme. The first book due to come out in May is focused on early childhood health and the second volume, coming out in June, is focused on creating a culture of health through active leadership in communities. The third book in the series, which centers on interdisciplinary community-engaged research on housing and health, is set to come out January 2021.
In the series, we wanted to provide roadmaps for how interdisciplinary community-engaged research has been done, in order to empower, inspire, and challenge new circles of potential partners to jump in and do this work. While there are some great examples of successful community-engaged research, reports on this work tend to be focused on the results and outcomes rather than on the process of how it was accomplished. Having spent years doing this, we know just how challenging community-engaged research can be, even without an added interdisciplinary ambition. But we also know that it is so worth it.
“Interdisciplinary community-engaged research is not for the faint of heart, but it is absolutely worth it. A necessary step to making interdisciplinary community-engaged research easier, more accepted in academia, and more useful to communities and practitioners, we offer this book as a road map.” (Jacquez & Svedin 2020, p. 216)
A strong community partnership makes research relevant, meaningfully accurate, value-centric and of benefit to affected communities. Therefore the narratives presented in the series meet the challenges of community-driven team science head-on. The chapters cover how the chapter authors worked to meet community partner’s needs and timelines, how they moved from talking to deep listening, and how co-creating content that helped communities move on their own path towards a culture of health.
The first volume, Academic-Community Partnerships for Early Childhood Health, highlights the value of pursuing social entrepreneurship for change – finding and creating solutions to persistent community challenges to early childhood health – using strength-based approaches. It also talks about the sometimes oddly difficult task of defining community and the undeniable importance of relationships in this work. The book delivers the unsolicited discovery that research teams, much like community, need to be built through the establishment of shared norms and trusting activities. The volume emphasizes the need for flexibility, both within the teams doing the research and when reality does not end up looking like or behaving the way we thought it would. Finally, the first volume underscores the critical importance of bringing the fruits of this work back to benefit the communities that contributed to making it happen, and that are still struggling with the issues that brought us to them.
All in all, the Interdisciplinary Community-Engaged Research series is a call to pursue the road less traveled. If you are part of a network of engaged researchers or community leaders, join us by ordering a copy of a volume of particular interest to you, or email us about work that you are interested in presenting in an upcoming volume. There is room to grow our collaborative circles for a healthier and more equitable America!
Lina Svedin and Farrah Jacquez are IRL Alumni from Cohort 2016-2019 of Interdisciplinary Research Leaders (IRL). The views represented in this post are those of the authors, not of Interdisciplinary Research Leaders or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.