The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has selected the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, in collaboration with several external partners, to serve as the national center for its new Interdisciplinary Research Leaders (IRL) program. The IRL is a major new initiative from RWJF to develop teams of interdisciplinary researchers and leaders from community organizations across the country to help advance the vision of building a culture of health.
The IRL is directed by Dr. Michael Oakes and co-directed by Ms. Jan Malcolm, vice president of public affairs at Allina Health — a pairing that exemplifies the multi-sector partnership that’s at the core of the program.
Key members of the Minnesota team include Dr. Sarah Gollust, associate director of curriculum; Dr. Ezra Golberstein, associate director of research; Dr. Kathleen Call, associate director for community engagement; and Professor Ira Moscovice, senior advisor.
Other central collaborators include the Minnesota Department of Health, AcademyHealth, and community organizations ISAIAH and the Twin Cities’ Local Initiatives Support Corporation (TC-LISC).
The IRL program will train and support a national network of three-person teams of researchers and community members to make a substantial contribution to a culture of health through community-oriented, policy-relevant research.
Minnesota is seen as a nationwide model for its health care and public health systems and its leadership on developing health equity.
“Through the IRL, we want to take the lessons we’ve learned from our work in Minnesota and appropriately transmit that learning to the rest of the country,” Dr. Oakes says.
These teams will be located across the United States and follow an IRL-designed curriculum. They will be connected by a communications and information-sharing network custom built for the program. The idea is that participants in Alabama, for example, can regularly connect and integrate with those in Idaho or Maine.
“RWJF wants us to fund and cultivate projects with immediate significance,” says Dr. Oakes. “Instead of a research project having a five-year timeline, for example, we’ll work to create an up-tempo environment to do things more quickly and more focused with smaller teams and an eye on policy action.”