RWJF Center for Health Policy at UNM

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Policy Research

The RWJF Center for Health Policy will be an integral part of the University of New Mexico, the state’s premier public center for graduate and professional education and the state’s largest and most comprehensive public university. The professional schools at the University of New Mexico share an unusually research-intensive orientation with their counterpart faculties in the health sciences and in the arts and sciences. Together they have established an outstanding record of research, scholarship and creative activity. Interactions among the University’s faculties in interdisciplinary research give education at the University of New Mexico a particular richness and depth. The University’s public mission to serve its community, the state and the nation ties a significant portion of its research and education efforts to the needs of society.

The RWJF Center for Health Policy will serve as a university-wide, organized research center serving all the faculties of the University in pursuit of knowledge and its application to health policy. The research projects conducted by senior fellows (e.g., affiliated UNM faculty) and professional research staff of the RWJF Center will serve as the training ground for our doctoral fellows. The RWJF Center will ensure continued exposure to the kind of on-the-job training available at the best social science departments in the country. Through an on-the-job training experience, doctoral fellows will be mentored by a) the professional research staff, who will serve as the core research and policy analysts responding to client analytic demands; and b) senior fellows, both social and clinical scientists in the conduct of interdisciplinary research. These senior fellows will draw upon their own disciplinary expertise as part of a team-science approach to conducting research. Findings from this research and research conducted elsewhere will be translated into policy analysis aimed at assisting decision-makers to formulate policy, make more informed decisions and implement policy solutions.

Source:  Prevention Institute, 2008

The focus of our research will be on the primary prevention of illness and disease and the promotion of health and well-being, as well as on health system financing and delivery issues. A useful framework for thinking about the opportunities for the RWJF Center to contribute to our knowledge is to focus on the trajectory of health disparities. Eliminating the health disparities observed in our society offers a framework for focusing on the social determinants of health as well as the health care system issues that derive from inequities in our society. Each segment of this trajectory offers opportunities for RWJF Center senior fellows and doctoral fellows to contribute to new knowledge and to develop innovative analytic approaches to addressing these issues. By focusing on what social science does best, which is to investigate the core factors of social, economic and political environments that contribute to our society’s inequities and health disparities, we can formulate better health policy. We also want policies that will affect the decisions individuals and families make and that address the health care system issues that have an impact on health outcomes for individuals, families and communities.

By directing our efforts toward research on primary prevention, we broaden our ability to make societal changes through health policy that recognizes that other social policies such as those surrounding housing, the environment, the economy, agriculture and others contribute to improving our nation’s health. This approach emphasizes community orientation, interdisciplinary collaboration and organizational and governmental policy changes across multiple sectors of society. Primary prevention takes place on several different levels, each of which we need to better understand in order to to know how best to:

  • Strengthen individual knowledge and skills.
  • Promote community education.
  • Educate providers.
  • Foster coalitions and networks.
  • Change organizational practices.
  • Influence policy and legislation through policy analysis.

Policy analysis is not well understood within many academic circles. Policy analysis blends the conceptual and methodological sophistication of social science with the understanding and commitment to applied research and analysis that is all too often missing.

Policy analysis is:

  • Client-driven social science research that provides a scientific base for action. A coordinated research program can produce evidence that demonstrates the connections between community factors and improvements in health.
  • A forum where interdisciplinary teams can address complex social, political and economic issues that are the root causes of disease and illness.
  • A vehicle for establishing credibility in the political arena. Policy-makers demand that policy analysis rely on high-quality research and researchers who can translate findings into practical options for policy resolution.

Leadership Development

Leadership development of scholars and community members will support both research and community capacity-building. In the academic community, strong leadership is necessary among those who wish to conduct applied research, especially community-based participatory research. We will develop leaders for the new scientific advances and the disciplines that will emerge from combining knowledge from the social sciences and the clinical sciences. Similarly, community partners often need assistance in developing the skills required to be true partners in research and policy analysis and to pursue their policy advocacy agendas.

Community Capacity-Building

The RWJF Center will foster community resilience, that is, the ability of a community to recover from and/or thrive despite the prevalence of risk factors and adversity. A resilient community can be described as having social competence, problem-solving capacity, a sense of identity and hope for the future. A resilient community provides a trio of protective factors: caring relationships, high expectations and opportunities for participation. Prevention strategies in the past have largely focused on reducing risk factors, but equally important is building upon and enhancing resilience in communities.

Focusing on building community capacity and resilience brings community members into the process, and they feel a greater vested interest in successful change. Community members can apply new skills to address other health issues. And community members gain skills and a sense of efficacy that can permeate many aspects of their lives and can improve life outcomes for themselves and their children, our future doctoral fellows.