Transforming research requires valuing, engaging, and compensating stakeholders with lived experience at all stages of the research process - from choosing the questions we ask to sharing findings with diverse audiences. Individuals with lived experience should be co-creators of research - not just subjects of research.
Researchers must examine their assumptions and biases, which shape the questions asked, measures developed, data collected, results interpreted, and findings disseminated. Research teams must also be diverse, reflecting the communities in which the research is happening. Researchers can use participatory methods as a strategy for promoting equity in research. Researchers should also ask questions that acknowledge the realities of historical and systemic racism, and disproportionality at every level of the child welfare system. This means moving beyond examining data by race/ethnicity to understand why disparities persist. Finally, researchers must be intentional when disseminating findings - not forgetting to return findings to communities and other partners.
Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) and Participatory Action Research (PAR) models can support us in re-thinking what is considered "evidence". These methods have the potential to increase relevance, rigor, and reach. Partnering with community members improves the questions we ask, the way we seek answers, and how we share those answers for maximal impact.
Funders can examine their own processes to determine whether they engage in patterns that do not support community-based research and diverse research teams. Funders should diversify who they support - prioritizing diverse teams and innovative methods. Funders should also share power with communities and people with lived experience - including in decisions about who and what is funded.
While regarded as the gold standard research method, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) may be insufficient to meaningfully answer some questions. Clearinghouses may elevate programs that meet the research design standards but do not consider lived experience or address inequity. New standards for assessing rigor are needed, including those related to small samples, qualitative research, and community-based approaches. Further, researchers must engage communities in defining what successfully promoting child and family well-being looks like in practice.
Academia must engage in innovative efforts to diversify researchers. This extends beyond diversifying university faculty. Increasing outreach to diverse undergraduate students, providing scholarships and fellowships, rewarding diverse teams and equitable methods, and supporting young researchers of color are all things that universities and professional associations can encourage and reward. Academia must also overhaul the historical approaches to tenure and promotion structures that only value publications in "high impact" journals and discourage community engagement. Universities should expect and require that researchers address inequity, social justice, and lived experience involvement in research and in training rising researchers. Finally, the structure and culture around academic publishing should be re-thought, making space for lived experience and community-based methods in rigorous and prestigious outlets.