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New Report Outlines a Communicator-Centered Research Agenda on Health Equity Communication

One of the key principles of community-engaged research is to involve communities in the process of asking research questions. Doing so enables the research to be more useful and practical in the real world, and also advances equity principles in the conduct of research by putting the affected communities closer to the center of the research process.

For the particular case of research on communication about health equity, this means talking with the communicators in practice who are doing the work: engaging with media, reporting on health equity issues, advocating for health justice, and developing mass communication strategy. Our COMM team sought to understand what research questions a diverse set of communicators themselves identify as most urgently needed. Over the course of about 8 months in late 2022 and into 2023, we engaged in listening sessions with public health communicators, journalists, thought-leaders and health advocates, all who work on issues related to health equity. We asked them to share the research questions they have, as well as how they would want to receive the research. Our guiding question motivating this work was: What information or evidence might help communicators be better prepared to face the many communication challenges regarding health equity in the current volatile political environment?

We summarized our findings in a new report describing a communicator-centered research agenda on communication and health equity. We identified research questions in four areas: (1) research questions about media effects and public opinion regarding health equity and structural racism; (2) research questions about media content surrounding these issues; (3) research questions about journalistic practice, especially surrounding trust in media institutions and different types of news outlets; and (4) providing necessary infrastructure to share research and align communicators across sectors. Interviewees shared questions they have that, once answered, would provide a critical evidence-base to guide their work: questions about how communication about health disparities affects minoritized groups, how to communicate about health issues when those issues become politically charged, what sources journalists draw from for expertise on health equity issues, and many more.

The report also offers key principles for communicating this research evidence so that it actually reaches practitioners – cutting through the noise to provide actionable insights. 

We hope that researchers working in both academic and non-academic settings will find the research agenda outlined in this report informative, and that the health communication research community can pick up these questions to build the evidence base. We also anticipate this research agenda will be useful to funders looking to invest in research on the most urgent questions that communicators in practice actually need answered. Communicators – whether working in journalism, public health practice, or non-profit organizations – serve a critically important function in shifting narratives surrounding health equity and creating the conditions for policy change. This report is one step toward generating the needed resources to guide their vital work. 

Read more relevant work from the COMM team:

Support for this research was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (grant #79754). The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.

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