Embedding a Racial and Ethnic Equity Perspective in Research Proposals

Research BriefMar 11 2020

This product has been revised to include more contextual information to help audiences better understand the purpose of research proposals and why research proposals should include a racial and ethnic equity framework. We also added information regarding the importance of researchers and funders having similar racial and ethnic equity philosophies to ensure the work is championed by all parties. Note: The original author has not contributed to these revisions, but the revising authors, Shantai Peckoo and Jenita Parekh, worked closely with the original author on the initial version.

It’s important to embed a racial and ethnic equity perspective in research proposals.

Research has power. It influences policies and programs, is a factor in how communities receive funding, and provides policymakers and decision makers with information that helps them understand the underlying structural factors that perpetuate inequities. Because of this power, researchers have a responsibility to embed a racial and ethnic equity perspective within their work from the outset of a research study—indeed, from as early as the research proposal. A racial and ethnic equity perspective considers historical and current contexts, as well as the unequal power differentials and access to resources and opportunities in certain communities. Conducting research with a racial and ethnic equity perspective produces findings that reflect the life experiences of children, youth, and families of color.

A research proposal is a document designed to explain what the research topic is, to establish the need to explore this topic, and to lay out how an investigator plans to explore the topic (i.e., the practical methods that will be employed to conduct the study). In addition, the proposal often includes a persuasive argument that examines the history of the topic, typically via a literature review, and helps convince funding agencies that the topic is relevant to the agency and the broader field. Researchers should center racial and ethnic equity within their research proposals to ensure that funders award projects that consider historical and current contexts that affect how research studies are conducted, analyzed, interpreted, and disseminated. The researcher should also consider the funders’ values and priorities regarding racial and ethnic equity to ensure that these align with the stated values and principals of the researcher and their organization; research proposals should highlight how the requested work is complementary to, or advancing of, the funder’s current initiatives. If the funder does not have a formal investment in racial equity, the researcher (and their organization) should discuss their priorities with the funder to determine whether a funding relationship is appropriate: Racial and ethnic equity research requires funders who actively want to champion this work. If a funder is not convinced of the value of racial and ethnic equity, there is a chance they will undermine the work.

While developing proposals, researchers should think keenly about staffing, budget, and timelines to ensure that research studies have adequate resources to better reflect the experiences of families and children of color. The research proposal guidelines below aim to address the impact of staffing, budget, and timelines on embedding racial and ethnic equity in research projects.


Research proposals should always include a team with content and methodological expertise. When embedding racial and ethnic equity, there are a few additional considerations for staffing in these proposals. First, you should ensure a diverse team. Consider proposing staff from multiple backgrounds and cultures, including varied life experiences, races, genders, ethnicities, and socioeconomic classes. Research has shown that a diverse team can bring benefits in communication, innovation, and productivity.  A racially diverse team of researchers, whose members differ in their lived experiences and cultural beliefs, can contribute multiple perspectives and sensitivities to the study design, process, and findings and can improve how organizations engage with and talk about particular populations. For a diverse team to be optimally effective, project roles must be assigned equitably, such that persons of color are not only assigned logistics and administrative roles, but are also empowered to be strong contributors to the research and analysis itself via opportunities to lead the project and/or develop protocols and analysis plans.

The proposal can also address how researchers’ life experiences or other characteristics (e.g., race, ethnicity, language, dialect, gender, culture, class) differ from those of the population being engaged, and discuss how the study will mitigate influences of any power differentials on the research process. The proposal may address this through staff training, self-reflection exercises, or power mapping activities that will be part of the project design. Ultimately, the goal is to propose a project team that the community can trust to report accurate information.


Proposal budgets must support researcher time, project expenses, and the cost to the community for partnering in the research. Research proposals that embed racial and ethnic equity perspectives are likely to be more costly because additional effort is needed to develop reciprocal relationships between communities and researchers. The proposal must make the case that research that does not draw on this perspective is liable to lack nuance when sharing the life experiences of children, youth, and families of color.

Adopting a racial and ethnic equity perspective when budgeting includes a few deliberate actions. First, the proposal should provide dedicated funding for researchers to spend time in communities—and especially communities of color—to build authentic relationships. Depending on the project and its specific goals, building relationships and partnerships may need to be facilitated via collaboration with the funder and project partners. Although this may look a bit different in an experimental study (e.g., researchers in a randomized control trial may spend time understanding how randomization affects the community), the budget should build in key personnel time to invest in learning about the community—both its historical and current context. There is no ideal amount of time for this process since it may vary based on several factors, including study design, prior experience or knowledge of the proposed study team, etc.

Next, the proposal budget should include time for embedding racial and ethnic equity into data collection analysis, and dissemination. The amount of time needed for data collectors or analysts may differ depending on the project need. For example, research leads may need to develop new data collection instruments, cognitively test existing instruments for specific community relevance, or dig deeply into administrative data (from a program or agency) for inherent bias embedded in those data. The budget should account for substantial analysis time since disaggregating data by race and ethnicity may require complex sampling and sophisticated analytic techniques that are necessary to dig deep into data and uncover the root causes of an issue. The budget should consider the costs of disseminating research findings in a way that is preferential to the community, which requires researchers to spend time and effort learning about the community’s preferences and presenting dissemination options. This may include accounting for costs associated with hiring community members to present findings, host data walks, and holding community forums to discuss the findings.

Finally, proposal budgets must ensure adequate resources to equitably compensate communities of color for their engagement. The people who give researchers consent to use their data should receive something in return. For example, when conducting research with American Indian populations, proposal budgets need to consider tribal sovereignty and data ownership costs—and account for Institutional Review Board restrictions and other cost considerations when compensating stakeholders for their contributions (including incentives or honoraria and reimbursement for childcare, transportation, food, etc.).


Funder timelines and expectations often limit researchers’ flexibility in applying a racial and ethnic equity perspective to research. While it is not always possible to adjust a project timeline, we offer a few justifications by which proposals can explain the need to expand timelines to improve project outcomes.

First, authentic engagement improves data quality. Developing trusting relationships takes time, but intentionally building a research timeline that allows for authentic engagement—before diving into research—benefits data quality and increases community engagement and participation. The proposal timeline should budget time prior to committing to a project design; this will allow researchers to foster key person-to-person relationships. These relationships can involve participating in a community programming event or listening to perspectives on how the research study could benefit community organizations or members. Researchers can also learn key information from these trusted relationships. For example, researchers may learn to build data collection timelines around religious holidays or important community events.

Next, researcher-community partnerships ensure the study is tailored for the community. Working in partnership with the community across each stage of research represents an investment of time; the proposal must demonstrate how this added time benefits the study. For example, the proposal timeline must account for engagement at the study design phase, when the community could help determine the best study design, co-design research questions that are responsive to community interests and needs, and consider equitable outcomes or collaboratively designed logic models. At the data collection phase, the proposal timeline must allow time for community members to provide input on the quality of information collected, the content and length of tools, and the methods used. During data analysis, the proposal timeline should allow time to engage the community and build their analytic capacity and ownership of their data. Lastly, at the dissemination stage, time is needed to engage external reviewers consider messaging and appropriate audiences and reflect on whose voice shapes (or is missing from) the narrative.

Finally, reflection and community engagement can enhance study results. A proposal should build in time for feedback loops that can engage staff, participants, or community members to reflect on data and implement early learnings. For example, when collecting data on adolescents’ after-school activities, a researcher could propose hosting a data party with participants, community members, and other invested stakeholders to engage and discuss the data. This kind of gathering allows participants and community stakeholders to provide additional context to enhance the researchers’ understanding of the data, and to discuss patterns within the data, the implications of the data, and what changes can be made within their community. Such feedback can also inform messaging that is sensitive to communities, and flag where results may be met with resistance. Additionally, the proposal timeline should embed deliberate times at which to stop research to assess whether the project continues to respond to collaboratively set goals. Intermittent checkpoints allow for study plan revisions, if necessary. Therefore, proposal budgets should account for at least two project team meetings for this purpose per study year.