Evidence and Equity: Challenges for Research Design

February 20, 2018
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  • Published 2018


There is growing emphasis placed on evidence-based interventions, and opportunities to make programmatic decisions based on evidence reflect progress in promoting positive outcomes. However, some populations (e.g., ethnic and cultural minority communities, marginalized groups) may be left behind in efforts to build evidence, if they are more difficult to study. Over time, as evidence builds for the populations easiest to engage in research, and lags for harder-to-study communities, equity gaps may widen.

Research Questions

  1. 1 Why do research disparities exist?
  2. 2 What are the implications of research disparities on ethnic, cultural, and racial minority communities?
  3. 3 How can we address research disparities?


The purposes of this brief are to:

  • Discuss research disparities between easier-to-study populations and harder-to-study, more marginalized groups
  • Present four strategies to address these research disparities

Key Findings and Highlights

The brief describes four possible approaches to addressing research disparities:

  • Engaging community partners in research
  • Prioritizing rigor, not rigidity, in research design
  • Acknowledging challenges to community-based intervention research (including small samples, ethical concerns, implementation challenges, funding priorities, and evaluating adaptations)
  • Using innovative research designs

In order to make significant strides in reducing inequities, it is necessary to reduce research disparities and identify effective interventions for diverse communities. The approaches outlined in this brief will help to ensure that all communities can benefit from the advances in scientific evidence that promote positive health and developmental outcomes.


Whitesell, Nancy Rumbaugh (2017). Evidence and equity: Challenges in research design, OPRE Report #2017-76, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Last Reviewed: December 18, 2018