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How This Project Came to Be

The “Villages Healthy Aging Research Engagement Project” is a national initiative to spur dialogue among Village members and leaders toward the design of future research projects on optimizing Villages for healthy aging. This blog post provides background on how this project came about.

Research— broadly referring to organized ways of gathering data and systematically analyzing this information to develop knowledge—has long been a part of the Village Movement. One important line of Villages research seeks to understand and document the benefits of Villages for their members. Villages are designed to help people age in their communities with greater security, health, and connections. How can we generate evidence that Villages are successful in fulfilling this aim? What can we learn through research with Villages to better optimize their outcomes for the health and well-being of individuals and communities?

Of course, conducting research involves technical knowledge and disciplinary skill. But especially in the context of research with Villages, it is important to recognize the human-to-human elements of research processes, such as establishing relationships of trust and respect between researchers and community members, creating shared visions for social impact from collaborative research, and designing study protocols that are feasible, acceptable, and scientifically rigorous. While not a research study itself, the current project aims to build the intellectual and social capital that is essential for future research on how Villages can benefit older adults’ health and well-being.

Initial steps toward this project began in 2021, at which time Village to Village Network (VtVN) was exploring cross-sectoral partnerships to support data-focused projects to further the Movement. As part of this exploration, VtVN connected with Dr. Emily Greenfield, a Professor of Social Work at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Dr. Greenfield was part of a national research team that conducted some of the first national research on Villages in the early 2010s, and she continues to lead cross-sectoral projects to strengthen both age-friendly communities and the academic field of community gerontology. VtVN also connected with the RAND Corporation, which is known for its high-quality, policy relevant research. RAND had recently led a project on Villages and disaster preparedness, with funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. VtVN was the catalyst in bringing these organizations together.

Individuals from these organizations met regularly to identify possibilities for grant funding to advance research on Villages and healthy aging. Relatively early in their exploration, they identified the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) as a promising “fit.” Specifically, they came upon the PCORI Eugene Washington Engagement Award funding mechanism. This program supports “projects that encourage active, meaningful involvement of patients, caregivers, clinicians, and other healthcare stakeholders as integral members of the patient-centered outcomes research/comparative clinical effectiveness research (PCOR/CER) enterprise” (PCORI, n.d.).

While Villages are community-based organizations and generally operate outside of the healthcare system, the proposal team recognized PCORI’s interest in community-based settings for health, particularly in aging. Accordingly, they worked diligently to develop a proposal that highlights the great potential for Villages to meaningfully advance high-quality PCOR/CER on healthy aging for improved population health and longevity.

Dr. Greenfield led in the design of the proposed project with regular input and contributions from VtVN and RAND. During the proposal development period, the multi-organizational team met monthly, which they continue to do now that the project has been funded. The project’s focal components leverage the complementary strengths of the project team, including VtVN’s position as the national resource and voice for Villages, Rutgers’ experience in facilitating multi-organizational and engaged research, and RAND’s expertise in PCOR/CER as a specialized type of health research. But above all, the project is designed to activate and learn from Village members and leaders, and to expand our collective understanding of the promise and possibilities of healthy aging research as an ongoing part of the Village Movement.

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