Call for Proposals Frequently Asked Questions

What is Systems for Action? 

Systems for Action (S4A) is a signature research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) that builds a Culture of Health by rigorously testing new ways of connecting the nation’s fragmented medical, social, and public health systems. Health is shaped by a complex web of social, economic, and environmental conditions that extend far beyond the reach of the medical care system. S4A uses a wide research lens that includes and extends beyond the medical care and public health systems to incorporate social service systems such as housing, transportation, education, employment, food and nutrition assistance, child and family support, criminal and juvenile justice, and economic and community development.

What types of projects are eligible under this Call for Proposals?

This Call for Proposals (CFP) will provide funding to extend existing or recently completed research projects that test innovative mechanisms for aligning the delivery and financing systems for medical, social, and public health services, with the objective of learning how this mechanism performs in addressing health and social needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research studies supported through S4A must: (1) focus on solutions to high-priority system alignment problems that involve medical, social, and public health services in ways that improve health and health equity; (2) test the effectiveness of these solutions using rigorous scientific methods; and (3) engage stakeholders from medical, social, and public health systems in the design and conduct of the research to ensure that findings can readily be used in practice. Proposals that focus purely on implementing a strategy, without a strong scientific approach for evaluating the implementation and/or impact of the strategy, will not be funded.

What would be considered an adaptation of an existing alignment mechanism?

An adaptation is a recent or planned change of alignment activities across all three sectors that is specifically intended to respond to new needs, opportunities and constraints created by the COVID-19 pandemic. An adaptation is not required to apply but the alignment mechanism studied must have been operational before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and have existing evidence created by the applicant pre-dating the arrival of COVID-19. New alignment mechanisms that have not been previously implemented and tested are not eligible for this call. 

What qualifies as an existing or recently completed “research study?”

Research studies must be ongoing or completed within 12 months of application. Studies should include scientifically rigorous research methods that produce reliable and generalizable evidence, such as quasi-experimental research designs, natural experiment designs, rapid pragmatic trials, system dynamics and simulation studies, mixed-method approaches, and/or analysis of existing, linked health and social service data systems.

Because S4A is a research program, all applicants should ensure their team includes individuals with relevant expertise in scientific research design, data analysis methodologies, and scientific publication. Applicants from non-academic settings that do not have an embedded research unit are strongly encouraged to partner with a research institution to provide this expertise.

Can a qualifying study be funded by a different source than Systems for Action?

Yes, the supplemental funding is part of an open call for proposals and may be foundation or government supported. Studies funded through S4A may also apply, if other eligibility requirements are met. 

What is the deadline for submitting proposals?

Proposals must be submitted through the RWJF online system by August 5, 2020 at 3:00pm ET. Late applications will not be permitted. You will be required to register at MYRWJF at before you begin the application process.

What is the deadline for submitting a Letter of Intent (LOI)? If I missed the deadline can I submit a full proposal? 

The deadline for LOIs is July 20th, 2020. LOIs are not required in order to submit a full proposal and there will be no extension.

To submit your full application, register on the MYRWJF site at Proposals and submit by August 5, 2020 at 3:00pm ET. Late applications will not be permitted. 

What is health equity? 

Health equity is achieved when everyone has the opportunity to live their healthiest life possible regardless of who they are, where they live, or how much money they make. Funded studies must focus on system alignment mechanisms that have the potential to improve health equity.

Alignment mechanisms that aim to promote efficiency, reduce costs, or improve outcomes without improving health equity are not responsive to this CFP. Studies must examine the ability of the system alignment mechanism to contribute to an environment in which everyone has the opportunity to achieve their full health potential, and in which no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or circumstance.

Applicants are encouraged to follow recommendations of the National Academy of Medicine regarding strategies for measuring health equity, available at: Measures should quantify differences in health outcomes, risks, or determinants across key population subgroups of interest such as those based on race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, disability status, geography, or other subgroups that experience differences in opportunity, social position or power.

What is the duration and amount per grant awarded?

Applicants may apply for 12-month or 24-month project periods with up to $100,000 per year in total funding from RWJF.

Should projects focus on all three sectors (medical, social, and public health) or can you focus on only two sectors for alignment?

We are interested in projects that test mechanisms for aligning systems that meaningfully involve all three sectors. The rationale for this requirement is that all three of these sectors address key determinants of health but often through fragmented rather than coordinated efforts.

What would or would not be considered a system?

Every program, service or intervention is implemented through a delivery system.  A delivery system is the constellation of organizations, people, policies, and resources that allow the program to be implemented for members of the target population.  Similarly, a financing system is the constellation of financial resources, funding mechanisms, funders, and payment policies that support implementation of a program or service. Applicants should articulate clearly how they define the delivery and/or financing systems to be aligned through their proposed research.

What organizations and activities are considered to be part of the social service sector?

We define the social service sector to include any organization, program or service that works to address fundamental human needs in the community and promote social well-being. This sector includes organizations and programs that provide education, housing, income support, employment assistance, diversity and inclusion initiatives, food assistance, transportation, child and youth development, recreation and physical activity, legal assistance, disability support services, violence prevention, arts and cultural programming, criminal justice and juvenile justice services, and community and economic development. 

What organizations and activities are considered to be part of the medical care sector?

We define the medical sector to include any organization, program, or service that helps individuals obtain access to clinical services that prevent, treat, or manage diseases and injuries, including services for physical health conditions, mental health conditions, substance abuse, and developmental disabilities. This sector includes the providers, purchasers, and payers of these services as well as the suppliers of associated products and technologies, such as pharmaceutical products and health information technologies.  

What organizations and activities are considered to be part of the public health sector?

We define the public health sector to include any organization, program or activity that works to create the conditions in which people can live healthy lives, including activities to prevent disease and injury and promote health for the population at large. This sector includes governmental public health agencies working at local, state, and federal levels, as well as nongovernmental organizations that pursue a public health mission.  

What is a System Alignment Mechanism?

An alignment mechanism is an action or set of actions that are designed to help medical, social, and public health systems operate in more integrated and coordinated ways, ultimately leading to improved health and well-being for a defined population group of interest.  

What types of organizations are eligible for funding?

Applicants must be either public entities or nonprofit organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and are not private foundations or non-functionally integrated Type Ill supporting organizations. Applicant organizations must be based in the United States or its territories. Awards will be made to organizations, not to individuals. Multi-organizational consortia are encouraged to apply if a single eligible organization is designated as the primary applicant responsible for maintaining consortium agreements with other participating organizations.

Do the eligibility requirements for applicant organizations also apply to partners?

No, but subcontracts or partner relationships with for-profit entities or entities based outside the United States may require additional financial and/or legal due diligence.

Can an organization submit multiple proposals?

Yes, an organization may submit more than one proposal as long as each proposal submitted is distinct in terms of both project and research team.

Can I apply for this opportunity if I have previously been or am currently funded by RWJF?

Yes, previously or currently funded RWJF grantees are eligible to apply for this funding opportunity, but the proposed project must be different from previously funded work.

How will my proposal be evaluated?

Applicants will submit narrative proposals containing the project rationale, significance, approach and information about the project’s budget, staffing, collaborators, and institutional support. Applications will be reviewed by a review panel that includes members of the S4A National Advisory Committee, S4A staff, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation staff, and subject matter experts. Applicants are encouraged to submit a one-page letter of intent (LOI) providing a preliminary title, a brief description of the proposed research, and a listing of the participating investigators and institutions. This LOI is not binding and not required, but it ensures that the program office is able to recruit reviewers with appropriate subject matter expertise to review your application thoroughly. See the CFP for the specific review criteria.

What type of investigators should apply?

We are looking for research teams from diverse health and social service fields that have expertise in all three broad types of delivery and financing systems implicated in the S4A research agenda: (1) medical care; (2) public health; and (3) social and community services and supports. This includes investigators from a variety of areas and disciplines, including but not limited to medicine, public health, social work, sociology, business, economics, education, transportation, housing, criminal justice, communication, public policy, political science, system science, and urban planning and community development.

We especially encourage applications that include invidivuals having backgrounds and life experiences that are underrepresented on research teams.

Does the Principal Investigator for this supplemental funding have to be the same Principal Investigator from the original study?

The Principal Investigator (PI) listed in the new proposal should be "Key Personnel" for the original study -- either PI, Co-PI, or an investigator. Other members of the original research team may be the PI if they are well-qualified based on their previous record of research. To maintain continuity between the original research and the proposed research, there should be significant overlap between the original research team and the proposed team. 

If I am not chosen for this funding opportunity can I apply for another RWJF grant opportunity?

Yes, interested applicants may apply for other RWJF grants. You must actively submit to other opportunities in which you are interested as proposals declined by S4A will not automatically be considered by other programs.

How can I tell if I am applying to the correct RWJF program?

Within the Foundation’s Research, Evaluation, and Learning initiative, RWJF funds a range of research to expand understanding of what will allow everyone in our nation to have an equitable opportunity to live the healthiest life possible and which types of interventions may have greatest potential for impact. Its four signature research programs, including Systems for Action, work to identify root causes of inequitable health outcomes in America and potential solutions that engage multiple sectors and disciplines.

The Systems for Action (S4A) program, based at the Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado, within the Health Systems, Management & Policy Department, conducts rigorous research on ways to align, coordinate, and integrate the many delivery and financing systems that promote health and well-being on a population-wide basis, including medical, public health, and social services and supports.
The Policies for Action (P4A) programbased at the Urban Instituteinvestigates how policies, laws, regulatory changes, systems interventions, and community dynamics can be leveraged to support population health, well-being, and equity. P4A is building a robust, actionable evidence base on how these critical levers can advance a Culture of Health, with a goal of delivering these data and insights to key policymakers, community leaders, and other change agents. (Call for Proposals is currently closed.)
The Evidence for Action (E4A) program, based at the University of California, San Francisco, awards grants to encourage and support innovative, rigorous research on the impact of programs, policies, and partnerships on health and well-being, with a particular focus on research that will help advance health equity. It is the broadest of the three programs – it does not have a formal research agenda, and it funds across all areas of the Culture of Health Action Framework. Learn more about E4A’s rolling application process here.
The Health Data for Action (HD4A) program links researchers with valuable health data, and funding research to help answer important, policy-relevant questions.

To learn more about additional current and upcoming RWJF funding opportunities of interest visit the Foundation’s Funding Opportunities page.