Guidance on External Requests for Collaboration

Purpose: Whitman-Walker Institute (“the Institute”) has a vested interest in conducting research to promote health equity and improve the health of our communities through collaborating both locally and nationally with a range of external partners. The goal of this guidance is to inform potential collaborators of our current policies and procedures regarding external requests for collaboration on research.

Timeline: The Research Department works within the Institute and across Whitman-Walker as a whole to coordinate and execute these requests. For proposed research partnerships or collaborations, review and preparation of documents requires 2 weeks for letters of support and 4-6 weeks for any contract, subcontract, or other pre-award agreements. These requirements are designed to provide you with timely decisions and delivery of materials and avoid last minute setbacks, as these requests will typically require one or more meetings with your team as well as an iterative internal review process. To ensure a productive and mutually beneficial partnership, we will be unable to review requests that do not adhere to these timelines and thus urge collaborators to submit requests early in the developmental process with initial draft materials rather than waiting to submit finalized documents.

Interests: The Institute’s primary orientation is towards research that promotes health equity, particularly among communities experiencing marginalization and oppression (see our Research Agenda for more information). As such, proposals that emphasize not only work with such communities but also use approaches to achieve and metrics to assess health equity are our top priority for collaboration. The Institute seeks to expand upon Whitman-Walker’s historical mission of providing clinical services to underserved populations within the D.C. area by conducting not only clinical research with our patient population but also translational and applied research on a local and national level to advance health equity among all such communities. As we continue to grow our research team’s capacity within the Institute, we are also particularly interested in partnerships that leverage not just our capacity for patient recruitment but also our scientific expertise. Thus, we are particularly enthusiastic about requests to collaborate on research in which our investigators and staff are invited to meaningfully collaborate on the scientific aspects of the project, including methodological design, measurement, data collection, statistical analysis, and dissemination of the research.

Additional guidance for specific types of collaborative requests:

Research not involving clinic patients: The Institute maintains research-specific facilities in which work is conducted with non-patient research participants, as well as an administrative and operational infrastructure to oversee both large and small research studies. We are thus well-suited and particularly interested in collaborating on applied e.g., social/behavioral, public health, implementation science, program and policy evaluation, econometrics, cost-benefit analysis) research that expands beyond Whitman-Walker’s clinical practice and patient population. Given this research involves fewer departments across Whitman-Walker, such requests will also benefit from greater flexibility and a less complex review process. 

Research with clinic patient involvement: We regularly receive requests in which we are primarily being asked to recruit or refer patients from Whitman-Walker Health’s (WWH) clinic practice. In partnership with WWH leadership, we carefully review all requests for research with the patient population and/or embedded within the clinic’s practice. However, we receive many requests to gain access to the patient population and take seriously our duty to maximize benefits and minimize risks for our patients as well as to protect their privacy and reduce the burden of frequent research invitations. Because patient care is the main priority of our clinical practice, these requests will be carefully reviewed to ensure direct benefit to the patients. In addition to the overall criteria of contributions to patient care and health equity, in reviewing these requests we apply stringent considerations of feasibility in terms of both timeline and budget as well as content and sample overlap with our existing research portfolio.

Requests for clinic patient data: We believe that patient data generated through WWH’s clinical practice are critical sources of scientific discovery. At the same time, we believe the use of patient data for research should have clear potential for positive impact on the lives of the patients themselves and align with Whitman-Walker’s mission and interests. As with all studies, requests for data will be evaluated to ensure the project provides a benefit to our patients and has significant potential to promote health equity. Please keep in mind the following considerations when requesting data:

  1. All requests will be initially evaluated with regard to any expenses related to extracting and transferring the data and whether such expenses will be covered. To minimize the time and complexity of establishing data transfer agreements, we strongly urge external partners to identify a collaborator within the Research Department who can internally lead the project in partnership with you, which will simplify the review process and mitigate costs.
  2. For any educational or student-related project, the individual is required to first be accepted to and participate for at least 6 months in an internship program at Whitman-Walker prior to requesting access to data for the proposed project. or more information about the Research Department’s internship program and deadlines, please email jrendina@whitman-walker.org.
  3. Any not-for-profit scientific use of patient data will be carefully evaluated per the standards above; individuals will be required to be represented by a non-profit or educational institution that is able to sign a data transfer agreement on their behalf, oversee the execution of the proposed project, and approve the use of the data through an approved IRB.
  4. Patient data will not be provided for any commercial purposes; requests for data from for-profit institutions will be very carefully reviewed to ensure there is a benefit to patients and sufficient focus on health equity and, if approved, data use will be governed by stringent contractual limitations that ensure they remain non-commercialized.

Process: Please fill out this form for our collaboration request proposal and complete all fields. You will receive an automated confirmation that the proposal has been received, and we will subsequently reach out to notify you of any updates or additional information requests. During our review, we will focus on the following elements (as applicable):

  1. Health equity – does the proposed project have a meaningful focus on and significant potential to promote health equity?
  2. Community engagement – does the proposed project meaningfully engage the communities Whitman-Walker serves and/or significantly reflect community-driven health and/or research needs?
  3. Relevance and contribution – how does the proposed project contribute to the research portfolio and, if relevant, clinical practice at Whitman-Walker? If involving patients or their data, does the project propose a benefit to the patients? (Note: Please feel free to consult our current Research Agenda)
  4. Feasibility – will the proposed scope of work, timeline, and budget allow Whitman-Walker to thrive as a productive partner in the proposed research?
  5. Collaboration and involvement – does the proposed research meaningfully integrate relevant teams and stakeholders at Whitman-Walker and provide involvement at multiple levels or stages of the research process? Are there bi-directional benefits of the collaboration? Is there evidence of equitable budgeting across institutions?
  6. Research methods and ethics – do the proposed research methods meet all ethical standards? Are the methods reflective of best practices and is their use well-justified? Are any risks of the study outweighed by its direct or indirect benefits?