Phillip Graham is passionate about context. And community.
A very broad description of his work would be this: research focused on preventing the negative consequences of adolescent risk behaviors, including violence and substance use.
But Graham dives deeper into his work, down to the ground-level to capture the critical cultural and community context to consider when studying high-stakes problems like opioid abuse and community violence. He focuses on using science to engage communities in better problem solving, how to use data to inform not only what interventions are selected but how they are applied and implemented in communities.
He and his colleagues analyze the context of the work—the underlying factors that are most associated with the desired outcome of the project—stripped of preconceived notions and definitions that could potentially lead the team astray.
For example, Graham’s team once evaluated an intervention for rural, two-parent African-American households. Through the evaluative process, the team learned that the same intervention might not be right for the same behavior for urban, single-parent African-American households, he noted.
Or, an intervention in Minnesota that included using snowmobiles for transportation would not be appropriate for Louisiana.
In essence, researchers should consider cultural context when designing interventions or attempting to apply them in new settings. In contrast, Graham hones his focus on community-based participatory research in his role as Senior Director of RTI's Center on Social Determinants, Risk Behaviors, and Prevention Science.
“Many of the interventions that government tries to replicate are often demonstrations of community successes, but what they fail to often realize is that those community successes came with lots of failures along the way,” Graham notes.
“You can’t replicate a model without understanding how they got to that success.”