Planning a Research Project
For over 40 years, WIC has been helping low-income families access healthy food, breastfeeding support, nutritional counseling, and referrals to health and social services. Although WIC is one of the most researched federal nutrition programs, there are always opportunities for meaningful research that could fill a knowledge gap and provide formative lessons for the program and new data that can support advocacy efforts. Additionally, research on WIC occurs across disciplines and topics, including, for example, nutrition, breastfeeding, food policy, public policy, and behavioral economics.
If you are looking for topics to research, we recommend consulting the latesst National WIC Association Research Needs Assessment, which is a list of high-priority research topics for consideration by interested researchers. In addition, there are many other research topics that are of value to WIC and those that may be valuable to a specific local context.
If you are considering planning a research project that focuses on a specific locale, we encourage you to consider the research needs of the locale you hope to conduct research within. Synergies between researchers and state and local WIC staff enable WIC research projects to have a meaningful impact on local WIC programs. For example, WIC state administrators and local staff worked collaboratively with researchers at the University of Illinois (UIC) to develop projects to evaluate the revised WIC food packages and identify barriers to WIC child retention. As a result, the research generated from the partnership has helped inform programmatic direction.
Conducting Research within the WIC Community
The type of research you conduct may be determined by a number of factors such as timeframe, funding, and scale (whether you are conducting research on a local, state, or national level). Another important consideration when determining the type of research to conduct is the level of participation you are expecting from the WIC community or any special requests you may have for WIC staff or participants. Since local agencies may need state approval to participate in a study, it is important to reach out to the state agency with information about your intended research.
Most research will begin with a review of literature and programmatic data. A lot of WIC program data is published on the USDA Food and Nutrition Service website. WIC programmatic data can be found here, and the latest WIC Participant and Program Characteristic Report can be found here. If you cannot locate the data you would like to review, you may contact any State WIC Director here. Bear in mind that some states have protocols for sharing their data, and these should be discussed with the State WIC Director.
If you are unsure whom to contact to access the data you would like to review, feel free to contact NWA's Senior Director of Research and Program Operations, Georgia Machell at email@example.com.
Different research projects involve working with different groups of stakeholders. These could include:
Reviewing experiences from the 40-year history of WIC research can impart some valuable lessons about conducting research with the WIC community. Below are some quotes from experienced WIC researchers:
“Sometimes researchers use terminology that means something different to the WIC community and vice versa so we almost always include a follow-up telephone discussion of the request to ensure that we are all clear on expectations.”
“Since all agencies are different, it is often necessary to slightly modify the request for each agency (variable or field names might differ from one state to another or some states don’t collect certain data elements, for example.)”
“We have found that no matter how thoroughly you describe the data in writing, there is always a need to clarify things and to be sure both parties are on the same page.”
The following quotes are from a state-level WIC employee who has participated on advisory panels in national level research:
“Try to tell the story of WIC rather than highlighting the negative aspects of the program try and share both positive and negative as much as possible.”
“Provide the 'Why' of the research being conducted so states are aware of the intent of the research.”
To help key stakeholders effectively manage expectations and conduct high-quality work when engaged in research that involves the WIC community, the following guidelines were developed with input from both the research and WIC communities:
Communicating Research Findings
Publishing research is often the final step in any research project. Publishing in a peer-reviewed journal indicates that your research has been validated by the academic community and has met certain standards. However, to optimize the value of your WIC research for the program, NWA recommends sharing an abstract or summary with NWA so that these items can then be shared with our membership.
Again, with a steady stream of research being conducted around WIC, it is important that NWA helps our community stay abreast when new research is being planned, commissioned, or published to ensure that the valuable information is effectively shared with those for whom it is most applicable. Research is also essential to inform direction for WIC advocacy efforts.
For questions or to share research information, please contact NWA's Senior Director of Research and Program Operations, Georgia Machell, at firstname.lastname@example.org.