A report of the CAG Pre-conference Workshop October 21, 2011
Ontario Research Coalition of Institutes/Centres of Research on Health and Aging
The Establishing Collaborative Teams for Success in Health and Aging Research workshop was held in Ottawa on October 21, 2011. The goal of this workshop was to bring together researchers, policy makers and research funding agencies to discuss how collaborative teams are brought together to prepare joint research proposals (Opening Slides are included in Appendix A). The workshop encouraged discussion about:
- Planning and implementation of evaluations of programs targeted on older adults requiring matching or partnership funds;
- Identification of opportunities for collaboration (e.g., platform technologies, research support initiatives, research coalitions); and
- Creating a dialogue among researchers, funders and policy makers to examine ways to promote collaboration and advance research.
The day was comprised of presentations, work groups and panel discussions to examine:
- How researchers assemble successful collaborative teams;
- How health research funding organizations and policy makers promote collaboration; and
- What innovative collaboration models best take advantage of agency programs and activities for collaborative research.
Participants were encouraged to discuss and build upon their own and others' ideas and lunch and nutrition breaks were provided to encourage networking. The agenda for the day is attached in Appendix B.
As an opening exercise, participants were asked to introduce themselves and what they would like to get out of the day. The list of participants is provided in Appendix C.Participants were all interested in what is happening in seniors' research in Canada. They expressed a desire to learn the following types of things:
- Researchers were looking for provincial and national collaborative opportunities and ways to research and innovation forward within them. They introduced their areas of expertise and interest and welcomed the networking opportunities that the day presented.
- Representatives of funding agencies hoped to find out more about researchers' needs, what others are doing across Canada, ways to collaborate with other funders and share information about their own activities and programs.
- Municipal representatives were looking for insight into the role their municipality should play to support seniors and ways to work with others to accomplish this goal.
- Those representing private industry were looking for ways to encourage innovations and collaboration between research and companies.
Maximizing the potential of interdisciplinary research: Lessons learned from health and aging research
This presentation, by Dr. Kalpana Nair, addressed interdisciplinary and collaborative research in terms of its goals and challenges, and presented various tools for assessing interdisciplinary teams. The research was conducted by Dr. Nair and Dr. Lisa Dolovich. The presentation slides are included in Appendix D. The presentation introduced definitions of interdisciplinary and collaborative research, along with the hopes and challenges of these types of research, discussed researcher studies that optimize interdisciplinarity and concluded with a discussion of ways to monitor and assess it.
One program that included a focus on evaluation of interdisciplinary research teams, was the Team for Individualizing Pharmacotherapy in Primary Care for Seniors (TIPPS). TIPPS was a five-year research program, funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), that brought together researchers with diverse backgrounds to focus on medication use by seniors in primary care from a multidisciplinary, collaborative perspective. The overriding principle of TIPPS was to explore practical solutions that explicitly recognized the uniqueness of individual patients, while taking into account the experience of the provider and the broader characteristics of the health care system. TIPPS research projects focused on: improving the use of therapeutic information; decision-making; enhancing appropriate prescribing; the effect of multiple medications on an individual's benefit or risk profile; and improving adherence. The program was very productive, generating a large volume of research studies, systematic reviews, posters and publications.
While the TIPPS research program is no longer formally funded, TIPPS investigators have continued to work together on research initiatives. In 2009, funding was successfully obtained from the CIHR Strategic Training Initiative in Health Research (STIHR). This funding will support the six-year training program: Drug Safety and Effectiveness Cross-Disciplinary Training (DSECT) Program. Elements of the TIPPS research program have been incorporated into DSECT. The team undertakes ongoing evaluation of team involvement (satisfaction, trainee experience, partnership synergy) and pays explicit attention to factors that influence collaboration allowed for understanding what worked well and what did not. The team is composed of investigators from multiple disciplines (Family Medicine, Pharmacy, Geriatrics, Internal Medicine, Sociology, Nursing and Statistics).
Collaborative and Interdisciplinary Research
Drs. Nair and Dolovich's research was based on interdisciplinary research teams but most of the findings can be applied to collaborative teams. Collaborative research involves multiple researchers who may or may not be from different disciplines, while interdisciplinary research involves researchers from at least two distinct disciplines. Interdisciplinary research therefore, is a form of collaborative research. Most often research in aging will involve more than one discipline.
Collaborative research is able to answer complex, multi-faceted research questions and provide novel, more meaningful solutions, encourage knowledge generation by advancing thinking within disciplines; and increase the potential of knowledge translation through greater applicability across disciplines. Innovations developed or results found are ideally more applicable across disciplines, since a number of disciplines were involved in the development of the research, thus setting the stage for more effective knowledge translation.
Dr. Nair's PhD conducted research, along with her supervisor, Dr. Dolovich, which involved a series of studies (qualitative, narrative literature review, mixed method study and social network analysis). They set out to examine the knowledge base of how interdisciplinary health research teams work together and assessment of the interdisciplinary component of their work. They note that key elements of interdisciplinary research include the presence of at least two disciplines; a shared delineation of the research question, where everyone should be at the table at the onset to chart the course; and involvement from each discipline throughout the research process.1,2
To understand interdisciplinarity, the researchers conducted a qualitative study to examine health researchers' experiences with interdisciplinarity by3 and found mixed reactions. However, the overarching theme seemed to be that "It's all about relationships." There were common challenges related to lack of operationalization of interdisciplanartiy, lack of support for interdisciplinary work, and the managing interpersonal dynamics. They noted that not everyone wants to do research in an interdisciplinary way; there are challenges of managing interpersonal dynamics and a researcher needs certain skills to manage the team.
Key factors to optimizing interdisciplinarity include:
- A desire to do interdisciplinary research. Not everyone wants to be part of large interdisciplinary teams, or of a large number of teams. For example, they may be suffering from interdisciplinary fatigue resulting from their participation on a lot of teams already.
- Clarity from the principal investigator about the expectations of co-investigators when asking them to be part of a team. These discussions should be held during the initial stages of team formation. The principal investigator should ensure that each team member understands why they were asked to be on the team and what they will contribute.
- Operationalization and clarity of the team's beliefs of the benefits (e.g., publications) of having an interdisciplinary approach to the study. This enables monitoring progress against goals.
- Leadership, which works best if the principal investigator is proactive in their thinking about what it means to have an interdisciplinary team and about collaborative research. It was noted that this is an important role for principal investigators to take on, as co-investigations are not always comfortable doing so. There should be a plan in place for implementation of interdisciplinarity and leadership must focus attention on group and power dynamics and demonstrate a willingness to address issues as they arise. Finally, there should be regular communication of interdisciplinary progress.
- Attention must be paid to the practical aspects of running an interdisciplinary team. As the relationships are the key to success, there needs to be regular interaction, including face-to-face interaction, communication strategies must meet team members' needs (for example, can they commit to expectations, and if they can't, then the plan needs to be altered to reflect that), and mechanisms must be in place to facilitate differences in knowledge and skills.
- Process evaluation should examine communication and learning opportunities, while outcomes evaluation should examine impacts on health and health policy along with investigator satisfaction.
The presentation continued with a discussion of common challenges to interdisciplinarity, possible solutions and the methods used by TIPPS to address the challenges as outlined in the table below.
Solutions for common challenges in ID work4
Assessment of Interdisciplinarity
Three tools have been identified for monitoring and evaluating interdisciplinary components. Each is outlined in the sections below.
Framework for Interdisciplinarity Research Assessment (FIRA) (Nair et. al.)
This tool was developed from literature and key informant interviews. The tool clearly articulates indicators of interdisciplinary success at three levels: those of structure, process and outcome. It examines how research is conducted and how knowledge is produced. It is outlined in Figure 3, below.
Framework for Interdisciplinary Research Assessment (FIRA) & Research Team Application
Partnership Self Assessment Tool - Interdisciplinarity (based on Lasker et. al.)
A second tool, the Partnership Self-Assessment Tool (PSAT) looks at synergy in terms of a "breakthrough in thinking and action" resulting from the "culmination of knowledge, skills, and resources." This tool is used to identify partnership strengths and weaknesses and measures factors that impact synergy (leadership, efficiency, administration and management, sufficiency of both financial and non-financial resources (), decision-making, benefits, drawbacks). An adaptation of this tool, the PSAT-I was developed to be specific to interdisciplinarity and reflects the language of indisciplanarity (for example, 'partnership' changed to 'research team'). To date this tool has been tested for face validity and used with two teams.
Team members reported that their participation in an interdisciplinary group had:
- enhanced their ability to address an important issue;
- helped them to develop new skills;
- heightened their public profile and utilization of their expertise or services;
- provided useful knowledge about research methods, theories and content from different disciplines;
- enhanced their ability to affect public policy;
- helped to develop valuable relationships;
- enhanced their ability to meet the needs of funders, decision-makers, patients or clinicians;
- increased the impact that they would have had on their own;
- allowed them to make a contribution to science; and
- permitted further acquisition of financial support.
Drawbacks were limited and included, most particularly, feelings that time and resources were being diverted from other priorities and obligations, and of frustration or aggravation. Other drawbacks, reported by less than one in six included feelings of insufficient influence in research team activities, a negative attribution stemming from association with other team members or the research team itself, insufficient credit given for contributing to the accomplishments of the research team, and conflict between one's job and the work of the research team.
Social Network Analysis
The third tool suggested for examining interdisciplinarity was social network analysis (SNA). SNA is a method to examine informal structures within a collaboration. While methodologically complex, the tool can help identify patterns of relationships between people to improve network flow, increase communication and awareness of relationships, open new resources, expand and support leadership, encourage collaboration, innovation and learning, increase inclusion and bridge divisions.
Summary & Conclusions
The presentation concluded with the key points that researchers should:
- decide whether their study really needs an interdisciplinary or collaborative approach;
- to be realistic and patient, as true collaboration will take time - it may even take multiple studies to develop;
- tailor interdisciplinary strategies to the uniqueness of their particular study;
- define, design, evaluate and share. Researchers need to identify what interdisciplinary or collaborative research looks like to them, ensure clarity regarding roles, develop a plan that consciously incorporates activities that can foster interdisciplinarity and collaboration, regularly evaluate their plan and, finally, discuss and write about their experience.
Research Perspective Group Discussion
Participants were asked to examine the FIRA and PSAT-I tools in terms of the following:
- Is the tool useful?
- Can you see yourself using this?
- How would you integrate this into your study?
- What strategies might you have to use to increase buy-in from other research team members?
Reaction to the tool
Overall the groups felt that the PSAT-I tool had high face validity and would be useful in establishing expectations, in assisting in gathering feedback and determining mid-point corrections and as an independent structure to evaluate team functioning. Discussion groups noted that the tool:
- highlights the needs to have common objectives defined early in the collaborative process. It was noted that since different stakeholders place various levels of value on and have different expectations for collaboration, this tool provides a mechanism to be clear with roles, expectations and goals from the outset of a project and provides an opportunity to validate shared hypotheses, outcomes and plans. It could serve as a terms of reference at the outset of a collaborative process and could be used to measure whether there is a deeper level of commitment beyond the surface level of working as a team to win the grant.
- provides a vehicle to sell the idea of being a part of the team to prospective team members.
- focuses on evaluating team process rather than outcomes; the participants liked that it had the flexibility to change as team needs change and provides opportunities for ongoing evaluation and opportunities for feedback and midterm corrections.
- can assist with the difficult process of quantifying learning effectiveness, and ways to evaluate the interdisciplinary or collaborative process. Success is more than the number of grants won or papers produced and teams could use findings from this tool as another measure of documenting success.
- may be useful for non-researchers (policy makers, end users) and may help empower them in a project. The tool can help address collaboration issues when researchers and others (policy makers, community groups, end users) work together. The tool could be used to promote discussion among team members and enhance problem solving and communication.
- could help serve the evaluation requirements of funders. There was discussion about what would make this attractive to funders. It was noted that people from different disciplines will look at interdisciplinarity through different lenses. However, caution was advised around the use of this tool in terms of tying it to accountability, as data may be skewed to funding renewal rather than the benefits of team building. Agencies could look at it in terms ways to offer agency help to the team, rather than funding justification in any way.
- was a good way to answer the question: "are we doing more together than we can separately?"
Discussion also included a suggestion that a shorter version that uses only key, high utility questions may be useful for smaller or newer teams where the long questionnaire might not get completed.
Establishing and Encouraging Collaborative Teams
A second theme that grew from discussion of the morning's presentation centered on the process of establishing, encouraging and maintaining collaborative teams. Groups discussed the importance of early clarity of roles, personalities and leadership. Participants noted:
- the importance of clarity early in the collaborative process about roles, expectations (for example, around who is going to publish), and the need to evaluate and reassess these themes regularly throughout the life of a project. Expectations will vary in different teams and be influenced by where a researcher is at in his or her career. Clarity is needed around the roles of the study owner versus a study leader. The team needs to define whether ownership should be controlled by the principal investigator or be a more collaborative process. Objectives need to be of interest to all to sustain commitment.
- the priority early in a project is obtaining funding rather than defining or establishing collaborative process. Once the team gets the grant, they then focus on their ability to work together assessment of the process. The question of whether quantification of team effectiveness affects research outcomes was raised.
- CIHR team development grants can be used to develop a team prior to submitting a grant proposal. This helps with team building and definition ofexpectations prior to actual collaborative research.
- it is essential that the principal investigator has the skills to encourage collaboration and network building. They need to be good at connecting people. However, it was noted that it may be a challenge to find the time or staff to assist with network building, as agencies don't fund these types of activities.
- interpersonal relationships were identified as key to team collaborative success. Leaders and authority figures need to understand the needs and objectives of the users; there needs to be a shared vision and commitment to working together. Team members have to want to get together and offer complimentary skills and knowledge. One suggestion of a way to know whether personalities will mesh and whether the necessary chemistry will be in place, is to regularly meet and exchange ideas, papers, and the like. to establish relationships ahead of opportunities. Then, once an opportunity presents itself, the relationship is in place to talk about collaboration. A discussion group shared Putman's three characteristics for success: the network, trust in the network, and reciprocity.
- there is a risk in teams that have been together for a while of "group think.' There is an ongoing need to bring in new people and ideas to explore new ways of doing things to counteract this.
- one challenge in projects is the funding requirement to stay with the original plan, even though the plan may need to change mid-course, as a result of findings or other mid-term corrections.
- early career researchers should "start low and go slow" to build their skill set through collaboration on teams and by working with many established researchers.
After the presentations of the group discussions, panel members were invited to comment. Key themes were as follows:
- Excitement for the PSAT-I tool. Panel members were supportive of evaluation and monitoring of health research. They noted that health research program evaluation has a difficult time proving that funding research is making a difference. The tool provides a method for funders to report to their department and provide an opportunity to demonstrate good choices in funding. Funders are looking for ways to demonstrate things like team collaboration and meeting regularity.
- Funders also noted that, if the tool identified that a team is struggling, it would help to identify opportunities and issues the funder could assist with and help address. The funders' role is to encourage collaboration; they want to encourage small scale development of teams and then step back and let the team develop.
- CIHR has team development grants which funds both new teams, and established teams that need to refresh and avoid group think. Provinces who don't have such funding in place themselves encourage teams to apply to the CIHR grants.
- The panel felt that peer review committees used to reviewing proposals are pretty astute and are likely to detect 'sham teams'. Reviewers judge the project on the quality of the science and the proposed outcomes resulting from the interdisciplinary work. Good partnership is the key to success in an application. It was noted that the tool would serve as a good checklist to identify a solid start in a team's creation and to identify challenges. When teams are not awarded grants, it's often because the review committee understands the team is not ready. The tool would be a good tool to identify issues in these cases. The importance of having policy makers on the team, rather than just researchers was stressed.
- The panel noted a need to encourage universities to give recognition to early researchers and to encourage established researchers to mentor and work with them.
- Finally, the panel noted that not all research questions require an interdisciplinary approach.
Policy and Initiatives to Support Research on Aging
The afternoon session was presented by Dre. Pierette Gaudreau, Director of the Québec Network for Research on Aging and Scientific Advisor to the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Santé (FRQS). The presentation discussed policy and initiatives to support research in aging. Details of their work are included in the slides in Appendix E.
The FRQS is a non-profit funding agency which reports to the Québec Ministry of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade. The Agency's mandate is to implement government strategy with respect to human health research as outlined in the Québec Research and Innovation Strategy. To fulfill this mission and maximize the economic and health benefits of research, FRQS invests in top-performing research investigators and students, research centres, groups and networks, excellence, innovation and knowledge dissemination, social responsibility and ethical practices, and synergy and partnership.
The core business of the FRQS centres around training, career fellowships and research centres. This is supported by strategic programs supporting networks, groups, research grants and strategic initiatives supporting personalized health care, chronic diseases (including Alzheimer's) and primary care. The Agency's priorities are, therefore, to strengthen core activities, create the necessary conditions for productive research and knowledge transfer, and eliminate some of the barriers to the development of health research in Québec.
The Agency's 2007-2010 strategic plan has three main components; supporting excellence, targeting the priority areas of improving quality of care and disease prevention, and supporting the development of new technologies and application of findings. The research environment is comprised of 11 research groups at university campuses, 16 thematic research networks and 19 research centres at University Hospitals. The infrastructure includes research centres at the Université de Montreal, Université de Sherbrooke, Université Laval, the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research and the Centre hospitalier affilié universitaire de Québec (CHA).
The Québec Network for Research on Aging (RQRV) is one of sixteen Québec networks of health research supported by the FRQS. It leads Québec efforts on aging research, and is comprised of approximately 450 independent researchers, post- doctoral and graduate students from Québec Universities. Network research themes are aligned with those of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research: biomedical, clinical, health systems and services, and population and public health. Network research programs are multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary and involve researchers from at least two institutions. The majority of projects are pilot projects that can then be leveraged to bring more research funds to Québec.
The mission of the RQRV is:
- To increase knowledge about the biological, clinical, population, social and societal aspects of aging;
- To promote successful/healthy aging and to prevent the expression of the components of frailty; and
- To develop and evaluate the impact of effective interventions to prevent or delay the onset of chronic diseases, disabilities, frailty and loss of autonomy in the elderly
While its objectives are to:
- Support interdisciplinary and interuniversity research and strategic initiatives in aging research, based on diverse methodological approaches;
- Increase the research capacity in the field of aging;
- Promote leadership at a national and international level;
- Stimulate partnerships with researchers, health professional organizations, foundations, public institutions and private sector; and
- Translate the network discoveries and knowledge to the scientific community, health professionals, community associations, general population and governments/policy makers.
The RQRV's programs are focused across eight thematic groupings (cognition, mental health, nutrition, incontinence and sexuality, rehabilitation and gerotechnologies, long term care, social interaction and social support, health care and services). These group were created based on critical mass of researchers, however they have expanded over the years. Members of the groups do not work in silos; one thematic group may lead a project but borrow expertise from other groups. This ensures cross fertilization of ideas and approaches.
The RQRV Strategy is to:
- Catalyze networking of critical masses of researchers around specific research themes;
- Support a Québec consortium on longitudinal studies on aging;
- Support common platforms of research on aging;
- Increase research capacity (students and researchers);
- Support knowledge sharing, transfer and translation; and,
- Support groups of researchers submitting large grant applications and developing Canadian and international partnerships
A stimulus funding program for students includes general training awards, training awards for doctoral students in geriatric nursing, training awards for post-doctoral students, student travel awards to present results in national and international scientific meetings, and financial support for manuscript editing and publication fees. Students are members for a two-year period and can reapply. The organization also has leverage mechanisms for researchers via financial support to prepare major grant applications, to participate in scientific and financial partnerships, and in supporting publication fees and attendance at national and international symposia.
RQRV programs include participation in ongoing longitudinal studies (NuAge, Enquête Santé des Aînés/Survey on Seniors' Health, and the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, FRAIL), and support of a rodent colony platform of models of successful aging. The FRQS 2010 – 11 Strategic Plan includes support for research in aging with strategic directives to improve the health of Quebecers faces the challenges of: addressing aging and chronic disease and supports clinical research; research in primary care; positioning Québec in the context of Canada's Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (CIHR- SPOR); and supporting knowledge transfer to professionals, decision-makers and the public.
The strategic direction to position Québec research and researchers on the international front faces challenges of the need for harmonization with federal strategies to maximize leverage, and those in becoming a partner/player in important international research networks.
The types and extent of participation in a number of national and international research projects were described, including research on Alzheimer's disease and related disorders in collaboration with France; partnership with ERA AGE2, involving nine countries; collaboration with ERA-NET NEURON II; and collaboration with the national natural science foundation of China.
Operating grants have supported a partnership with Pfizer Canada and Ministère de la Santé et Services sociaux (MSSS). The purpose of this project is to support front-line initiatives that foster the prevention and management of chronic diseases and to evaluate these initiatives. The project's budget of $625,000 for 2 years funds projects that fall into one of the following priority themes:
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Respiratory diseases
- Musculoskeletal diseases
- Chronic pain
- Tobacco addiction, eating habits and physical activity
Eligibility criteria are as follows:
- Be presented and managed by one or more than one Centre de santé et de services sociaux (CSSS) in collaboration with at least one family physician and the health and social services community
- Be consistent with one or more of the following objectives:
- Foster interdisciplinary and patient-centred monitoring of persons with chronic diseases in pace with their health condition
- Foster the introduction of self-management tools and approaches.
- Include a formal system for scientific review so that factual data and evidence can be gleaned at various stages of the project, and so that the efficacy, productivity and/or efficiency of the proposed approaches or courses of actions can be analyzed.
Two new programs are being planned to be launched in 2011-2012 to promote research into Alzheimer's disease and related disorders:
- The FRQS program, in partnership with MSSS, will evaluate the implementation and impact of the first-line initiatives resulting from the recommendations made by the committee of experts in the Québec Alzheimer Plan. Its program design will be similar to the Pfizer - FRQS - MSSS chronic disease fund.
- The Program to Support a Québec Alzheimer's Infrastructure/Initiative will be involve inter-institutional, intersectoral, and interdisciplinary teams. The Program will focus on the research priorities of early diagnosis, biomarkers, and cognitive, psychosocial, and environmental interventions.
The first consultation of the scientific community and other stakeholders (government and industry representatives) will take place on November 1st 2011.
Policy Perspective Group Discussion
After the Policy keynote, the work groups were tasked with discussing the following:
- What are the essential components of involvement of policy makers in a research team?
- How do you recruit policy makers into your research team?
- What types or enablers do/could funding agencies introduce in terms of tools that are or would be helpful?
- What have been the lessons learned from your own experience of working in a collaborative team?
- How can researchers and policy makers come to an agreement on research priorities
- What are the successful components of an effective knowledge translation plan for a research team?
The group discussion for these topics is presented in the following sections.
Recruiting and Involving Policymakers in a Research Team
Participants told us that:
- involving policy makers in the research process helps them to develop an appreciation for research and encourages interaction between the research and policy makers groups. They noted that working together and listening to each other could be encouraged through such mechanisms as co-chair opportunities and joint participation on committees. A close working relationship will contribute to the alignment of research with policy goals and objectives and increase policy makers' awareness of how knowledge can be used, along with creating awareness and understanding among researchers about the needs of policy makers.
- champions are valuable to the process.
- there is a need for common language to enhance communication between the two groups. Knowledge brokers can assist with communication of messages that will resonates with policy makers.
- some policy makers approach researchers as the 'go-to' people when a policy question arises. For example, the policy makers' rapid review and "evidence on tap" processes assist the preparation of a policy brief. The process occurs over a brief period of days or weeks and policy makers rely on their lists of experts and researchers to help them.
- challenges to engaging policy makers include time, conflict of interest, political control, decision making criteria, differences in expectations, differing time frames, and frequent turn-over.
- in some cases, not all objectives will be common to both parties all the time, and this is appropriate.
- tools for recruiting policy makers exist.
- researchers need to understand when to engage policy makers.
- policy makers can be recruited and engaged proactively (as in the case of the ORC). Bi-directional relationships can be established and maintained over time.
Enablers from Funding Agencies
Funding agencies enable the collaborative process through:
- grant applications that specify knowledge translation among the deliverables and funding the balance between research and (policy) through knowledge translation activities.
- allowing for release time in grant funding.
- enabling health policy fellowships. For example, CHSRF has a program for students to take a policy course and spend a term with policy makers.
Participants noted that there is a challenge to helping or mentoring young researchers in working with policy needs. However, they also noted that there are some exciting programs to encourage this process, such as the Partnership for Health Systems Improvement and the Best Brains program. CHSRF suggests bringing researchers and policy makers together in a safe environment. They also noted that there is a program where research trainees prepare and deliver mock policy briefs to policy makers; who then give them feedback. This was a successful program for creating understanding among graduate students.
Lessons learned from Experience
Participants told the meeting that, while it's important to be exposed to both research and policy processes, it should not happen too soon during the training of new researchers. It was felt that these people should be given enough time to develop their own expertise and not stifle their own creativity and have some experience to bring to the conversation before they are linked to policy makers. It was also noted that evidence isn't always the primary driver for decision makers; that establishing collaboration is a long process; and making room for new evidence and knowledge exchange sometimes requires cultural shifts.
Reaching Agreement on Research Priorities
Participants raised the following issues:
- Policy makers are a great source for research ideas, but there is no formal process for asking questions of researchers. (In Australia there is a process of providing direction from policy makers to researchers.).
- The struggle is similar to the challenges faced in the commercialization process: it is important to gain an understanding of the needs of end users (both policy makers and other users).
- Researchers have the opportunity to generate enough evidence to make something an issue.
- There are opportunities to align research with policy direction.
- Does research drive policy or policy drive research?
Components of an Effective Knowledge Translation Plan
When discussing knowledge translation, participants acknowledged that this is not generally a skill set that researchers have; that knowledge translation is outside the scope of conventional research. There were thoughts that perhaps funders could provide knowledge brokering services or personnel. There were also queries about timing: when does the knowledge generated by research get passed on for translation and sent to policy makers and practitioners? To complicate this passing on, participants noted that knowledge translation is iterative and should happen throughout a project, on the one hand, but, on the other, getting to the point where knowledge should be shared can take a long time and the funding windows that force knowledge translation are sometimes not long enough and can stifle creativity. Finally, participants noted that knowledge translation partners can include industry and public health, that planning for knowledge translation should include planning for multiple users and many paths, and there is a need for both intuitional support and knowledge translation expertise.
The panel had the following comments:
- Funding agencies want to be clear on their role of bringing policy makers and researchers together. While the onus typically seems to be on the researcher, they may not have the knowledge or expertise to do so. Funding agencies have a role in capacity building through funding and training people like knowledge brokers to assist with this process. PHISI grants can also assist with this process.
- The research process and a research team are not the same thing.
- Universities have technology transfer offices dedicated to bringing the research to the market in the commercialization process. Perhaps they could have a similar type of organization for knowledge transfer. Some researchers are great at doing this some are not, but they are all great researchers. They should not be penalized for not doing this well, but rather, they should be helped to bring research to its users.
- There is a demand for people who speak the language of both research and policy. NSHRF fills this role to some extent and mediates between the two groups. In addition, researchers don't always understand why things are not being implemented; advocacy groups may not understand the research process. Knowledge transfer can assist with meeting these challenges as well.
- There should still be funding and appreciation for exploratory research. If researchers are only working on applied research, then the new knowledge and discovery research will fall by the wayside. It is important to influence decision makers to understand the importance of discovery research.
- CIHR learned that they need to promote their programs more. They distributed a series of pamphlets promoting CIHR knowledge translation tools and noted that there were a number of knowledge translation tools available on their website.
- It was noted that the Best Brains program benefits from its in-camera discussions, providing a safe environment allowing for frank and open discussion among policy makers and researchers.
- Policy makers make good use of the rapid synthesis services as a way to get expert up-to-date information.
- Some funders train researchers on how to speak to policy folks when they are called upon.
- Funders struggle with how to measure value for money and how research is adopted, noting that the speed of taking up new knowledge can vary.
- Political lightening rods for issues may direct the priorities.
Summary and Conclusions
The day focused on increasing opportunities and openness to collaborate among researchers, and between researchers, policy makers and end users. The workshop participants brought a great deal to the table in terms of their experience, ideas and willingness to share with others. The day provided valuable insights that will guide both the ORC and stakeholders across the country in ways to move this topic forward.
Among the many valuable insights that came to light during the day, were the following key themes:
- Collaborative research
- Takes time and commitment from both its leaders and team members.
- Requires leadership and clarity of roles from both within the team and from funders
- Requires management of the process itself
- Opportunities to build capacity and leverage funding in health research capacity can be achieved through a combination of strategies including data harmonization and integration; supporting students through training and funding and supporting researchers in the grant application process, establishing research partnerships, publication and attendance at national and international symposia.
- There is a great deal to benefit from encouraging policy makers and researchers to become familiar with each other's language, opportunities, challenges, needs and roles.
- Knowledge translation has an important role to play in linking and informing researchers across disciplines, and linking researchers, policy makers and other stakeholders.
- There are existing tools to help in recruiting policy makers to teams and in evaluating team effectiveness.
- Policy makers and funding have many ways they can encourage and stimulate local, national and international research collaboration. A great deal of expertise exists across the country.
- Legacy is important: New researchers need to be included in the collaborative process.
1. Hall JG, Bainbridge L, Buchan A, Cribb A, Drummond J, Gyles C, Hicks TP, McWilliam C, Paterson B, Ratner PA, Skarakis-Doyle E, Solomon P: A meeting of minds: interdisciplinary research in the health sciences in Canada. CMAJ 2006, 175: 763-771.
2. Aboelela SW, Larson E, Bakken S, Carrasquillo O, Formicola A, Glied SA, Haas J, Gennie KM: Defining interdisciplinary research: Conclusions from a critical review of the literature. Health Serv Res 2007, 42: 329-346.
3. BMC Health Serv Res. 2008; 8: 110.
4. Nair K et al BMC Health Services Research, 2008
Appendix A: Opening Slides
Appendix B: Agenda
Appendix C: Attendees
Appendix D: Research Presentation
Appendix E: Policy Presentation
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