How to identify research needs and communicate results
– A study of research councils in the field of public health
The Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (Forte) has the mandate from the Government in the area of public health to further develop forms of collaboration and communication with relevant stakeholders to identify research gaps and how results from research that Forte is funding should be communicated. Growth Analysis has in cooperation with Forte conducted this study on collaboration for identifying knowledge gaps, needs driven research and communication focusing on four countries: Canada, United Kingdom, Netherlands and China.
This study of a number of national research councils in the field of public health suggest that there is not a universal model to lean on, but that each country based on its context needs to build up adapted schemes to identify knowledge gaps and how research results can be communicated effectively. However, the country reports all stresses the importance of interaction with different actors and stakeholders to identify research needs, anchoring its activities and to reach out with their communications. The countries have in common that they are working with two models, a bottom-up model, and a top-down model to satisfy both needs-driven research and policy influenced areas. The top-down model can provide more strategic and policy-influenced formulations while the bottom-up model can provide defined research questions that can have a large direct impact within a smaller area, such as “Is drug X better than drug Y to cure Z?” Increasingly the research councils work with the involvement of the users of the research, thus practitioners, patient groups and patient associations.
The success factors identified in this study of Canada, England, the Netherlands and China are partly about collaboration to identify areas of research and partly on how research councils to strengthen its communication focus on how research can be used in practice. For example the evidence-based advice and recommendations from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) about health care procedures, new technology products and medicines.
An often mentioned precondition for being effective in their role as research funding agency in public health is a close collaboration with other research funding bodies and a coordination of areas to avoid overlapping. Involving more stakeholders, such as patients and patient organizations is seen as an important strategic work, especially in the search for new needs-driven research areas. Creating platforms for these dialogues with different groups in society plays a large role in for example the British program Challenge on Dementia where Medical Research Council put together patients and researchers and the Canadian program The Community-Based Primary Health Care, CBPHC, which was created after discussions with both the takers, clients and stakeholders.
The research councils also seem to share a growing focus on evidence-based research that can be used in efforts to influence both policies selection of focus areas, such as in the Canadian program Evidence-Informed Health Care Renewal that supports collaboration between researchers and decision-makers but also more close to practice, as in Dutch Academic Collaborative Centres, which aims to bring research and practice closer together, thereby strengthening an evidence-based approach to health care.
For communication to function effectively Medical Research Centre in England are trying to develop the receiving capacity of research by clarifying the research results for policy makers and explains the policy context for researchers. This is done through a so-called Knowledge Exchange Officer, dealing with these issues, but also by multi-partner projects as the UK Clinical Research Collaboration.
Investments to develop translational research can be found in several countries. These translational programs are aimed at increasing the use of research in relevant activities. An increased proportion of implemented research is seen as important for efficient use of society’s resources and provides improved methods in health care. CIHR (Canadian Institutes of Health Research) has a special department dealing with these issues, called The Knowledge Translation and Commercialization. They are working on strategies for translation, networking, and by rewarding excellence in knowledge translation in the form of a financial price. Also Dutch Zone Mw rewards through a monetary prize the most prominent translation efforts. UK Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research (OSCHR) has besides the assignment to coordinate research funding in public health also the task of monitoring the translational research funded by the government.
The case studies also points out that the countries are trying to ensure that the research has the desired effect by having clear statements regarding the implementation and dissemination of knowledge in strategies, programs and calls. In the assessments of research proposals to the Dutch Zone Mw, implementation and dissemination of knowledge is a criterion.
China is in the midst of a major reform and is interested in how Sweden is working on these issues. Several studied organizations for example in the Netherlands and Canada are working with its strategy for the coming years, which should be interesting to follow up.