Learning from 2020: Why collaboration and transdisciplinarity must mark our forward paths

Sara Bice and Martin Bortz

Today’s decision-makers need the evidence and insights of transdisciplinary research. Transdisciplinarity enriches our capacity to respond to complex problems by broadening perspectives on issues that are too complicated to be understood fully from one disciplinary angle.

COVID-19 presents an obvious example. The pandemic requires the insights and advice not only of medical and public health experts, but of policy scholars to inform government action; urban planners to model population movements and transport usage; epidemiologists to run big data models on potential virus spread; mental health experts on the implications of lockdowns and isolation; educationalists on the opportunities and pitfalls of home-schooling; behavioural psychologists on how to ensure restrictions will be accepted; the list goes on.

But how do we create diverse and effective research collaborations?

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The five minute guide to evidencing research impact

Helen Allbutt and Stewart Irvine

Does research add value? How can we tell? With no mechanism to quality rate research outside of the university sector, research can be overlooked, or worse discontinued, particularly when organisations face ever-increasing pressures. In this blog, we discuss how we sought to protect our research investment by providing an evidence trail of how project findings contributed to strategic priorities. This blog covers the key points of what we did and what we found: for a fuller version, see our Evidence & Policy article, ‘Research assessment in a National Health Service organisation: a process for learning and accountability’.

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Knowledge translation opportunities and challenges

Web

Agnes Black

Complexity in healthcare systems presents knowledge translation (KT) challenges but also opportunities. Our Evidence & Policy article, ‘Connecting knowledge and action in complex health systems: examples from British Columbia, Canada’, illustrates ways we have harnessed complexity to narrow the gap between knowledge and action. We work across different health authorities and funding agencies building strong relationships with those who use research, fostering innovation, supporting evidence-based decision-making and helping people to de-implement obsolete practices. We share a commitment to building strong connections between knowledge and action, and our work is enhanced by embracing the inherent intricacies of the systems in which we work.

We share examples from our practice areas of how we navigate the demands of knowledge translation using responsive solutions and relationship building to support KT that promotes health. While many health systems leaders continue to perceive researchers and research as irrelevant and disconnected from their realities, we have found that when research is undertaken with people who use it, reciprocal and responsive relationships can overcome this barrier and lead to collaborations that support healthcare improvements. Embracing research as a public good requires reimagining the relationships and structures of both research and KT, and we are encouraged by the many ways we’ve seen this happen.

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Thought experiments with ‘fake’ research abstracts help policy makers visualise actions to be taken on evidence

Scrabble

Penelope Hawe

Our university-policy maker partnership produces ‘fake’ abstracts of articles we’ve not written yet (on results we frankly don’t even know we’ve got) to loosen up thinking. It helps the team visualise pathways for policy action.

Ours is a tricky situation, politically-speaking. A health department is undertaking Australia’s largest ever scale-up of evidence-based childhood obesity programs into every school and childcare centre across the state.[1] It costs $45m. They have an electronic data monitoring system in place. It’s already telling them that targets are being met. But rather than just rest on their success, they invite a team of researchers to do a behind-the-scenes, no-holds-barred ethnography. It could reveal the ‘real’ story of what’s goes on at the ground level.[2]

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How educators and policy makers think differently about research

Jennifer Lawlor, Kathryn McAlindon, Kristen Mills, Jennifer Neal and Zachary Neal

Policy makers are working hard to promote the use of research in education. But, does ‘research’ mean the same thing to policy makers and educators? While this question might seem basic, it’s important to know if policy makers and educators are speaking the same language.

In this blog, we discuss the findings of our recent research article, ‘What is research? Educators’ conceptions and alignment with United States federal policies‘, published in Evidence & Policy, which has been awarded the 2019 Carol Weiss Prize.

It examines similarities and differences between educators’ definitions of research and the definitions used in US Federal education policy. Our findings show that educators tend to focus on the process and products of research, while policy definitions focus on data and outcomes.

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