ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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The importance of leadership and mutual understanding for effective health services research collaboration

Reece Amr Hinchcliff, David Greenfield, Johanna Westbrook, Marjorie Pawsey, Max Moldovan, Virginia Mumford, Jeffrey Braithwaite

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 11 - Law Building, Room 107
Date: 2012-07-10 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Last modified: 2012-07-26


Partnerships between professionals, public servants and academics can help mobilise capacity for research to provide evidence-based improvements to the quality and safety of healthcare services. However, complex social science research collaborations do not occur easily. In this presentation, we impart the lessons learned through our development and implementation of two large collaborative Australian health services research projects.

The research collaboration
To extend knowledge of healthcare accreditation processes, the director of a health services research centre and the senior executives of a healthcare quality improvement body iteratively developed a set of scientifically valid and industry relevant research questions. An Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Grant was subsequently generated, funded and implemented between 2005 and 2007. Emergent findings were disseminated via publications and seminars.

The project’s success led to other industry and government accreditation stakeholders expressing their interest in conducting further research. Australian Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing funding was obtained in 2007 to organise a workshop aimed at generating industry driven research questions. Participants conveyed the workshop discussions to their respective constituents, subsequently committing to a research collaboration. On the basis of this commitment, a second multi-million dollar ARC Linkage proposal was developed and subsequently funded. The project has been implemented over the past 18 months and is due for completion in 2015. Project guidance is provided by a steering committee involving partner representatives, as well as an international advisory group of European health services research experts. A number of strategies have been employed to keep research partners and other stakeholders engaged, including seminars, briefing notes, post-graduate study opportunities and informal interactions.

Lessons learned
Our experience has highlighted that distributed leadership is necessary to unite potential partners to a common goal while harnessing their strengths and balancing different interests. We identified several issues critical to the success of long-term, complex research collaborations: cultivation of trusting relationships between senior partner agency executives due to their critical roles as information gatekeepers; avoidance of jargon to facilitate more open and meaningful discourse amongst partners with diverse expertise; dissemination of emergent findings to encourage ongoing partner and broader engagement; and the creation of feedback loops through regular formal and informal interactions, which helps promote ongoing engagement, and to articulate and balance partner expectations.

Our experience indicates that distributed leadership, cognisant of the critical issues identified, is required to mobilise capacity for health systems research. Distributed leadership promotes reciprocity to encourage ongoing, mutually reinforcing and beneficial collaborations.