Beyond “Two Cultures”: Guidance for Establishing Effective Researcher/Health System Partnerships

Document Type : Original Article


1 School of Epidemiology, Public Health and Preventive Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada

2 Health Services Integration, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Winnipeg, MB, Canada

3 Community Health Sciences, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada

4 eHealth Centre of Excellence, Centre for Family Medicine, Kitchener, ON, Canada


The current literature proposing criteria and guidelines for collaborative health system research often fails to differentiate between: (a) various types of partnerships, (b) collaborations formed for the specific purpose of developing a research proposal and those based on long-standing relationships, (c) researcher vs. decision-maker initiatives, and (d) the underlying drivers for the collaboration.
Qualitative interviews were conducted with 16 decision-makers and researchers who partnered on a Canadian major peer-reviewed grant proposal in 2013. Objectives of this exploration of participants’ experiences with health system research collaboration were to: (a) explore perspectives and experience with research collaboration in general; (b) identify characteristics and strategies associated with effective partnerships; and (c) provide guidance for development of effective research partnerships. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed: transcripts were qualitatively analyzed using a general inductive approach.
Findings suggest that the common “two cultures” approach to research/decision-maker collaboration provides an inadequate framework for understanding the complexity of research partnerships. Many commonlyidentified challenges to researcher/knowledge user (KU) collaboration are experienced as manageable by experienced research teams. Additional challenges (past experience with research and researchers; issues arising from previous collaboration; and health system dynamics) may be experienced in partnerships based on existing collaborations, and interact with partnership demands of time and communication. Current research practice may discourage KUs from engaging in collaborative research, in spite of strong beliefs in its potential benefits. Practical suggestions for supporting collaborations designed to respond to real-time health system challenges were identified.
Participants’ experience with previous research activities, factors related to the established collaboration, and interpersonal, intra- and inter-organizational dynamics may present additional challenges to research partnerships built on existing collaboration. Differences between researchers and KUs may pose no greater challenges than differences among KUs (at various levels, and representing diverse perspectives and organizations) themselves. Effective “relationship brokering” is essential for meaningful collaboration.




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