Environments and Health Signature Initiative Alberta Partner Forum

December 3, 2014

This meeting was hosted by the CIHR-Institute of Population and Public Health with Alberta Innovates - Health Solutions (AIHS), Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions (AI Bio) and Alberta Innovates Energy and Environment Solutions (AI-EES). The purpose of the meeting was to bring together provincial government departments and industry leaders from within and outside of the health sector in Alberta to discuss and build understanding of, and momentum for, the Environments and Health Signature Initiative.

The day was a conversation in three parts:

  • What is the potential for this initiative in Alberta – what are the major challenges that you are facing that could benefit from an integrated environments and health research approach?
  • What's the value proposition for this initiative in Alberta at this time – where could it have the greatest impact?
  • How do we create a coalition of support for this initiative, so that the right people are at the table, and there's a sense of synergy, excitement and shared purpose?

Below is a summary of key points from all three conversations.

  1. For this research initiative to resonate in Alberta, industry engagement is critical
    • This isn't about "health" or "non-health" research endeavours, it's about identifying the priorities that are most important for the province and finding innovative ways to tackle them. This initiative should focus on the research gaps that currently exist and try to find alignment with industry's research priorities, so that industry can see the advantage of being at the table. A broad prevention focus on environments and health is central to identifying the correct priorities.
    • If EHSI is to focus on important "heartbeat" issues for Albertans, the resource sector must be present. Working through the sector associations would be a good way to build in-roads to industry, as long as the value proposition is strong and has appeal for them and their issues (e.g. social license to operate).
    • Industry needs to have a voice in where this research opportunity goes, to ensure that their views are incorporated into the planning. Industry can also include "unusual" suspects, e.g. the insurance industry which has a vested interest in human health, may be a natural partner.
  2. The EHSI research model
    • The nexus approach for EHSI is different from CIHR open investigator-driven programs in that it tackles big problems and seeks to deliver relevant, tangible solutions. This fundamental difference has to be well understood by researchers.
    • It's imperative that KT is deeply embedded in EHSI. Often no resources are devoted to this important function and it is not valued in terms of performance measurement on research projects which means research results tend to pile up and not be translated into a useable format.
    • An initiative such as this one requires a combination of people who can bridge systems as well as those who are specialized. Building an enabling environment for large trans-disciplinary teams will aid in this initiative's success.
  3. Research collaboration
    • This initiative's success is predicated on the right people partnering together on the right projects. Finding this "fit" takes time.
    • Collaborations need to be built that will allow community, academic, government and industry interests to be met. Historically, academic and government enterprises have left industry out of the picture. Finding a way to align interests will be key to this initiative's success. It will be important to agree on real-world issues to address.
    • It's vital that knowledge users be involved in the research design in order to promote buy-in and demonstrate the value of the research. This work should help to solve community problems – and communities should assist in identifying the issues they want to resolve.
  4. Action Matters
    • The research from this initiative will have to result in significant follow through that shapes public policy development. There has to be a greater connection between "what we know" (i.e. the research findings) and "what we do" (i.e. the shifts in public policy that enhance our collective quality of life).
    • Complex problems demand cross-sectoral problem solving. We have an opportunity to collapse silos, and to be proactive. We can build partnership-based research for mutual benefit to researchers and policy makers.
    • Research has to be translated into something useable and consumable for the general public. Early and ongoing public engagement by researchers using a range of tools and being willing to interpret and explain their findings is an important factor in translating research into reality.
    • It's important to break the desire for "quick wins". While we may need to fund short term projects to get industry buy-in, complex problems require commitment over time, with sustained funding and a willingness to look beyond budget and political cycles.

CIHR is committed to ensuring this input is addressed in the design and implementation of the Environments and Health Signature Initiative. Along with partners Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, Health Solutions and Energy and Environment Solutions, we hope EHSI will be a meaningful research funding opportunity for Alberta.

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