Academic journal article International Public Health Journal

The Curious Case of a Research Centre: Evolution along the Evidence Journey

Academic journal article International Public Health Journal

The Curious Case of a Research Centre: Evolution along the Evidence Journey

Article excerpt


This paper describes the evolution of an evidence production and implementation research centre, the International Centre for Allied Health Evidence, University of South Australia. The paper outlines the ongoing challenges of a self-funding research centre seeking to match research directions and passions with funding sources and political directions, and at the same time, produce research outputs valued by key stakeholders such as university, industry, government, clinicians and patients/clients.


The Centre was conceived in 1997. It was initially an uneasy collection of unrelated clinical research interests in the School of Physiotherapy, University of South Australia. The University itself had only recently metamorphosed from the SA Institute of Technology, and was finding its own research feet from a historical background of mostly teaching and administration activities. The newly formed research centre (Centre for Physiotherapy Research) was directed by a new academic (the principal author) who had a brand new PhD in epidemiology, a clinical physiotherapy background and a passion for quality in clinical practice which resulted in her first publication (1). The core Centre researchers were academics who generally carried heavy teaching and administrative loads. Their capacity to produce significant research outputs (successful grants and publications) was significantly restricted. There were few capable research assistants to undertake research projects even if grants were successful, and upskilling such assistants, should they be available, would take time. There was an embryonic post-graduate student cohort and research culture, and moreover, there were few academic staff with PhD training, thus researchers (and hence honours and higher degree supervisors) were mostly clinicians with minimal academic training. The focus of research training and experiences of the higher degree supervisors was generally on experimental studies, and reflecting the quality of physiotherapy research at the time, there was little appreciation of ways of decreasing bias (such as random recruitment and adequately-sized samples). Consequently, the new research centre was destined to struggle to find a recognised clinical research niche and build research capacity quickly, to make it sustainable in the short and longer term.

At the outset, the Centre researchers' activities in the area of evidence production were focused primarily within the physiotherapy academic program, in two distinct areas. One was in the undergraduate program, with the development of the subject Physiotherapy Research -Project U". This allowed Centre staff to involve themselves directly in a longitudinal research project, which exposed final year physiotherapy students to the research process. Students were trained as research assistants and undertook research training under the mentorship of Centre staff. This structured exposure to a longitudinal research project was important for the development of the Centre staff as it gave them a unique appreciation of the issues associated with evidence creation. This longitudinal project involved the collection of data on a range of health factors from school children, and continued from 1998 through to 2004. This project resulted in two PhD completions, numerous Masters of Applied Science completions, two book chapters, over 20 peer reviewed publications and a number of international conference papers. This research work allowed the Centre to develop, in collaboration with an external manufacturer, a commercial school backpack which, in 2001, was awarded the Australian Health Industry Product Research and Development Award and was runner-up in the University of South Australia Vice Chancellors Innovations Award.

A second area of focus for the Centre within the physiotherapy academic program was in the development of a subject in the post-graduate program, Physiotherapy Research Project 1042. …

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