Collaborative health research approaches, including Integrated Knowledge Translation (IKT), have become increasingly important throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with social distancing measures and travel restrictions, new strategies for developing and maintaining relationships between researchers and knowledge users (e.g., policy makers, healthcare providers, patients, and the public) were, and continue to be, needed. As IKT trainees (i.e., graduate students, postdoctoral scholars) within the Integrated Knowledge Translation Research Network (IKTRN), we had to adapt our working conditions and practices to fit within the uncertain and rapidly changing world. Together we explored the experiences of IKT trainees, and how to inform more equitable and sustainable collaborative health training and research in the post-pandemic era.
In March 2021, the IKTRN Trainee Committee, in collaboration with the Executive Committee, hosted a virtual discussion to explore the perspectives of IKT trainees during the pandemic. Twenty-eight IKTRN trainees were invited, of which 11 attended (N=9 Canada, N=1 Ireland; N=1 Australia). Three, 25-minute virtual group discussions (3-4 trainees/group), were conducted simultaneously following a semi-structured guide. Discussions were audio or video recorded then transcribed verbatim and de-identified. Attendees were also invited to submit written vignettes (n=5) about their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Transcripts and vignettes were read independently by all authors. Three authors developed codebooks independently, and each codebook was critically reviewed by another team member. The codebooks were merged, discussed, and then finalized by all authors. Our data analysis was informed by an interpretative phenomenological approach to describe and interpret the lived experiences of IKTRN trainees.
The experiences and reflections of IKT trainees during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic were organized according to the socio-ecological model: the micro (individual), meso (organizational), and macro (system) levels. The micro-level focuses on self-care (personal physical and mental well-being), maintaining research activities and productivity, and leisure (social engagement and time for oneself), while conducting IKT research during the pandemic. At the meso-level, the role of adaptive programs and organizations explores if and how institutions were able to continue research and/or partnerships during the pandemic. The macro-level discusses implications for policies to support IKT trainees and research. Topics identified across all levels included: equitable access to training and partnership; capacity for reflexivity; embracing changing opportunities; and strengthening collaborative relationships. To better support IKT trainees in their transition to independent researchers, training and mentorship on ways of working in a hybrid (virtual and in-person) environment, and on how to create safe and inclusive spaces are needed. With ever-expanding opportunities for rapid action and population-level impact during the pandemic, the field of IKT can adapt to changing technology and health system opportunities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that IKT researchers must advocate for and provide IKT trainees and research/community partners with training in how to develop and sustain equity-focused partnerships that address the needs of individuals, organizations, communities, and the health system.Celia Laur poster