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Characterizing health research partnerships in child health: a scoping review

Background:

Over the last two decades, research partnerships between health researchers and knowledge users (KUs) have advanced to bridge know-do gaps and promote more relevant, meaningful and impactful research. Research partnerships in child health are complex, as engagement often occurs with individuals on their behalf (e.g. parents and families) or with children and youth themselves, requiring attention to engagement strategies and principles. There remains a gap in our understanding of research partnerships in child health that includes the range of approaches used (e.g. integrated knowledge translation (iKT), community-based participatory research (CBPR), patient and public engagement (PPE)), and those inclusive of a range of KU groups (e.g. children and youth, parents and families, healthcare professionals, decision makers).  

Methods:

This study examined the study and engagement characteristics, strategies, barriers and facilitators, and outcomes and impacts of research partnerships reported in child health research, inclusive of research partnership approaches and KU groups. We identified articles describing child health research conducted in partnership with researchers and KUs in at least one phase of the research process published between 2007 and 2019. Results were summarized using descriptive statistics. An update is currently underway to include studies published to December 2021. 

Results:

In the original search, 16,143 abstracts were identified and seventy-seven articles were included in the review predominating from the United States (59.7%), Canada (19.5%) and the United Kingdom (11.7%). Over half were published between 2015 and 2019 (59.7%) with the most frequently used terminology being CBPR (57.1%), participatory research (10.4%), iKT (5.2%) and PPE (5.2%). Children and/or youth (51.9%), community members (45.5%), and parents or families (32.5%) were the most frequently engaged KU groups; however, most studies engaged with multiple KU groups (63.8%). KUs were most frequently engaged in developing study design and methods (64.9%). Studies often used multiple strategies to engage, predominantly formal meetings (64.9%), providing training opportunities or resource materials (23.4%), informal conversations (18.2%), and establishing working groups (15.6%). Forty-six (59.7%) studies reported beneficial outcomes or impacts of engagement, including increased capacity, knowledge and skills among KUs (27.3%) and researchers (23.4%), the ability to create system changes or action (22.1%), and the generation of high-quality research (29.5%). Twelve studies (15.6%) reported outcomes that were challenging, including personal challenges (9.1%), and challenges with the research process itself (7.8%). Barriers and facilitators of engaging KUs were reported in just over half of included studies (50.7%), with facilitators including use of intermediaries (15.6%), having clearly defined and articulated roles and expectations (10.4%) and maintaining good communication throughout the research process (9.1%). The most-frequently reported barriers were time (11.7%), competing agendas, interests and priorities (10.4%), and lack of resources to support engagement (6.5%).

Conclusion:

This study characterizes research partnerships in child health, which predominantly originated from North America and the UK and used CBPR approaches. Although over half of studies reported outcomes and impacts of research partnerships, there is ongoing need to optimize reporting consistency to facilitate growth in the field, and to conduct additional studies to examine what makes child health a unique context for research partnerships. 

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