Despite the potential value of new IR knowledge, technologies and approaches, a general lack of authentic coordination, cooperation and dialogue among various health-/science-related disciplines and community stakeholders limit their application. This continually hampers accessibility of innovations in many contexts, holding back the progress necessary to reach health-related goals and commitments. To be truly successful, IR requires effective multi-stakeholder coordination, cooperation and dialogue to take place from the outset – when the research question and goals are defined – through planning of the research, and continuing throughout the local implementation, sharing and actions based on research results. In this sense, IR teams require more integrated approaches and are quite distinct from – and more broad-based – than those set up to conduct most other forms of biomedical or social research.
More than most other types of research, the collaborative and deliberative nature of IR requires people with a broad range of skills, experiences and backgrounds to think together in order to address an implementation challenge that is experienced – in a given context – by health care providers, programme managers, implementers or other service providers. In other words, conducting IR implies close and consistent teamwork.
Outside of IR, however, intersectoral and multidisciplinary collaborations are typically limited to critical moments when pivotal decisions are being made. But with their longer-term approach, IR teams bring together stakeholders from various disciplines so they can engage in ongoing, authentic dialogue around existing local challenges and appropriate potential solutions. Depending on the specific research question it addresses, an IR team must be appropriately multidisciplinary and diverse in order to meet the project objectives.
Team building includes both enhancing the ability of team members to contribute as individuals as well as enhancing the ability of the group to function as a team. Individual competencies are the essential foundation to building the core of an IR team. Team building is often complicated when individual team members are accountable to both a functional/line manager as well as the IR team leader. Effective management of this dual reporting is essential for the success of an IR project. However, each IR team should integrate appropriate expertise with local understanding to design, conduct and communicate the proposed research effectively. A typical IR core team includes the following functions (note that one person could perform multiple roles):
In some circumstances, additional IR team members might include community members/health care recipients and advisory committee/policy-makers, and other research collaborators.
In addition to including the appropriate expertise, an IR team must adopt a suitable team management approach (Figure 2).
Based on various current models for team and partnership development, four specific steps are outlined for the establishment of IR teams (Figure 3). In accordance with local and team considerations, not all teams will need to go through each individual step. For some existing teams, a renewed focus on specific or incomplete steps may also be helpful.