Research Translation Faculty Symposium: How the Research Translation Faculty will work

Transcript of a speech given at the innaugural NHMRC Research Translation Faculty Symposium, Melbourne, 24 October 2012.

Firstly, I want to thank all of you for joining the Faculty. This is a huge initiative for the NHMRC, which will transform the way we work, so we’re all very excited about it.

As Faculty members, particularly with around 2,500 people, the main way of communicating and collaborating on Faculty projects will be using the Faculty website that my office has been building.

All aspects of the website will be available shortly - you will receive an email notification when it is up and running.

  • As I outlined in my invitation to join the Faculty, my Office is preparing more detailed terms and conditions for participating on the Faculty website. When you receive the notification and first register on the new Faculty website, you will be asked to agree to these terms and conditions – these will cover conflicts of interest, confidentiality and so on.

However, now I would like to talk in more detail about how I see the Faculty working.

List of Major Health Issues

  • The first point to note is timing.
    • This initiative and the projects that we’ll be asking you to work on, are part of our new 2013-15 Strategic Plan, which is currently being finalised. Our Strategic Plan is not just an internal organisational plan – under the NHMRC legislation, it must be provided to the Minister for Health and Ageing and tabled in parliament.
    • The new Strategic Plan will then be released, effective from January next year – so this is when NHMRC will formally invite the Faculty to start working on the projects that I’m about to discuss
  • While the Strategic Plan is not finalised, I can give you the current list of Major Health Issues that are likely to be in the finalised plan. There are nine Major Health Issues, but one includes the nine National Health Priority Areas – so there are effectively seventeen health areas that we will be inviting the Faculty to focus on.
  • The invitation to join the Faculty outlined the initial activities or projects that we would be inviting you to work on - to assist the NHMRC in addressing the challenge of research translation in Australia.  These are:
    • Identifying the most significant gaps between research evidence and health policy and practice for each of the Major Health Issues to be identified in NHMRC’s Strategic Plan 2013-15  (the seventeen health areas I’ve mentioned), and recommending to NHMRC the action needed to address those gaps.
    • Identifying and putting forward a case for a significant, potentially transformational, proposal for a targeted call for research in these areas by NHMRC.

Faculty processes

  • In anticipation of the release of the Strategic Plan and in preparation for these projects commencing, I have asked members of NHMRC’s Health Care and Prevention and Community Health Committees to nominate to be Key Contacts for each of these seventeen health areas.
  • Once the Faculty website and Strategic Plan is finalised, we will also be asking members to register which of these seventeen health areas they are interested in working on.
  • We will also be seeking nominations for Steering Groups for each health area – these Steering Groups would guide the development of Faculty projects through the website.
  • Each Steering Group will consist of:
    • Two or three Faculty members – with one as a Chair.
    • the NHMRC Health Care and Prevention and Community Health Committee Key Contacts
  • In addition to discussion forums (with which I’m sure many of you are familiar), the Faculty website will also have a module to allow online document collaboration – this is currently being built.
  • Now to the detail of the projects the Faculty will work on.
  • We will be inviting the Faculty to develop a Case for Action for each Major Health Issue identified in the 2013-15 Strategic Plan – the current draft of the Strategic Plan would see discussion forums established for health areas, to allow members interested in those areas to participate and contribute to the development of the Case for Action.
  • The Case for Action will identify a significant gap between evidence and practice or policy, and put forward a compelling case for actions that NHMRC could take to address that gap. 
  • These will be deeply academic pieces of work, which will be considered by NHMRC Principal Committees and Council, and be peer-reviewed.
  • While there may be many gaps between evidence and practice/policy, the Faculty will be asked to identify the most significant gap and submit one Case for Action to address that gap for each of the seventeen health areas

Faculty discussion of gaps

  • I anticipate, therefore, that there will be much debate within the Faculty in prioritising and choosing the particular gap that will be the focus of the Case for Action for each Major Health Issue or National Health Priority Area.
  • I also anticipate that, depending on the fields of expertise and interest of Faculty members, some Cases for Action may proceed more quickly than others. So I don’t have an expectation that the Faculty will develop a Case for Action for all seventeen health areas at once

Case for Action

  • The Case for Action must address:
    • the significance of the gap to health and medical practice or policy in Australia and why there is a strong need in Australia to address the gap;
    • any barriers that are currently preventing the translation of the research evidence into policy and practice in Australia; and
    • the health-related benefits that would result if the gap were closed.
  • It should document a compelling case for the actions or interventions to address that gap, proposing specific actions that NHMRC could take to address it. 

Actions to be considered

  • We do not wish to limit the types of actions or interventions that the Faculty might propose, but we do ask that an either positive or negative assessment of a standard range of interventions be formed, including actions such as:
    • issuing of guidelines;
    • policy, regulation and legislation change;
    • education, training and standards;
    • information technology solutions; and
    • industry opportunities
  • If a need for the funding of further research is identified, a proposal must be strongly argued in line with NHMRC requirements for nominating Targeted Calls for Research.
    • Proposals for nomination of a Targeted Call for Research will not be reviewed through Faculty processes; rather they will be referred to Research Committee for consideration pursuant to normal processes.
  • The Case for Action must explore any barriers and enablers to implementing the proposed actions, and how each proposed action will address, or partly address, the identified gap.
  • Proposed actions must focus on what action NHMRC should take to address the gap, including other responsible agencies and organisations that it would have to work with to implement the proposal.
    • For example, if proposing the development of a clinical guideline for health practitioners, NHMRC may need to work with the National Lead Clinicians Group and the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care in prioritising the guideline.
  • One of the questions that I have received is why Faculty membership is limited to NHMRC Chief Investigators and Fellowship holders and how consumer and other stakeholder views will be incorporated
    • I know that there are many more researchers, clinicians, public health experts out there who contribute to improving the translation of research into benefits for Australians.
    • However, this is a significant new initiative for the NHMRC and I have deliberately limited this to Chief Investigators like yourselves, who have demonstrated excellence and been recognised by your peers through our rigorous NHMRC peer review process.
    • Even in limiting it in this way, the Faculty now has 2,500 members
    • We will be evaluating the Faculty, including eligibility for membership, later in the Triennium
    • I encourage Faculty members to consult broadly through their personal and professional networks so that their contributions to the Faculty reflect the thoughts and opinions of the broader health and medical research community also.
    • Another important factor is that the Faculty is not the only part of the NHMRC process. The NHMRC, through its committee and Council structure and processes, consults and draws upon the experience of all areas of the health system. My Office is currently working to establish a Community and Consumer Advisory Committee, which it will consult with on Faculty Cases for Action.
  • All Cases for Action will be reviewed by an NHMRC Principal Committee and will be evaluated through an international peer review process.
    • We are currently developing criteria which will be used in evaluating a Case for Action. They are likely to include criteria such as
      • Priority - does it align well with the Major Health Issues (including the National Health Priority Areas) identified in the NHRMC Strategic Plan 2013-15.
      • Significance and likelihood for it to benefit patients or the Australian community - if the aims of the project are achieved, how will clinical practice, preventative health or health policy be improved?
      • Approach - Are the rationale, proposals and analysis well-reasoned and appropriate to accomplish the specific aims of the project?
  • Based on the review score from the international peer-review process, an NHMRC Principal Committee will recommend that Council advise me as the CEO that a Case for Action be endorsed or not endorsed.
  • If endorsed, the Office of NHMRC will consider the proposed actions as part of its work plans.
  • I have also decided that the Cases for Action will be published on the Faculty and NHMRC websites, so that the public benefits from understanding the work of the Faculty. All authors will be acknowledged when the Cases for Action are published on our website.
  • It is critical that the Faculty works with NHMRC and the relevant peak bodies to articulate and implement research translation solutions. We need to understand why these gaps exist and do something about closing them.
  • I see today’s launch of the Research Translation Faculty as a cornerstone moment for NHMRC and the health and medical research sector more broadly. The time and effort that you volunteer to the Faculty over the next few years will certainly better position NHMRC to confront key challenges for translation of health and medical research in Australia.

And over to you…

I am thankful for the opportunity to address you today. The Faculty can bring truly transformational change in how health care is delivered to Australians in years to come. And I wonder what insights those of you able to attend might like to offer at this point. I look forward to your questions.