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Table 4 Salient issues, recommendations and implications for the evolution of academic–government relationships

From: Exploring the evolution of engagement between academic public health researchers and decision-makers: from initiation to dissolution

IssueRecommendationsImplications
AcademiaGovernment
Irrespective of who benefits from a partnership, the responsibility for initiating engagement often falls upon academia• Embrace this reality and foster strategies to engage that are effective, efficient, genuine and resilient
• Diversify the range of contributions in order to anticipate, respond to government needs (e.g. individual research projects, syntheses of research, rapid response, testimony, technical and advisory boards etc. …)
• Better understand the capacity that exists in academia to serve specific needs
• Diversify methods of outreach for evidence needs in a way that academia can respond to (i.e. that go beyond traditional calls for research proposals if indeed rapid response services are required)
• Clarify and provide processes required for partners to engage in such activities
• Take more initiative to engage with academia
Innovation in collaborations and increased relevant engagement will
• permit universities to enhance policy understanding and shed their ‘ivory-tower’ image while maintaining ‘protected space’ for critical thinking
• allow government agencies to enhance their ‘evidence-informed’ culture
Perceptions of transactional relationships persist• Ensure that the goals and intended impacts of the partnership are explicit
• Establish more systemic and transformative systems of engagement in contrast to issue-based (perceived) transactional relationships
• Expand the interpretation of relationship benefits to transcend quantifiable and tangible outputs to include unquantifiable but valuable outcomes such as learning, relationship building and capacity enhancement
• Recognise and capture intangible outcomes in meaningful ways
Mutually beneficial transformational partnerships will become the norm, allowing negative perceptions to diffuse over time
Dependence on individual relationships can be a strength as well as a weakness in initiating, maintaining and terminating relationships• Recognise, map and analyse existing relationships for their potential to advance/hinder potential collaboration
• Instil strategies to mitigate negative effects of agency staff/faculty turnover
• Strengthen the breadth, depth and diversity of relationships between academia and government
• Build relationships with a variety of actors that can serve as intermediaries or brokers
• Combine individual drivers with institutional structures to support the cultivation of relationships
• Consider multiplex engagements by enhancing existing institutional strategies, considering other documented strategies and innovating with new ideas relevant to the context particularly with respect to funding engagement activities and processes
Multi-actor, multiplex and multisectoral relationships will permit health-focus institutions to impact health from a variety of angles as envisaged by the Sustainable Development Goals
Not all parties are willing and/or able to foster relationships with each other• Understand the engagement complexities or challenges faced by potential partners
• Encourage a spectrum of opportunities for faculty or staff willing to engage
• Provide the necessary (moral, professional, technical and financial) support structures as well as time required to enable this
If benefits to a relationship are seen not only in the form of tangible outputs but also in terms of perhaps unquantifiable but valuable outcomes, then we may see an increase in willingness to engage
Enhanced support to the engagement-inclined will likely lead to increased ability to cultivate meaningful and long-lasting individual as well as institutional relationships
• Pay attention to early career academics who are particularly disadvantaged given efforts required for academic advancement
• Provide a coordinated approach and response to government for student practical needs
• Diversify staff profiles by recruiting and/or encouraging the hiring of decision-makers with academic backgrounds
• Provide a coordinated approach and response to academia for student practical opportunities
Varied use and interpretation of terminology, particularly for advocacy and lobbying, results in misunderstanding as well as structural barriers to engagement• Leverage partnerships with advocacy organisations as key knowledge brokers between academia and governmentManaged expectations, processes and implications of ‘political’ engagements will reduce uncertainties and misunderstandings
Clearly articulated boundaries will temper hesitancies as well as protect activities from external scrutiny
• Expand beyond defining terminology to providing examples of what, within each type of activities, is permissible and prohibited by faculty
• Assist government with better understanding these decisions and their impact on faculty activities
• Expand beyond defining terminology to providing examples of activities that constitute advocacy and lobbying
• Clarify and provide processes required for partners to engage in such activities (e.g. need to register as a lobbyist to give testimony etc.)
Private universities such as the school of public health in this study may face contractual challenges with government agencies• Capitalise on academic rigor, expertise, reputation networks and relationships to justify the additional complexities of engagement
• Consider ways to reduce the contractual burden for government
• Reassess the proportionate overhead being charged to collaborations with government agencies, particularly at the city and state levels
• Explore more complementary partnerships with public Universities
• Assist government agencies with better understanding the processes (documents, timeliness, steps, costs, flexibility, etc.) for contracting with the school of public health
• Recognise the variety of benefits as well as costs of engaging with private versus public universities
• Reconsider the weighting of ‘costs’ (contracting, overheads, etc.) versus ‘benefits’ (academic rigor, issue expertise and reputation) in selecting a partner of choice
• Explore partnerships with third-party organisations who may have fewer barriers to contract with private institutions
• Incorporate recognition of the differences between engaging with faculty at a private versus public institution
• Define and exemplify proper and improper engagements
Creating a shared understanding of the benefits and drawbacks associated with academics in public versus private universities will help decision-makers initiate more applicable engagements
Accommodating the contractual realities of government agencies will allow academia to maintain a competitive advantage