Objectives: To retrospectively explore research outcomes in Australian public health research and their relationship to full engagement with potential research users during the research process.
Methods: A self-administered survey of all principal investigators (PIs) receiving research funds from one of three well-known research funding agencies. ‘Research value’ and ‘research utility’ were self-reported using fixed response sets. Associations between outcomes and ‘full engagement’ were examined.
Results: Our response rate (75.1%) yielded data for 187 research projects. For just over one-quarter (26.7%), ‘research value’ was rated ‘very important’ in terms of knowledge generation. The most common ‘research utility’ was ‘continuing education’ (27.3%) followed by ‘policy formulation’ (25.7%). While 66 (35.3%) projects engaged at least one potential research user group throughout ‘full engagement’, such an intertwined relationship between researchers and research users was not associated with research value (χ2=0.46, 1df, p=0.5) or research utility (χ2=2.19, 1df, p=0.14). There were no predictors of ‘full engagement’. In just over a third of projects (34.8%), both part of the awarded grant and additional funding had been spent to promote research use.
Conclusions and Implications: This snapshot demonstrates patchy research engagement between researchers and research users. Other academic groups were the most common partner for full engagement. In an evidence-based era, innovation in health research funding policy should be evaluated. As NHMRC embarks upon its ‘Partnerships initiative’ in 2009, we recommend a prospective approach to evaluation.