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Evaluation of a 'virtual' approach to commissioning health research

McCourt, C., Morgan, P. & Youll, P. (2006). Evaluation of a 'virtual' approach to commissioning health research. Health Research Policy and Systems, 4(1), article number 9. doi: 10.1186/1478-4505-4-9


BACKGROUND: The objective of this study was to evaluate the implementation of a 'virtual' (computer-mediated) approach to health research commissioning. This had been introduced experimentally in a DOH programme--the 'Health of Londoners Programme'--in order to assess whether is could enhance the accessibility, transparency and effectiveness of commissioning health research. The study described here was commissioned to evaluate this novel approach, addressing these key questions.

METHODS: A naturalistic-experimental approach was combined with principles of action research. The different commissioning groups within the programme were randomly allocated to either the traditional face-to-face mode or the novel 'virtual' mode. Mainly qualitative data were gathered including observation of all (virtual and face-to-face) commissioning meetings; semi-structured interviews with a purposive sample of participants (n = 32/66); structured questionnaires and interviews with lead researchers of early commissioned projects. All members of the commissioning groups were invited to participate in collaborative enquiry groups which participated actively in the analysis process.

RESULTS: The virtual process functioned as intended, reaching timely and relatively transparent decisions that participants had confidence in. Despite the potential for greater access using a virtual approach, few differences were found in practice. Key advantages included physical access, a more flexible and extended time period for discussion, reflection and information gathering and a more transparent decision-making process. Key challenges were the reduction of social cues available in a computer-mediated medium that require novel ways of ensuring appropriate dialogue, feedback and interaction. However, in both modes, the process was influenced by a range of factors and was not technology driven.

CONCLUSION: There is potential for using computer-mediated communication within the research commissioning process. This may enhance access, effectiveness and transparency of decision-making but further development is needed for this to be fully realised, including attention to process as well as the computer-mediated medium.

Publication Type: Article
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Midwifery & Radiography
SWORD Depositor:
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