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Bridging research & practice to prevent work disability


The NIVA Work Disability Prevention - Bridging research and practice workshop was held between the 14th-18th of June 2021. It was a workshop I was keenly looking forward to because of my current role as a research project coordinator - KTPAssociate on the KTP (Knowledge Transfer Partnership) project between the University of Huddersfield and SwissRe.


As a researcher, our job involves discovering new knowledge or verifying information for use. Whilst we thrive on advancing knowledge, our expertise in applying this knowledge is not as well developed. This means we can know what the research says on what works and what does not, but not as much on how we can operationalise this research and make it applicable in a real-life setting; this is especially true for work disability prevention. However, my current role as a KTPAssociate aims to do just that - applying knowledge gathered from the University of Huddersfield and applying it to develop an enhanced income protection product at swissre. Given this responsibility, I was excited to attend the above workshop.


I had three main goals on my mind; (1) increase my knowledge, (2) promote my research and (3) network! It is always a pleasure to gather in spaces with peers and like-minded researchers, and this was no different. My excitement reached its peak when I came face-2-face (virtually!) with researchers and authors I have referenced in my work and actively follow. Call it a fan moment, but I was in awe and felt like asking for an autograph. Ok, that is me stretching it. lol. But it was a privilege to share the same virtual space with them and soak in their wealth of knowledge and experience of the work and disability field. It wasn't only a case of hearing them speak or share their research experience and findings, but it was having mentoring and supervision within the course of the workshop programme that made the NIVA course tangible for me.


This is because being able to apply research findings to make positive changes has driven my interest in academia as a career path. And so, as I attended the virtual sessions, it dawned on me that when conducting either quantitative or qualitative research, questions I have considered around generalisability or transferability of research findings have often been one-dimensional. That is, in the context of a target population and not necessarily in the context of implementation, taking into account the variety of factors that either aid or impede the process. If I have lost you, don't fret, I will break it down in more digestible bits!


There are consistent findings showing that a plan to implement an intervention that fails to take account of such context as legislation, organisational norms and values in practice, and the culture is bound to fail - and note, these factors vary per country or region. So, if you have tried and failed at implementing a cross-country intervention, it might be useful to re-evaluate these contextual factors and ask: was the legislation across the countries similar? were the organisation and professional views similar? Or were the labour market characteristics similar? In order words, can those people who have been absent from work due to ill-health in the US and Italy respectively, benefit from a support tool developed in the UK? This was a revelation for me and it gave me a whole new perspective in approaching implementation research. What was most poignant was the identification of seven strategies to effectively apply research knowledge to practice; strategic communication, engagement of audiences, capacity development and training, guidelines and logic of change models, knowledge broker/intermediaries, network and exchange arenas/events and helix of partnerships/university, industry, government. These strategies sounded familiar to me, and that is because they fully encapsulate the activities of a knowledge transfer approach which I am employing in my current role.


The concept of knowledge transfer, knowledge brokering or knowledge mobilisation as an innovative means to effectively apply knowledge in workplaces was extensively expounded in the workshop. While this was a novel idea to most of the participants, this was not news to me! Therefore, I had the rare opportunity to use my current KTP as a case study exemplar to explain the 'real-world' process of knowledge mobilisation in the work and health field.


The final part of the workshop was a group presentation - an activity I was really looking forward to. Participants were randomly assigned into groups to show how they would develop and implement an intervention. I had the rare privilege of being matched with three amazing women from Finland, Sweden and the US. Coincidentally, we all worked within similar topic areas, which made for great team work. We fed off each other's knowledge and experiences, but more importantly, shared a keen interest for future collaborations. This was one of the highlights of my NIVA workshop experience - interacting with people in different locations and time zones. How cool is that? I can say for a fact that I got more than I bargained for from this workshop, and without hesitation I would recommend it to other researchers, early career researchers, KTP associates or knowledge mobilisers in the field of work disability prevention.


Dr. Abasiama Etuknwa (Business and Management, PhD.) | Research Project Coordinator (Work & Health) - KTP Associate | University of Huddersfield (A.B.Etuknwa@hud.ac.uk)


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