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Lowering research from the ivory tower

By Michelle Osmond

A new international team has just been launched that includes researchers from Memorial University. Its goal: to develop ways to involve non-academics in the research process and determine if research makes a difference to people.

Dr. Wendy Young is leading the Canadian arm of the International Methods Network (IMN) – a network consisting of researchers from Canada and the U.K.
Dr. Young, Memorial's Canada Research Chair in Healthy Aging, has been collaborating with partners in the U.K. for some time. Together, they have been working on a project titled Sustaining IT Use By Older People to Promote Autonomy and Independence (Sus-IT). Here in Canada, the Sus-IT team, which is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, hopes to get some answers on why older people are quitting computers and what we can do to help them stay online.

In the U.K., there are eight universities working collaboratively on Sus-IT. There, it's funded by the government's New Dynamics of Aging Program – the largest research program on aging ever mounted in the U.K.

Sus-IT (U.K. and Canada) is one of the three academic networks that form the core of the IMN. The other teams in the network are the Engaging with Scottish Local Authorities program and the Academy of Social Sciences (U.K.).

Dr. Young said the IMN seemed like a natural progression from the Sus-IT collaboration. She says the U.K. has long admired the methodological developments in Canada on involving non-academics in the research process. As the principle investigator on the Sus-IT Canada project, Dr. Young was invited to be a member of the advisory board of the network and will be playing a crucial role in driving the network.

"Historically, researchers published their research findings in academic journals that are read by other academics. Canada has led the way in changing how non-academics are involved in the research process and how research findings are communicated to non-academics," she said. "Memorial has been involving community members and government people in research for a very long time. A good example is Yaffle, which is an innovative way of engaging non-academics."
Dr. Rob Greenwood, executive director of Memorial's new Office of Engagement, noted that Dr. Young's initiative is a great example of how Memorial faculty are leaders – nationally and internationally – in linking research with partners and stakeholders outside the university.

"By participating in this international project, Dr. Young is drawing on her cutting edge work at Memorial to contribute internationally, and also taps into research and engagement from elsewhere that will contribute to work with seniors in our province," said Dr. Greenwood.

One of Dr. Young's partners in the Sus-IT program is Professor Irene Hardill of Northumbria University. Prof. Hardill acquired the funding for the IMN project through the U.K.'s National Centre for Research Methods and its Networks for Methodological Innovation program.

The network was officially launched at the British Academy in London in October and will be holding workshops over the next year in the U.K. Members of the Canadian team have been invited to the final conference in September 2012.