The McMaster Health Forum’s Impact Lab undertakes cutting edge research and research synthesis about how to support the use of research evidence in health systems, and it trains students and researchers to undertake such work. The Impact Lab capitalizes on the numerous research and evaluation opportunities created by the Forum’s innovative programs and by its partners internationally, which collectively provide a ‘natural laboratory’ within which to study innovations in supporting evidence-informed health systems.
The Forum’s Impact Lab engages a diverse group of faculty members, research staff, students and collaborators to:
- conduct empirical research on the general climate for the use of research evidence in health systems, research prioritization and production processes, and systematic efforts to support the use of research evidence in health systems (including push efforts, efforts to facilitate user pull, user-pull efforts and exchange efforts);
- conduct empirical research on the policymaking process and the factors that influence it, which include institutions, interests, ideas (research evidence, other types of information and values), and external factors;
- regularly update a systematic review of the factors that influence whether and how research evidence is used in policymaking and conduct systematic reviews about related topics; and
- derive concrete implications for research funders, research organizations, knowledge brokers, and health system policymakers and stakeholders about how best to support the use of research evidence in health systems.
Research spearheaded by the Impact Lab has led to publications in many top journals, to presentations at major scientific conferences, and to the creation of innovations like Health Systems Evidence. Examples of current projects include the ‘Harnessing Evidence and Values for Health System Excellence’ project focused on the Canadian province of Ontario (and funded by the Government of Ontario) and the ‘Knowledge Translation Platform Evaluation’ focused on 41 low- and middle-income countries (and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the European Commission).
The Forum’s Impact Lab also strives to be a leader in health systems and policy research training, both in Canada and internationally. At McMaster University, the Impact Lab is involved in building capacity at the undergraduate level through the Bachelor of Health Sciences Program, at the master’s level through a number of programs (especially Health Research Methodology), and at the doctoral level through the Health Policy PhD program. Internationally, the Impact Lab has robust partnerships with other institutions, such as the College of Health Sciences at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. The McMaster/Makerere partnership is financially supported through the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) International Research Chair in Evidence-Informed Health Policies and Systems, which has made possible both the enrollment of international students (from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Colombia, Ethiopia and Uganda) in the Health Policy PhD program and the field work of Health Policy PhD students in a number of settings (e.g., Colombia, Ethiopia, Peru, Uganda and Zambia and at the World Health Organization in Switzerland).