Improving Research Outcomes through Increased Collaboration
While it’s common to share approaches, processes and lessons learned with implementing partners across international development programs, one USAID-funded program applies this model to its research portfolio.
Transformational Strategies for Farm Output Risk Mitigation (TRANSFORM) contributes to the global health security agenda by improving animal health to protect human health. In addition to advancing on-farm practices, increasing access to finance and encouraging antimicrobial use stewardship at the industry level, TRANSFORM is also conducting locally led research in Kenya, India and Vietnam to identify market-driven animal nutrition solutions to improve animal immune response to disease, reduce zoonotic pathogens and reduce the need to use antimicrobials.
It’s these researchers working at different institutions around the world who are connecting in a whole new way to improve research outcomes.
A new approach
With a robust research portfolio expected to include more than 10 trials conducted by nine partners across three countries, TRANSFORM lead researcher Dr. Victor Nsereko knew this project would generate a large amount of data. But instead of waiting until the research is complete to share findings through a peer-reviewed journal or present at a conference, Dr. Nsereko thought research partners could benefit from learning about each other’s approaches and methodologies before finalizing their own.
“With a research portfolio this size and trials lasting anywhere from 3 to 18 months, each of our research partners is in a different part of the process,” said Dr. Nsereko. “While one research team may be ready to have their data peer-reviewed, others are just submitting concept notes. We wanted to create a learning environment where our partners could share freely across institutions, opening avenues for collaboration that will improve the data we’re collecting across the project.”
Creating opportunities to connect
One way TRANSFORM is forging connections across research teams is through a biannual research symposium. This virtual event includes brief presentations from each research team, offering an overview of their approach and any initial data or conclusions. Research peers are invited to ask questions or provide their perspective after each presentation. The result is a science-based conversation on optimizing the impact of the data collected, reducing redundancies and improving methodologies that strengthen the portfolio.
“This is the first time I’ve seen researchers from different institutions collaborate in this way,” continued Dr. Nsereko. “By uniting what were otherwise isolated living components of one project, we’re able to spark the initial connection and let the scientists establish their own working relationships with each other.”
TRANSFORM hosted its first biannual research symposium on September 20, 2023, and included five presentations from research partners. By limiting attendance to TRANSFORM current or potential research partners, the TRANSFORM research steering committee and TRANSFORM leadership, presenters and participants were able to focus on the science and engage in an honest, productive conversation to propel work forward. In a post-event survey, 100% of respondents reported the symposium was relevant to their work, with attendees appreciating the opportunity to learn about other approaches and receive feedback from their peers. The second research symposium will be held in the spring of 2024.