Dr. Melody S. Goodman, an Associate Professor of Biostatistics at New York University’s College of Global Public Health, recently published, The Science of Stakeholder Engagement in Research: Classification, Implementation and Evaluation, in Translational Behavioral Medicine.
In this commentary, Dr. Goodman and Dr. Vetta L. Sanders Thompson, discuss the science of stakeholder engagement in research. They propose a classification system with definitions to determine where projects lie on the stakeholder engagement continuum. Moreover, they discuss the key elements of implementation and evaluation of stakeholder engaged research posing key questions to consider when doing this work.
With the uptake of implementation and translational sciences, the scientific community is shifting the focus from pure scientific discovery to include the translation and implementation of new scientific evidence in real world practice settings [1–4]. There is evidence to suggest that stakeholder engagement is the key in both implementation and translational sciences which includes tailoring best practices for specific populations [5–7]. Although there has been a proliferation of work on stakeholder engagement, there is limited empirical evidence on the best practices for stakeholder engagement and even less on evaluation of engagement demonstrating the association between the quality and quantity of engagement and research outcomes. However, there is a critical difference between going through the empty ritual of obtaining stakeholder feedback and giving stakeholders the real power needed to affect the research process and resulting outcomes .
The authors discuss different aspects of stakeholder engagement in research, coming to the conclusion that while the utility of stakeholder engagement in research has been demonstrated, it is important to really think over the science of stakeholder engagement in research. They pose several questions including: “How do we measure the level of engagement and the impact of that engagement on research outcomes? What are the best practices for implementation of multilevel stakeholder engagement? How do we evaluate which approaches are most effective in different settings?” While successful stakeholder engagement in an individual project is commendable, the authors suggest that we move beyond individual projects to enhance the science of stakeholder engagement by gaining a broader understanding of best practices for specific populations.
As we encourage researchers include stakeholders in their projects, it is imperative to evaluate both the process and outcomes of engagement activities. Goodman & Sanders Thompson have identified various aspects to consider while implementing and evaluating stakeholder engagement in research and with these questions in mind, project teams can prepare for the challenging task of meaningful, engaged participation from community health stakeholders.