Today Ithaka S+R is publishing the report Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Public Health Scholars, which provides actionable findings for organizations, institutions, and professionals who support the research activities in this dynamic field.  Our research was undertaken collaboratively with research teams at seven academic libraries in the U.S., six of which have also made their local findings publically available as companion publications. This work is part of an ongoing effort at Ithaka S+R through our Research Support Services program to understand how to effectively structure research support in the 21st century. While the academy continues to rely primarily on disciplinary siloes, emerging trends in research and technology are challenging these boundaries, a topic Roger Schonfeld and I explored in Rethinking Liaison Programs for the Humanities.

Public Health is a particularly compelling field to study because of its highly collaborative nature. These collaborations take many forms with a variety of partners including scholars in other disciplines at the same or other institutions, state health departments, public health departments, non-governmental organizations, and governmental organizations within the U.S. and overseas.

As our findings and the findings of our companion researchers reflect, the public health scholar encounters challenges at all stages of their collaborative work. The John Hopkins team found (p. 3) that at the outset of projects, navigating local administrative bureaucracy, most notably through ethics review at the institutional level, can be a complex endeavor. Discovering and accessing information for secondary research to support projects is uneven and requires workarounds, especially when working with international collaborators, as the University of Washington team notes (page 14, and also see page 10 of our report). Public Health scholars report requiring much greater support for their data storage and management activities, both at the policy and technological-level such as through storage and preservation solutions. Researchers at both the University of Minnesota (p. 9) and University of Illinois-Chicago (p. 18) found that this issue is especially complicated because scholars are working to satisfy seemingly competing requirements and best practices for data sharing and data privacy and ensuring data accuracy. At the stage in which public health scholars seek to communicate their work, they must negotiate with their collaborators to determine appropriate scholarly audiences in public health and other disciplines to communicate with and how to communicate effectively with stakeholders beyond academia while taking into account impact factors, as the research teams at the University of Iowa (p. 10), the University of Alabama – Birmingham (p. 10), and University of Illinois-Chicago show (p. 26).

While the collaborative activities of public health scholars warrant support at every stage of the research lifecycle, Ithaka S+R’s capstone report pays attention especially to workflows, which necessitates support far beyond the capacities of singular disciplines, institutions or geographic regions. For example, we recommend that overseas collaborators be permitted better access to library resources at institutions they are collaborating with, to ensure that they can more fully participate in the research process. We also highlight the importance of developing a standard set of research workflow tools and infrastructure that scholars collaborating across institutions can reference to share, manage, and store data that also comply with IRB requirements.

The deep emphasis on collaboration is a unique characteristic of public health research, and makes it all the more critical that we find ways to foster better workflows to support the field. The findings from our project point to ways that various stakeholders in academia, both locally and globally, can work together to make this happen.


Research Teams & Local Reports

Johns Hopkins University

University of Alabama –Birmingham

University of Arizona

  • Team members: Annabelle Nuñez

University of Illinois – Chicago

University of Iowa

University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

University of Washington