Measuring research capacity development in healthcare workers: a systematic review

16 Jul, 2021

Authors: D Bilardi, E Rapa, S Bernays, T Lang

Published in: BMJ open



Objectives A key barrier in supporting health research capacity development (HRCD) is the lack of empirical measurement of competencies to assess skills and identify gaps in research activities. An effective tool to measure HRCD in healthcare workers would help inform teams to undertake more locally led research. The objective of this systematic review is to identify tools measuring healthcare workers’ individual capacities to conduct research.

Design Systematic review and narrative synthesis using Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses checklist for reporting systematic reviews and narrative synthesis and the Critical Appraisals Skills Programme (CASP) checklist for qualitative studies.

Data sources 11 databases were searched from inception to 16 January 2020. The first 10 pages of Google Scholar results were also screened.

Eligibility criteria We included papers describing the use of tools/to measure/assess HRCD at an individual level among healthcare workers involved in research. Qualitative, mixed and quantitative methods were all eligible. Search was limited to English language only. Data extraction and synthesis Two authors independently screened and reviewed studies using Covidence software, and performed quality assessments using the extraction log validated against the CASP qualitative checklist. The content method was used to define a narrative synthesis.

Results The titles and abstracts for 7474 unique records were screened and the full texts of 178 references were reviewed. 16 papers were selected: 7 quantitative studies; 1 qualitative study; 5 mixed methods studies; and 3 studies describing the creation of a tool. Tools with different levels of accuracy in measuring HRCD in healthcare workers at the individual level were described. The Research Capacity and Culture tool and the ‘Research Spider’ tool were the most commonly defined. Other tools designed for ad hoc interventions with good generalisability potential were identified. Three papers described health research core competency frameworks. All tools measured HRCD in healthcare workers at an individual level with the majority adding a measurement at the team/organisational level, or data about perceived barriers and motivators for conducting health research. Conclusions Capacity building is commonly identified with pre/postintervention evaluations without using a specific tool. This shows the need for a clear distinction between measuring the outcomes of training activities in a team/organisation, and effective actions promoting HRCD. This review highlights the lack of globally applicable comprehensive tools to provide comparable, standardised and consistent measurements of research competencies.

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