Introduction Best practices exist at the individual and organisational levels to facilitate return to work (RTW) following long-term absence for various health reasons. Yet implementation remains a challenge because of the complex multi-stakeholder context involving different social systems. The question then becomes, ‘How can we bridge the gap between research and practice?’
Methods A collaborative research project based on a conceptual framework of sustainability science was used. The framework proposes phases and associated methods. Our study first sought to build a common vocabulary to help collaboratively frame a shared problem, using a group consensus technique. To ensure a common understanding of the problem among participants, we conducted a rapid literature review and held discussions with stakeholders on the effects of ethnocultural, gender and ageing factors on the RTW process in a work disability context where medical professionals have deemed workers ready to RTW following diverse health issues. We then used a consensus technique to enable participants to jointly construct possible solutions and establish research priorities regarding implementation of adapted best practices.
Results A total of 8 multidisciplinary researchers, 2 postdoctoral students, and 12 stakeholders representing patients, employers, unions, healthcare professionals, and legal and insurance systems participated. A bipartite (researcher/stakeholder) governance structure was put in place to facilitate the process. A tool to promote a common vocabulary was developed collaboratively and comprised 79 terms and definitions. To ensure common understanding of the problem, a summary was developed with the advisory and knowledge transfer committee in the governance structure, and a Web-based capsule was produced. A series of consensus groups identified 8 research priorities.
Discussion A collaboration between researchers and stakeholders that is structured by a conceptual framework allows them to jointly identify, in the short term, both the problem and possible activities to bridge the gap between research and practice.
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