Principal investigator impact orientation in medical device public research
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The aim of this study is to explore the impact orientation of principal investigators (PIs) of publicly funded medical device research projects. PI impact orientation can be defined as the awareness, attitudes and approaches of principal investigators in relation to the generation and prioritisation of research impact. The methodological approach undertaken was qualitative in nature, involving semistructured, open-ended interviews with a full population sample (n=38) of PIs affiliated with CÚRAM, the SFI Centre for Research in Medical Devices. Applying a thematic analysis approach. findings were gathered into four thematic groups; PI perspectives on impact, factors influencing PI impact orientation, factors inhibiting PI impact orientation, and PI approaches to impact. The main findings of this study include medical device PIs understanding of impact consisting of scientific impact and broader impacts (health, societal, economic and human capital), with many PIs viewing health, economic and human capital impacts as de facto societal impact, or societal impact as a hybrid impact of other categories. PIs were more focused on the shorter-term outputs, or routes to impact, rather than the macro-level impacts of their research. Commercialisation was considered by many PIs as the most effective, and for some the only route to impact. Relevant stakeholders of medical device research were identified, along with factors and inhibitors relating to PI impact orientation. Complexities of impact were identified, including issues of attribution, temporality and lack of common understandings of impact, that led to some misunderstandings and negative perspectives on impact. PI approaches to impact included collaboration strategies, with industry, clinicians, multidisciplinary academics and, to a lesser extent, patients and patient groups. Other approaches to impact offered by PIs included project formation strategies, involving both proactive and reactive behaviours, and career planning and strategising for impact. Using Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological theory, an ecological framework for PI impact orientation was developed from the findings of this study, to support PIs in addressing, mapping and analysing the impact of their research across environmental systems, identifying stakeholders relevant to their research, with the research translation continuum, from basic scientific discovery to point-of-care application, as a frame of reference. A number of recommendations emerged from these findings, for medical device PIs, policymakers and higher education institutions (HEIs). Recommendations for PIs included the need for more systematic planning for impact, from project formation stage onwards, including multiple stakeholder engagement and collaboration throughout the process, to enhance their research project’s impact potential. HEIs must offer more targeted, joined up supports and training for medical device PIs in their efforts to create impactful research, with time allowed to PIs in planning for impact. At the policy level, more standardisation is required in impact definitions and understanding across research policies and structures, to aid impact understanding for all stakeholders in the research process. Similarly, policymakers need to ensure that the metrics they utilise and the outputs they desire are ones that PIs can achieve, and that are firmly linked to eventual impact. A number of future research avenues are also proposed.
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