CCGHR’s University Advisory Council: 5 years and onward
November 4th, 2015: It was a cool clear day in Montréal when representatives of twenty Canadian universities met at the 5th annual workshop of the University Advisory Council (UAC) of the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research (CCGHR).
The day began with an overview presentation by Charles Larson, CCGHR’s National Coordinator of the Coalition’s new 5-year strategic plan. He requested advice on how the expertise represented by the UAC as a Canadian university collective could be more visible and used, particularly by Canadian government officials. This concern was highlighted during a recent meeting of the Canadian Network for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (CAN-MNCH) to which no university had been invited. It was learned that the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) was drawing upon expertise from an American university for advice about implementation research and tool development for accountability. In the discussion with UAC colleagues, it was agreed that the moment was opportune to bring the interest, expertise and willingness of the CCGHR’s UAC to the attention of DFATD officials. A small working group was struck to develop an action plan to “seize the day”.
Brief update reports were received from the leaders of the UAC’s current working groups. These included working groups on Internationalization and Global Health Research (GHR) by Shawna O’Hearn, Dalhousie University; Trans-disciplinary research & GHR collaboration by Jill Allison, Memorial University; Collaboration with the Student/Young Professional Network by Emily Kocsis, CCGHR Research Officer; and the CCGHR’s Harmonization Initiative by Vic Neufeld, CCGHR Special Advisor. Each report stimulated lively discussions and led to specific suggestions and recommendations. Key actions will be incorporated into the UAC’s 2016 work plan.
A major agenda item was a report of the Coalition’s two-year project: Gathering Perspectives Study (GPS2) presented by the study leader, Katrina Plamondon. The presentation focused on two documents that represented the main products of the work to date. The documents were: Global Health Research: A Canadian Policy Perspective, and Principles to Guide Global Health Research. Both documents (along with working group summary reports) had been pre-distributed to the workshop participants, and also placed on the UAC’s website. Four discussion groups were created, with two groups assigned to each document. The groups were asked to focus in particular on these questions:
• How can this document be used in your own institution?
• What actions should the UAC (as a collective) consider?
Each group identified some specific actions for the GPS2 research team to consider. A summary of these suggestions was to be presented to a special meeting held later in the week (November 7th) where a selected group of colleagues will develop a comprehensive GPS2 dissemination plan. Details about the dissemination plan (including the recommendations from the UAC workshop) will be available upon request.
Workshop participants then turned their attention to updates from each participating university about important developments of the past year, along with challenges and opportunities for the coming year. As was the case in previous years, these institutional “stories” represented a remarkable range of experiences and developments. There were important cross-cutting themes such as the following:
• The continuing challenge of within-university “silos”, and the need for more creative arrangements for inter-faculty and trans-disciplinary interaction and collaboration;
• Some exciting examples of major breakthroughs, such a significant fund (contributed by donors) at McGill University for student fellowships; renewed leadership for global health research at a deanery level at the University of Toronto; a major donation for global health research at York University; a new directorate for global health at Laval University and several other similar stories.
• There is an increasing number of graduate programs in global health, some within the framework of population and public health programs.
• There is growing interest in global health research by students at all levels. Over the past year, CCGHR student chapters have been created at five universities.
The workshop concluded with creative responses to the question: What should the UAC include in its work plan for the coming year, and how can we do things better? Suggestions included the following:
• Capitalizing on the new political environment to re-imagine Canada’s role in the world, and more specifically push for a Canadian strategy for global health;
• Promote a critical dialogue about global health scholarship, including “stories” about global health research activities and innovations;
• Include universities in the dissemination plans of the two documents being promoted by the Coalition’s Gathering Perspectives Study;
• Clarify the interaction between global health education and research;
• Facilitate regional inter-university global health research events (workshops; forums; possibly “institutes”);
• An exploration about how universities with global health graduate programs across Canada can collaborate effectively and creatively;
Each participant was asked to consider his/her own role in achieving the proposed actions. A “sign-up sheet” will be circulated to members to help create working groups within the framework of the 2016 UAC work plan.
In summary, it was confirmed that the UAC plays a vital role as a collective voice to move the global health research agenda forward within individual institutions and nationally. Participants also stated that the UAC is a resource for Canadian universities, and the annual event along with the contribution of working groups provides a forum for collaborative and non-competitive approaches to addressing shared issues and opportunities. This is rare and valued.
[Note: there currently are twenty-one (21) Canadian universities that are institutional members of the CCGHR. Of these, 18 were represented at the workshop. Two “guest” participants were from universities that are currently considering membership.]