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Understanding and reducing barriers to collaboration by academics with agencies and community organizations: a commentary
  1. Lewis H Margolis,
  2. Carol W Runyan
  1. Injury Prevention Research Center and School of Public Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7400, USA
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Lewis H Margolis, Department of Maternal and Child Health, School of Public Health, CB 7400, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA (e-mail: Lew_Margolis{at}unc.edu).

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In Reflections on a Half Century of Injury Control, Julian Waller addressed directly the need for collaboration.1 He noted that organizations, as they age, tend to become insular and look inward instead of toward others for new ideas. Yet, as Waller emphasizes, a multidisciplinary approach is critical to our ability to understand and reduce injuries, particularly as problems and solutions become more complex. For the field to advance, collaboration between academically based researchers and public agencies (for example, local health departments) or community organizations (for example, non-governmental service groups or neighborhood associations) is essential.

Despite ample opportunities for collaboration among academicians, public agencies, and community organizations, different emphases in these potential partners result in barriers to collaborative ventures. These barriers arise from differences in:

  • Approaches to defining and prioritizing problems and strategies for solutions;

  • Values and requirements for career advancement;

  • Work styles;

  • Time demands;

  • Approaches to using information.

Understanding the perspectives of communities, agencies, and academicians on these barriers will enable these potential partners to overcome impediments to effective collaboration. The purpose of this commentary is to explore how these barriers impede academic researchers in the collaborative process.

Approaches to define problems and prioritize strategies

In any collaboration, there must be agreement about what problem is to be addressed and how multiple problems are to be prioritized. A variety of agencies and disciplines play unique, but overlapping, roles in injury control—for example, health, transportation, criminal justice, education, and labor. Some emphasize engineering approaches to prevention, while others may focus on health behaviors or on enforcement. Though all these approaches have their places, the tendency to cling to traditional perspectives can create barriers to collaboration.

Community members may bring different perspectives on research needs from those in academic research and public agency settings. Further, it is not infrequent that different individuals or groups may claim to …

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