Needs-led research seeks to answer questions that have not already been addressed through previous research (knowledge gaps) and whose relevance has been legitimized and prioritized by patients, relatives, and/or healthcare professionals.
The process also identifies so-called "unknown knowns," meaning questions that have been answered through previous research and represent knowledge that can be transferred to users and the field of practice.
Needs-led research acknowledges that there may be a mismatch between what users of research consider important questions and the actual research questions being investigated (Tallon et al., 2004).
Furthermore, all new research studies should be grounded in a systematic review of all previous studies; evidence-based research.
There is increasing attention directed towards ensuring that various user groups and society as a whole have greater influence and participation when the goal is to ensure the relevance and utility of research.
Needs-led research is related to the first step in the research process, which involves identifying and prioritizing research questions.
This is central to the Bridge-Building Project, and PhD candidates are expected to use methodology for needs-led research when formulating their research questions. User involvement is a core element in this process, ensuring that research questions are grounded in user needs and documented knowledge gaps.
Needs-led research is a crucial tool for reducing the substantial amount of wasted health research.
Chalmers and Glasziou published an article in The Lancet in 2009 about wasted research. In the article, they estimated that 85 percent of health research is "avoidably wasted."
The reason for this waste lies in the gap between what users and researchers want research on and the fact that researchers do not sufficiently account for available research when justifying the need for their own research.
Needs-led research, which includes both user involvement and systematic searches for knowledge gaps, is thus a tool to contribute to a research foundation that is more relevant to users and society, ensuring that research questions have not already been answered in previous research.
Several methods for user involvement in the process of determining research topics have been developed, effectively facilitating interaction between users, researchers, and decision-makers.
For example, in the United Kingdom, the James Lind Alliance has developed a systematic method for identifying previously unanswered research questions based on user needs.
- User needs can be identified in various ways but are characterized by processes where users/stakeholders (patients, relatives, healthcare workers) propose, discuss, prioritize, and reach consensus on questions they believe are important for research to address or answer.
- Documented knowledge gaps are best identified through systematic searches that, by collecting, evaluating, and compiling all available research on a specific issue, can determine whether research is lacking, and which questions should be investigated.
The results of such processes can be used as a starting point to guide researchers and research institutions on what research should focus on.
In the Bridge-Building Initiative, PhD candidates and their supervisors conduct their processes to identify knowledge gaps within their respective topics, forming the basis for their further research.
These processes can also identify so-called "unknown knowns," research questions that already have answers based on existing research.
Such "unknown knowns" can be brought back to the field of practice, where they can be assessed for potential impact or implementation in the daily care of patients and users.
With their shared positions, PhD candidates have a key role in facilitating such two-way knowledge transfer between research and practice.
The Bridge-Building Initiative
The Bridge-building Initiative at the Faculty of Health Sciences aims to establish closer connections between research, education, and clinical practice. By identifying the needs of users, we ensure that research and education are relevant and beneficial to society.