Reflections on the 4th International Fuse Conference by Naoimh McMahon

The 4th International Fuse Conference took place at the Coast Coal Harbour Hotel in Vancouver from the 8th to the 10th of May. I had the opportunity to attend the conference and take part in a poster presentation to share some of the findings of my NIHR CLAHRC NWC funded research. The conference was co-hosted by the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) and Fuse - the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health. Fuse is one of the five UK Public Health Research Centres of Excellence and brings together the five North East Universities of Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside in a unique collaboration to improve health and wellbeing and tackle inequalities. Fuse is also one of the eight academic centres making up the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) School for Public Health Research (SPHR).

As a warm up for the conference, all delegates were invited to attend an annual Health xChange event. The event followed a PechaKucha format (20 slides x 20 seconds each) and asked: How can we mobilize research evidence to make change in health policy or practice? There were 8 excellent speakers at this event who covered topics ranging from the opioid crisis to ensuring equitable access to family planning services. The conference itself was opened by the North East’s own Eugene Milne, Director of Public Health at Newcastle City Council, who delivered an insightful talk on the current context for public health in the UK. Eugene shared the platform with colleagues from Australia, Israel, Canada, and the Netherlands and they each provided an overview of the public health context in their respective countries and the role of evidence in public health policy making.

In the afternoon I attended a workshop by Justin Jagosh entitled “Theorizing trust mechanisms in collaborative and co-productive health contexts: A realist methodology open forum”. During the workshop there were candid discussions about the complex nature of relationship building, particularly between groups with competing priorities or misaligned indicators of success. Delegates also highlighted the challenge of both acknowledging, and addressing, power imbalances between partners and discussed the role of institutional processes and governance in shaping how partnerships function.

On Day 1 I also attended a workshop run by colleagues from Fuse. Peter van der Graaf, an NIHR Knowledge Mobilisation Fellow from Teesside University, Mandy Cheetham an embedded researcher from Teesside University and Gateshead Borough Council, and Mark Welford, Communications Officer at Fuse, led a workshop entitled “How to develop a structural approach to knowledge exchange: Practice-based workshop on effectively linking communication activities between researchers and policy-makers”. The workshop sparked much debate as to how best to identify main messages and target audiences for knowledge exchange strategies, and there was a strong focus on ensuring the active involvement of stakeholders throughout the entire development process.

Paul Cairney, Professor of Politics & Public Policy at the University of Stirling closed Day 1 with a provocative talk entitled ‘Why doesn’t evidence inform policymaking quite the way we hope?’ Paul highlighted the parallel words that seem to exist between researchers and policy makers, and in particular the varying degrees of attention paid to evidence in the policy-making process. Paul’s talk served to challenge some ideas in the room about what constitutes ‘good evidence’ for policy making, and challenged delegates to take a more pragmatic view of the policy making process.

Day 2 of the conference opened with a series of lightning talks where speakers shared their experiences of best-practice in co-production and knowledge exchange. Professor Trevor Hancock set the tone for these talks, reminding us of the prerequisites for health and the need to be ambitious in our efforts to work towards a more sustainable society. In the afternoon, a compelling case for investment in public health was put forward by Steven Hoffman, the Scientific Director at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), who suggested that we need to turn public health into ‘good politics’ for both politicians and policy makers. Larry Green from the University of California San Francisco delivered the final session of the conference, discussing the evolution of evidence-based medicine to evidence-based policy making. Extending some key themes of the conference, Larry highlighted the disconnect between traditional approaches to generating knowledge and evidence, and the need for novel approaches that can produce meaningful, contextualised, and practice-based knowledge to inform difficult decision making.

The 4th International Fuse Conference was an excellent opportunity to meet a diverse group of open-minded people with an interest in making positive change in public health policy and practice. If you would like to see more from the conference you can catch-up on Twitter using the hashtag #FuseKEC18. The 5th International Fuse Conference on Knowledge Exchange in Public Health will take place in 2020.


Naoimh McMahon 

Posted on: 21 May 2018