Commentary on “Operationalizing Stakeholder Engagement Through the Stakeholder-Centric Engagement Charter (SCEC)”
The generation of actionable and timely evidence, as well as the implementation and dissemination of evidence-based interventions, necessitates the initial and continued engagement of diverse collaborators (e.g., those who use and/or be affected by the evidence-based intervention).However, the process of operationalizing and formalizing equitable collaborator engagement, and recognizing the importance and impact of this engagement, is a persistent challenge for researchers. For example, without intentional collaborator engagement, researchers risk developing and implementing interventions that are neither timely, relevant, nor contextually appropriate for the intended audience. Additionally, the lack of standardized procedures for engaging key collaborators hinders the intentional and equitable relationships that can improve the implementation and dissemination of a study and evidence-based intervention.
In implementation science, collaborator engagement is of particular importance. The tenets of effective collaborator engagement such as power/resource sharing, trust, and transparency are critical for the team-based, transdisciplinary nature of the discipline. The recent manuscript by Martinez et al. developed the Stakeholder-Centric Engagement Charter (SCEC) as a strategy to operationalize collaborator engagement during the research lifecycle. Recently the Centers for Disease Control in the United States released, “Preferred Terms for Select Population Groups & Communities” which recommends the use terms other than “stakeholder.” Thus, in this commentary we use the term “collaborator” when discussing the work of Martinez et al. Of particular interest to implementation science is that the SCEC is consistent with the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute’s (PCORI) Research Engagement Principles which include reciprocal relationships, partnerships, co-learning, transparency, honesty, and trust. Thus, the SCEC is a promising approach for advancing the ethos of collaborator engagement, a cornerstone of ensuring the implementation and dissemination of evidenced based interventions.
Martinez and team provide an example of a SCEC that was reviewed and approved by the study team who had different amounts of research experience. The authors highlight several important factors that promoted effective collaborator engagement. First, advisory committee members were compensated in recognition of their time, expertise, and value to the project. Second, for members with limited access to technology, SCEC reviews occurred via phone calls, text messages, and/or printed materials. Finally, all materials were reviewed and approved through a vote and signature to memorialize the SCEC. By disseminating the SCEC and describing the process for its enactment, the study team make an important contribution to ensuring the equitable and robust participation and engagement of diverse voices in research activities.
Collaborator engagement is a critical component of effective implementation science and participatory research, however, efforts to successfully incorporate collaborators can be hampered without formalized processes. Martinez et al. highlight several important aspects of the SCEC approach which include strengthening advisory committee enthusiasm and investment in study activities, clarifying partnership expectations, operationalizing collaborator engagement, and preventing and resolving conflict. These aspects helped curate a professional, organized, and cooperative environment with clear procedures for communication, navigating disagreement, and mitigating barriers to participation.
Mistrust, power dynamics, and systemic inequities are real and difficult barriers to effectively engaging collaborators. SCEC and emerging best practices like it, such as community advisory boards, use of appropriate and equitable language, recognition of time and effort, commitment to building capacity of the collaborators, and fostering authentic connections represent important developments in the field towards more effective, participatory research products that are aligned with the values and priorities of collaborators. Overall, the work by Martinez et al. represents the cutting edge of the science of collaborator engagement in implementation science.
- Martínez, J., Piersol, C. V., Lucas, K., & Leland, N. E. (2022). Operationalizing Stakeholder Engagement Through the Stakeholder-Centric Engagement Charter (SCEC). J Gen Intern Med, 37(Suppl 1), 105-108. doi:10.1007/s11606-021-07029-4