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Living Lab for Health

Bridging science-society intermediation structures help reduce the current bias between health research agendas and social needs

Living Lab

The Living Lab for Health at IrsiCaixa leads a study demonstrating the potential of facilitative structures that foster collaboration between researchers and various social actors to achieve a health research agenda that better addresses societal needs

Efforts are being made to ensure that research is no longer a siloed activity but becomes more open and inclusive. This involves facilitating more participatory processes, promoted through initiatives like the promotion of citizen science or the creation of intermediation structures. However, a recent study published in the journal Health Expectations, conducted by the Living Lab for Health at IrsiCaixa, the Athena Institute, and the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, highlights the existence of biases between the research carried out so far and the research priorities of society. These biases are reflected, for instance, in a lack of research aimed at addressing diseases from a more social perspective rather than a pharmacological one. Additionally, there is a disparity in health research focused on high and medium/low-income countries, as seen when comparing the proportion of people affected by diseases like leprosy to the amount of research dedicated to it. The results show that these biases can be addressed through science-society intermediation structures like Science Shops. These organizations facilitate collaboration between researchers and relevant social actors to jointly provide solutions to identified challenges. As part of the European project InSPIRES, 14 Science Shops from 13 different countries have conducted participatory processes to identify, prioritize, and implement research projects. The study shows that the resulting projects address previously undercovered needs in health research, thus contributing to reducing the mentioned biases. The study leads the team to propose that these intermediation structures be consolidated to help define local, national, and international research agendas, thereby enhancing the social impact of research and innovation.

Over 6,000 people involved

A total of 117 projects implemented by 14 Science Shops, including the CaixaResearch Living Lab formed by the Living Lab for Health at IrsiCaixa and ISGlobal, were analyzed. These projects involved 6,035 people in identifying and prioritizing research questions through participatory processes. Most of these participants were non-organized citizens, i.e., people who do not participate in or are part of any organization, and students. The prioritized research questions are mainly directed towards the development of non-pharmacological treatments and health research topics that are not well represented in the Web of Science, a database that collects publications on much of the research conducted worldwide. “The results obtained after agreeing on the research questions with the public show that more efforts need to be dedicated to health research that refers to social sciences, in areas such as health education or health promotion, fields that we have not sufficiently addressed so far. This would complement the current health research, which is mainly focused on the development of pharmacological treatments, and move towards a more comprehensive approach to health,” comments Rosina Malagrida, head of the Living Lab for Health at IrsiCaixa and author of the study.

Different Priorities Between Science and Society in the Field of HIV, Chagas, and Leprosy

The study conducted a comparative analysis between the Science Shops projects and the publications indexed in the Web of Science. When focusing on HIV, Chagas, and leprosy projects, the results also diverge between the science recorded in the Web of Science and the projects chosen through the Science Shops. Again, biomedicine and clinical medicine are the fields with the most publications. In contrast, participatory processes lead to research projects mainly in social sciences and health. “In the case of HIV, the results show that, despite some countries already dedicating efforts to researching social sciences around this topic, the bias remains significant,” she details. “At the same time, the results show that Science Shops also contribute to reducing the imbalance between research aimed at finding treatments for diseases affecting countries with high per capita income compared to research for countries with medium and low per capita income.”

An Intermediary Structure Between Science and Society

The study's results highlight the need to strengthen intermediation structures between science and society, such as Science Shops or Living Labs like IrsiCaixa's. These structures enable connecting different profiles of people to reach consensus considering a more comprehensive and systemic perspective. “We need to put more effort into ensuring that research responds to social needs identified in a participatory manner to advance more rapidly towards comprehensive and equitable health. This will help solutions better respond to the complexity of the problems and, therefore, be more effective and impactful,” concludes Malagrida.

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