By: Shawna O’Hearn, Director, Dalhousie Global Health Office
While there is a high demand for training and learning about community-based research, there are few formal, structured training opportunities. Established in 2008, MicroResearch aims to add capacity to global community-based research by empowering communities to address their own unique health issues.
MicroResearch ensures small research projects will have a real impact on health. The training develops a local culture of inquiry while identifying and solving health problems. Collaborations are with institutions in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania as well as new partnerships in Nova Scotia.
MicroResearch offers a two-week workshop with interdisciplinary trainees and local teachers who collaborate as instructors, coaches and mentors.
- During the 2-week workshop, 20 to 30 participants are taught practical research skills in daily seminars. Small groups transform an idea into a research project with a knowledge translation plan
- After the workshop, teams continue to refine their research proposal with their local and international coaches.
- Proposals are submitted for review and upon approval, the teams begin their research.
While I have been involved with MicroResearch in various capacities and locations over the last eight years, this was my first trip to the birthplace of this program. In January 2019, I ventured to Mbarara, Uganda with Dr. Noni MacDonald to deliver the two-week training program to 30 eager emerging researchers.
We worked with an incredible group of faculty connected to the Maternal Child Health Institute, including;
- Jerome Kabakyenga is the former Dean Faculty of Medicine of Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Uganda and is presently Director of the Maternal Child Health Institute (MNCHI). He is also one of the founders of MicroResearch with Drs Noni MacDonald and Bob Bortolussi
- Teddy Kyomuhangi is the Program Manager with the MNCHI and was introduced to MicroResearch as a participant in the 2010 workshop. She is now a teacher, coach, reviewer and onsite coordinator
- Scholastic Ashaba is a psychiatrist who was also a participant in the 2010 workshop and now she is a teacher, coach and site coordinator
- Francis Oriokot is a pediatrician who is a lead faculty member
During my time in Mbarara, I was honoured to work with experienced researchers and dedicated learners. I spent time with two individuals and documented some of our discussions capturing their passion for locally driven research and the importance of training and capacity building.
Odendi Gideon Robert
Manager of Mental Health Programs, Luzira Prison, Kampala, Uganda
Robert is trained as a registered psychiatric nurse and clinical officer. Through his work, he recognized the importance of mental health and completed additional degrees in counselling and clinical psychology. His educational knowledge is evident as we talked about his current role within the Ugandan Prison System. He is in charge of mental health programming for the only maximum prison (Luzira) in Uganda.
While this prison has a capacity for 1700 inmates, there are currently 4000 men and women housed here. There are visiting psychiatrists who are contracted to guide mental health treatment but much of this work is left to Robert and his team to assess, implement and evaluate.
With such a large clinical case load, his passion for research and evidence-based practice guided his commitment to be part of the MicroResearch training in Mbarara in January and February 2019.
Robert describes the MicroResearch training as detoxifing. He explained that
“during my education, teachers did their best but we did not develop well. We were in the hands of teachers who equally needed education. I grew up in a war area so didn’t receive the best education.”
He continues to explain that research was not part of education and grew to have doubts about his role in research.
As he looked around at the academic posters on the wall, he reflected that
“I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. When I look at these posters, I can see the research process and steps that we must follow. This training has removed doubt, allowed me to think more maturely and develop confidence in my ability to be a researcher. It has cleansed me to be an advocate for research and built my confidence that I can integrate evidence into my work.”
Robert has always believed that the community is the starting point for any part of change. Shaping the research questions with the community from the beginning will result in relevant research on local health problems. The second part of community engagement is returning to the community with results as part of the feedback loop. These steps are essential to successful research and addressing health disparities. He credits MicroResearch for giving him the tools to integrate knowledge translation into his work.
Robert continues to be driven by the question:
“what can I do to contribute to influence change and to improve the quality of life for those living with mental illness?”
Through this training, he expresses a sense of hope, direction and a future that includes an active role in research to guide his work supporting inmates with mental illness within Uganda’s criminal justice system.
Beatrice Katusiime, RN
Intensive Care Unit, Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital
Beatrice is enthusiastic, committed, and driven to understand research as it applies to communities and health. Her eagerness to learn is contagious making her a perfect fit as a new faculty member within the MicroResearch program in Mbarara.
In 2018, she participated in the MicroResearch training and was part of a team that explored prevalence of self-prescribed medication in postnatal mothers. She was the leader of her team and speaks passionately about the development of the proposal. At the time, she was completing her Bachelor in Public Health and she credits MicroResearch as strengthening her research skills for her university training which resulted in her receiving the highest scores.
A year later, Beatrice is teaching in the program and a coach for one of the teams. She is driven to improve her teaching and research skills as she seeks feedback from her peers and students. She acknowledges her strengths and identifies areas for further work as she continues in this journey. Self-reflection and continuous quality improvement are key to a successful health and research career.
Beatrice references MicroResearch as a “knowledge reduction process.” She explains that individuals join the program with their unique lens, focus and specific knowledge. As they begin to work in teams, they start to learn from other professions and recognize that their approach to the problem is only one part of understanding the complexity of the issues. They must begin to reduce their commitment to their unique discipline and begin collaborating across professions. They begin to conceptualize the problem with the team.
“People arrive with many textbooks in their head but as they work together they synthesize and begin to develop one comprehensive resource to understand the problem and work with the community.”
We also discuss the results of research and we recognize that it is not uncommon to see results shared in international journals with high impact factors and community members do not benefit. MicroReseach is a tool to guide community needs with findings that can be translated into policy. It looks for solutions to local problems.
Beatrice is passionate about the voice of community in the research process.
“You have to go to the community, understand the problem and draft the proposal with their input. You cannot assume you know the problem.”
Beatrice is a registered nurse who works in intensive care at the regional referral hospital. She plans to start a Masters in Public Health. The MicroResearch community is fortunate to have a new faculty member with a foundation in community driven research who is committed to working in collaborative teams to address health inequities in Uganda.
Thank you to the support from Academics Without Borders