A relational conceptual framework for multidisciplinary health research centre infrastructure

Health Res Policy Syst. 2010 Oct 6;8:29. doi: 10.1186/1478-4505-8-29.


Although multidisciplinary and team-based approaches are increasingly acknowledged as necessary to address some of the most pressing contemporary health challenges, many researchers struggle with a lack of infrastructure to facilitate and formalise the requisite collaborations. Specialised research centres have emerged as an important organisational solution, yet centre productivity and sustainability are frequently dictated by the availability and security of infrastructure funds.Despite being widely cited as a core component of research capacity building, infrastructure as a discrete concept has been rather analytically neglected, often treated as an implicit feature of research environments with little specification or relegated to a narrow category of physical or administrative inputs. The terms research infrastructure, capacity, and culture, among others, are deployed in overlapping and inconsistent ways, further obfuscating the crucial functions of infrastructure specifically and its relationships with associated concepts.The case is made for an expanded conceptualisation of research infrastructure, one that moves beyond conventional 'hardware' notions. Drawing on a case analysis of NEXUS, a multidisciplinary health research centre based at the University of British Columbia, Canada, a conceptual framework is proposed that integrates the tangible and intangible structures that interactively underlie research centre functioning.A relational approach holds potential to allow for more comprehensive accounting of the returns on infrastructure investment. For those developing new research centres or seeking to reinvigorate existing ones, this framework may be a useful guide for both centre design and evaluation.