Partnership Spotlight: Knowledge broker helps engage youth in research

21 July 2015

Teens are getting directly involved in health research through KidsCan, a youth-engagement initiative co-funded by MSFHR and the Wall Solutions Initiative.

Based at the Child & Family Research Institute, KidsCan works with teens between ages 14 and 17 on the development of solutions to health challenges facing their peer group. A major focus to date has been reducing childhood obesity by promoting physical activity among children and adolescents.

Working with Vancouver-based tech companies Ayogo (specialists in gamification of patient self-care) and Kineteks (developers of sensory devices for wireless analysis of human movement) KidsCan has produced a smartphone-based game for children that synchronizes with a biometric sensor to reward physical activity.

MobileKids: Monster Manor” gives in-game rewards for activities such as going for a walk or bicycle ride. The free app is targeted towards kids aged eight to 13 years, and the developers wanted to hit the right note in pitching to them. An app that was poorly adapted to youth lifestyle and culture could go unused, wasting the researchers’ investment of time and resources.

Enter the experts: KidsCan filled the need for end-user input with its Young Persons Advisory Group. This group of teens is equipped to inform all stages of a project including research questions, methods, recruitment, and strategies for dissemination of findings. They played an integral role in developing the game to market-readiness.

And the benefits of the interaction go both ways. The Youth Advisors learn about the research process directly from researchers, laying the groundwork for possible future careers of their own in research and medicine.

“End-user involvement is crucial to the development of solutions that can be successfully adopted by the community,” says MSFHR-funded knowledge broker Manil Chowdhury. “KidsCan has emerged as the only such program in Canada and is one of only a handful in North America.”

Researchers looking to consult with the KidsCan Youth Advisory Group can complete this form
Youth interested in joining the Advisory Group can apply using this form

As part of MSFHR’s commitment to building knowledge translation capacity in BC, the Foundation funded Chowdhury to be embedded within the KidsCan project. Chowdhury facilitates interactions between KidsCan and interested researchers in addition to supporting the implementation and evaluation of knowledge translation activities.

The work of KidsCan with “Monster Manor” has been a success: early findings published in 2015 indicate that children who use the app significantly increase their physical activity levels, with greater improvement observed in children with higher body mass index.

And Chowdhury is also looking to the future: he used these experiences to contribute to the development of international guidelines for best practices in establishing youth engagement programs in collaboration with partner groups, a project undertaken by the EU-funded Global Research in Paediatrics Network of Excellence (GRiP).

The ultimate goal of the KidsCan project is to develop a national Youth Research Advisory Group to engage youths as partners in research, improving end-user involvement and reducing wasted research dollars on a national scale.

Supplemental knowledge broker funding available

MSFHR is pleased to partner once again with the Wall Solutions Initiative to help ensure cutting-edge health research evidence is used to solve real-world problems.

For the current Wall Solutions Initiative competition, MSFHR will fund knowledge brokers on up to four projects that relate to clinical practice or public health and can demonstrate a benefit to BC. These knowledge brokers will engage with diverse stakeholders and will use knowledge translation models, strategies, and activities to enhance the use of health research evidence in policy and practice.