SPOR Q & A: Understanding the SUPPORT Unit business plan

17 January 2014

MSFHR is excited to be facilitating the planning process for the BC SUPPORT Unit, part of CIHR’s Strategy for Patient Oriented Research (SPOR).  With writing of the business plan for the SUPPORT Unit well underway, we have developed a Q&A about this initiative based on feedback received from the research community.

Q: How are the research community’s ideas and priorities being addressed in the SPOR SUPPORT Unit business plan? There were hundreds of researchers included as members of the teams that responded to the call for expressions of interest: can researchers be confident that their ideas and priorities will be incorporated?

A: The perspective of researchers has been reflected in the choice of three main focus areas for BC’s SUPPORT Unit – data platforms, real-world clinical trials, and knowledge translation/implementation science. These core functions will be supported by cross-cutting services in methods support and development, consultation and research services, and training and career development.

We have held a number of consultations over the past 18 months for both the SPOR SUPPORT Unit and the BC health research strategy.  The SUPPORT Unit business plan development team members are from the research community and were chosen in part for their ability to speak to the needs and priorities of the province within their areas of expertise.

There are other core constituencies for the SUPPORT Unit, including:

  • the public and patients, whose needs and perspectives are the foundation for the broad Strategy for Patient Oriented Research across the country
  • health care providers and researchers
  • health authorities, whose populations are to be the beneficiaries of improvements in patient care that are advanced through the work of the SUPPORT Unit
  • the BC government

There are also potential funding partners from a range of sectors. Even with this large number of stakeholders, we are confident that we are collaborating in a meaningful way.

Q: How will the business plan development team engage with the community going forward?

A: The Interim Governing Council (IGC) of the SUPPORT Unit Project represents the BC stakeholder community.  The business plan development team is accountable to them as we move forward. A community consultation was held on January 23 when the leads of the teams that submitted expressions of interest were invited to a workshop with the business plan development team.  More information about that is available separately, and the workshop was an excellent opportunity for the writing team to do a ‘reality check’ with key stakeholders on their work to date. Further consultations will be considered as the business plan is further developed, and respecting of course the timeline for submission of the plan to CIHR. 

Q: How will the business plan lay out a five-year blueprint and budget, and how much detail will be included?

A: The business plan is designed to set out objectives, define success criteria, and outline a plan for allocating funds, particularly in the first year or two. The SUPPORT Unit will adapt and evolve over time to address capacity gaps, seize new opportunities, and build on successes. A detailed five-year blueprint and implementation plan will be developed to support the business plan through an iterative process involving CIHR, the business plan development team, and stakeholders from BC’s research community.

Q: How much money will be allocated to the SUPPORT Unit? And how will those funds be spent?

A: Each jurisdiction will determine its budget in cooperation with CIHR. Firm financial commitments to the BC SUPPORT Unit have not yet been made. By comparison, Alberta’s total budget is approximately $50 million over 5 years.

BC’s financial contribution to the unit can include monies already invested in SPOR-eligible areas; that is, existing provincial activities can be re-oriented to align with SPOR objectives as part of the investment in the SUPPORT Unit. In addition to these investments, there is an opportunity for new funding partners to get involved.

Funds for the SUPPORT Unit will be invested in building capacity for patient-oriented research. The details will unfold once the general principles for identifying needs and setting priorities have been worked out and the basic governance and operating structures for the SUPPORT Unit are in place. A key goal is to ensure all regions of BC are able to participate fully in patient-oriented research, which means building capacity and supporting networks outside the Lower Mainland. This isn't a conventional grants program; it is a strategic fund designed to foster innovation in patient-oriented research. BC’s SUPPORT Unit will be a "game-changer".

Q: Do the business plan development team’s organizations have the inside track on getting SUPPORT Unit funding. Is that the case?

A: No. The leads for the business plan were chosen because of their overall vision for and commitment to patient-oriented research and its application. They are not representing just their organizations; their horizon is the entire province of British Columbia. This was a critical criterion used in selecting these individuals.

In meetings to date it is clear that the public interest comes first for the members of the business plan development team, which includes two dedicated public/patient representatives. The Interim Governing Council will play a critical role in ensuring fair and transparent decisions are made with respect to how the SUPPORT Unit is implemented.

Q: BC has a lot of expertise in data platforms, clinical trials, and knowledge translation and implementation. Should funds for the SUPPORT Unit be directed to those existing centres?

A: There is, indeed, leading expertise in this province. We have no intention of duplicating or replacing existing expertise, and it is hoped that the SUPPORT Unit will become a useful resource across the BC health research enterprise. The Strategy for Patient Oriented Research was launched to create new capacities and open up new opportunities.

Truly patient-oriented research requires new approaches. Real-world clinical trials for example are different from traditional, prospective randomized controlled trials that are conducted in idealized circumstances and findings that may be less relevant to the real-world clinical situations that patients and caregivers find themselves in every day. There is tremendous potential to make data more accessible for research and analysis throughout the province, and to enrich the provincial data resource by connecting disease-specific registries, biobank data, and survey data with clinical information.

Through the SUPPORT Unit, we also have an opportunity to create communities of practice that share and apply new methods of research. A surprising amount of high-quality research findings do not get translated into practice – hence the focus on knowledge translation/implementation science as a priority for the SUPPORT Unit. Investments will be designed to address these gaps, for the betterment of all British Columbians.

A list of FAQs is available on the SUPPORT Unit website (www.bcsupportunit.ca) but we wanted to address some of the emails and phone calls we’ve been receiving over the last few months in this article. We are thrilled at how interested the community is in this work and we welcome all feedback as the process continues.