Capacity building for future research with impact

The UN describes capacity building as “the process of developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes and resources that organizations and communities need to survive, adapt, and thrive in a fast-changing world”. In the LongITools project, it’s about ensuring the sustainability of our research through the transfer of knowledge and skills both within and outside the consortium.

But on a practical level what does capacity building in our project look like?

Around 40% of our consortium is made up of postdocs and PhD students. They work in close collaboration with and under the supervision of the senior researchers. We have established key working groups within the project which are made up of both experienced and early-stage researchers. This means there is a natural flow of knowledge sharing and skills transfer within and across these groups, in areas such as data harmonisation and statistical methods.

It’s easy to forget in a large research consortium that not everyone understands the terminology being used. This is something that we are very conscious of and have up to now run a few sessions on explaining vocabulary in simple terms. We collectively created a list of all these words or phrases e.g., epigenetics, metadata, metabolomics, and prioritised a number of these to create simpler explanations, working in groups to define them. The next step is to bring this to life for the wider public by visually bringing together a collection of words or phrases in themes. The first of these will be linked to the launch of the LongITools Metadata Catalogue in early 2022.

Providing a platform, confidence and resources

We run a monthly ‘Coffee and Comms’ session for anyone in the consortium to drop in and explore any aspect of communication, dissemination and exploitation, including for example, how to engage with policymakers. This session enables our team to ask probing questions and share and bounce ideas around in an informal setting, whilst getting to know each other better! The ideal outcome is to provide early-stage researchers with the confidence and resources to communicate their research to a much wider audience.

We take a two-pronged approach to raising awareness of the project, its research, and potential outputs. For example, one of our first key outputs was to develop the LongITools Innovation Platform. For its launch, we prepared a ‘how to use’ video not only for users and potential collaborators to understand its purpose, but to ensure understanding across the consortium regarding this tool’s role in our exploitation activity.

We encourage and facilitate consortium members to access third-party training programmes which are relevant to the needs of LongITools researchers. This information is shared in our Partners’ Newsletter, or via email.

Finally, where a specific need has been identified e.g., a gap in knowledge or lack of expertise in a particular area, internal or external speakers are invited to give lectures as part of our LongITools Seminar Series. These are a key part of our General Assembly meetings, for example. We record any key workshops or training sessions which can be watched later by other members of the consortium. And, where the topic or information is not sensitive or related to the project’s intellectual property (IP), these sessions can be developed into formal video lectures to be shared outside of the consortium.

Leaving a legacy

As well as knowledge sharing within the consortium, it is also important to make sure this knowledge is shared more widely. To ensure the legacy of the LongITools project, wherever possible, we will ensure public dissemination of training materials developed. This will ensure that groups such as policymakers will benefit. These materials may be especially important in knowledge transfer to emerging countries with a high prevalence of cardiometabolic non-communicable diseases.

Ultimately, what is critical to ensuring our project has long-lasting impact is the commitment, from both the leadership team and those with specific technical expertise in their fields, to share our knowledge and our research with the consortium and beyond.