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Building Interdisciplinary Research Capacity: a Key Challenge for Ecological Approaches in Public Health

1 Department of Health Sciences, Lakehead University, 955 Oliver Rd, Thunder Bay, ON P7B 5E1, Canada
2 School of Health Sciences, University of Northern British Columbia, 3333 University Way Prince George, BC V2N 4Z9, Canada
3 Department of Earth Sciences, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive Burnaby, BC, V5A 1S6
4 Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive Burnaby, BC, V5A 1S6

Special Issues: Ecological Approaches in Public Health

The shortcomings of public health research informed by reductionist and fragmented biomedical approaches and the emergence of wicked problems are fueling a renewed interest in ecological approaches in public health. Despite the central role of interdisciplinarity in the context of ecological approaches in public health research, inadequate attention has been given to the specific challenge of doing interdisciplinary research in practice. As a result, important knowledge gaps exist with regards to the practice of interdisciplinary research. We argue that explicit attention towards the challenge of doing interdisciplinary research is critical in order to effectively apply ecological approaches to public health issues. This paper draws on our experiences developing and conducting an interdisciplinary research project exploring the links among climate change, water, and health to highlight five specific insights which we see as relevant to building capacity for interdisciplinary research specifically, and which have particular relevance to addressing the integrative challenges demanded by ecological approaches to address public health issues. These lessons include: (i) the need for frameworks that facilitate integration; (ii) emphasize learning-by-doing; (iii) the benefits of examining issues at multiple scales; (iv) make the implicit, explicit; and (v) the need for reflective practice. By synthesizing and sharing experiences gained by engaging in interdisciplinary inquiries using an ecological approach, this paper responds to a growing need to build interdisciplinary research capacity as a means for advancing the ecological public health agenda more broadly.
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Keywords interdisciplinary research; interdisciplinarity; ecological; public health

Citation: Lindsay P. Galway, Margot W. Parkes, Diana Allen, Tim K. Takaro. Building Interdisciplinary Research Capacity: a Key Challenge for Ecological Approaches in Public Health. AIMS Public Health , 2016, 3(2): 389-406. doi: 10.3934/publichealth.2016.2.389

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