Questions & Answers about the Alberta SPOR Support Unit

What is SPOR?

The Strategy for Patient Oriented Research (SPOR) is a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) initiative that integrates funding, research and health care. The objective of SPOR is to foster evidence-informed health care by bringing innovative diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to the point of care, so as to ensure greater quality, accountability, and accessibility of care. SPOR is a coalition of federal, provincial and territorial partners – all dedicated to the integration of research into care. SPOR has several elements through which the goals of the initiative will be met, including the Support for People and Patient-Oriented Research and Trials (SUPPORT) Unit and SPOR Networks. A pan-Alberta consortium has submitted a proposal for an Alberta SPOR SUPPORT Unit.

What is the difference between SPOR SUPPORT Units and SPOR Networks?

SPOR SUPPORT Units are specialized, multidisciplinary research service centres located in provinces or territories across Canada. They provide necessary enabling infrastructure to assist researchers who conduct patient orientated research with access to data platforms and services, tools, methods, training, and connections. SPOR SUPPORT Units will work with health services to support the use of research evidence in decision-making and inform best practices. CIHR and its partners will fund SPOR Networks across a spectrum of research areas, such as youth and adolescent mental health, primary and integrated health care, and chronic diseases.

How is Alberta involved in SPOR?

In January 2013 an Alberta submission of a Business Plan for a provincial SPOR SUPPORT Unit was made to CIHR that involves University of Alberta, University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge, Alberta Health Services, Academic Health Network, Alberta Health, and Alberta Innovates (formerly Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions). The application was successful and on November 8, 2013, Alberta’s SPOR SUPPORT Unit was the first to be launched in Canada.

What is Alberta Innovates’ role in SPOR?

To be successful, the Alberta SPOR SUPPORT UNIT depends on a total partnership effort on behalf of Alberta’s health research community. Alberta Innovates is the provincial lead on making the partnership happen and has a keen vested interest as the co-funder (with CIHR) for making the partnership and initiative successful. Alberta Innovates (AI) is accountable to its Board of Directors for its investment in SPOR through the Alberta SPOR SUPPORT Unit. AI is a broker, facilitator, enabler and supporter of a “virtual provincial support unit.” The provincial virtual unit is an administratively connected, accountable resources- and people-based infrastructure distributed throughout each of the partner organizations in the initiative.

How is the Alberta SPOR SUPPORT Unit going to be put in place?

The Alberta SPOR SUPPORT unit will develop and implement seven province-wide platforms: Data Platforms and Service; Methods Support and Development; Health Systems Research, Implementation Research and Knowledge Translation; Pragmatic Clinical Trials; Career Development in Methods and Health Services Research; Consultation and Research Services; and Patient Engagement.

The development of the Alberta SPOR SUPPORT UNIT will be led by an Executive Director housed at AI, and a small technical staff in various provincial locations to manage implementation of the plans, funding for platform activity, and accountability mechanisms and impact reporting. The Alberta SPOR SUPPORT Unit will provide expertise and support to those engaged in patient-oriented research by: identifying patient needs and the research needed to address them, providing expertise in research methods, designing research studies, methodology training, and data access and services.

Specifically, what are some of the next steps for the Alberta SPOR SUPPORT Unit’s creation?

The Alberta steering committee has been established with ratified members from each of the partner organizations in the initiative. The steering committee will develop role profiles for platform leads which will be advertised. The platform leads for each of the defined SUPPORT areas will be selected through a transparent, competitive application/interview process for part-time positions. Each platform is expected to develop a strategic plan that will include definitions of success for their platform (in the context of seeing impact from the research and knowledge translation they will support), along with their projections on required capacity and their tentative plans for sustainability.

How will the Alberta SPOR SUPPORT Unit be funded?

The financial framework for each SPOR SUPPORT Unit will be between $2 million and $10 million per year per jurisdiction. CIHR will match financial commitments invested by the jurisdictions. This is a partnered investment by AI, the three participating universities and AHS to get the seven platforms up and running. The resources required for the Alberta SPOR SUPPORT Unit will come from CIHR, AI and other provincial partners.

What kind of research will be supported under Alberta’s SPOR SUPPORT Unit?

SPOR’s enabling health research platforms focus on the common needs across all pillars of health research: biomedical; clinical; health systems and services; and population health. The platforms will address existing gaps and/or accelerate knowledge transfer in areas where infrastructure exists but needs additional support. The benefit and promise of SPOR will only be achieved by the careful collaboration and contribution of activity spanning all pillars of health research.

AIHS’s alignment with the Strategic Clinical Networks—provincial evidence-based clinical structures responsible for improving patient outcomes and contributing to the improvement of health system outcomes—is essential for successful SPOR implementation in the province. AIHS leads and houses core functions—knowledge translation, ethics review and clinical research harmonization, community engagement, and research impact evaluation—that will enable rapid deployment of some of the SPOR platforms.

What and when will funding be made available to researchers?

SPOR is a strategic investment—and the deployment of resources, accountability mechanisms, and long-term sustainability of this investment is paramount for SPOR’s success and enduring impact. Financial resources will be provided by CIHR to AI (the designated host organization), but SPOR will not operate in Alberta as a grant-based disbursement of funding to research. Instead, the money and resources allocated to SPOR by CIHR and the provincial partners will support capacity development and service offerings for broadly defined patient oriented research in the seven platform areas. The goal is to create robust, sustainable infrastructure to facilitate the success of researchers and enhance their ability to improve the health of Albertans.

For more information:

Tim Murphy, MBA, Vice President, Provincial Platforms & Alberta Strategy for
Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR) SUPPORT Unit
(780) 429-6882