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Fostering `Virtual Communities of Practice' to Move Cancer Control Research into Practice Open Access

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This dissertation utilizes community of practice theory to explore how create and sustain federally-sponsored virtual communities of practice (VCoP) that focus on translating cancer control research into practice. The federal government has the responsibility to translate findings from research it funds into real-world practice. With increasing budget cuts, travel restrictions and limitations on attendance at meetings and conferences, federal agencies, including the National Cancer Institute, have identified VCoP as a mechanism for engaging with important constituencies such as researchers and practitioners to facilitate this translation. However, creating and sustaining VCoP is a new endeavor for most federal agencies. This study utilized concept mapping, an integrated mixed-methods approach, to examine the issues key stakeholder believe need to be addressed to create and sustain government-sponsored VCoP to integrate cancer control research, practice and policy. Approximately 1,500 researchers, practitioners, and intermediaries were invited to participate in the concept mapping study. The study found nine key areas that are important to the creation of federally-sponsored VCoP: 1) standardization/best practices; 2) funding/resources; 3) external validity; 4) preparing the environment; 5) social learning & collaboration; 6) cooperation; 7) social determinants/cultural competency; 8) partnerships; and, 9) inclusiveness. Wenger's Community of Practice Framework is modified based on results from the concept mapping study to reflect the specific topics relevant for a federally-sponsored virtual community of practice designed to translate cancer control research into practice. Based on the concept maps generated for the overall group (N=39), researchers, practitioners and intermediaries were in relative agreement regarding issues of importance for creating a VCoP designed to move cancer control research into practice. Based on the ladder graphs, the three groups were found to have a correlation regarding the relative importance ranging from r=0.43 to r=0.81. Actively engaging these groups in creating and sustaining a VCoP may require different approaches. Researchers are most likely be engaged in a VCoP when there are opportunities to develop partnerships through the community. Intermediaries are most likely to be involved in a VCoP when the VCoP is framed as a mechanism for collaboration and partnership that links research with practice. Practitioners are most likely to participate when the focus of the VCoP helps them understand how to utilize evidence-based approaches in practice and when the VCoP focuses on patient and community needs. The findings also highlight the important role of trust in creating a VCoP. The National Cancer Institute, and other federal agencies that are currently exploring the use of VCoP, can use the findings from this study to actively engage researchers and practitioners, and intermediaries in the development and implementation of VCoP designed to move research into practice.

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