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Strengthening public health research in Europe: call SSP-3

Final Report Summary - SPHERE (Strengthening public health research in Europe: call SSP-3)

The SPHERE project was established in response to a call from the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) of the European Commission's Directorate for Research in October 2003. It was a collaboration of 19 partners in 13 European countries, which engaged public health colleagues across the continent in a new dimension of work. It sought representative information on public health research at national and European levels, rather than for individuals or local organisations.

SPHERE worked on the following activities:
- engaging in bibliometric studies of European public health research literature for public health research overall, as well as six public health areas, and a separate study of French databases was conducted, as well;
- describing public health research arrangements - inquiries at national and European levels indicated organisational patterns and perspectives of public health research;
- coordinating and discussing implications of the work, and linking them to the research community.

The main activities of the project were:
- public health research literatures: SPHERE undertook reviews of six specialist fields of public health literature. These were chosen as representative of the main areas of public health science. Moreover, they also reflected the activities of scientific sections within the European Public Health Association, which offered contact with researchers in these fields across Europe. Partners undertaking the literature researches used electronic databases to search for papers using particular keywords.
- public health research arrangements: by using surveys, literature reviews, visits and discussions, understanding of public health research was gained from European institutions, national ministries of health and of science, and national public health associations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). This area of the work was designed to develop dialogue, promote a shared agenda and integrate research needs of policymakers with the capacity of the European public health research community.
- consultation from the preliminary assessment: the project consulted with participants, stakeholders and the public health community, through circulation of the preliminary assessment, to both widen and deepen understanding about public health research in the Member States.

SPHERE collected information from, and established dialogue with, a wide range of sources at European and national levels. It showed the strengths of the European public health, but also identified issues of concern to researchers, officials and civil society. Bibliometric studies across fields of public health research showed that Europe made a strong contribution to the world's knowledge through public health research. However, there were substantial variations between countries, and particularly low levels of public health research using social science methods in new Member States. Since investment in health research contributes to gross domestic product (GDP), future growth in national incomes in European countries should be accompanied by growth in national public health research.

While the project was able to collect in-depth information from individual institutions, and stakeholders, these views did not fully reflect the national situation. It remained a challenge to develop and maintain a continuing database of information on public-health research in Europe that can be available to all stakeholders. New collaborative studies were undertaken to learn from the national difference in health policies and public health practice. The European Public Health Association, one of the partners of the study, provided an important framework in bringing together individuals with national responsibilities to discuss research at European level.