What makes a good research environment?

It is probably a given that even those of us who are doing a pretty good job in research would like to do better. In this context, good research or better research might be loosely defined as research that brings about some good in the world; for example, the discovery of a more accurate diagnostic test or a more effective form of treatment. So, how do we create an environment that encourages such results?

Remarkably, this is something that has not been studied very well, and so is an important focus for our Global Chiropractic Research Enterprise initiative. Having said that, there have been some attempts to look beyond personal factors and the individual research project, and to identify the high-level drivers of good research.(1)

Some of the major institutional drivers of good research will not surprise us and are almost the stuff of modern success seminars. They include having clearly articulated, organizational goals – not fluffy, feel-good statements, but coordinating goals which provide guidance to individual researchers and laboratories. In practice, researchers find that the right balance of organizational direction does not interfere with academic freedom (but see ‘governance’ below), while absence of organizational direction is a strong predictor of low productivity. Hand-in-hand with organizational direction is a culture of research. This means an environment which facilitates research, and where success in research is acknowledged and rewarded in tangible terms. A third major driver of success in research is organizational governance, more precisely, participatory governance. In the most productive institutions, the researchers themselves have a strong voice in the governance of their institution, and there are abundant channels of communication, permitting all participants to have their voices heard.

These days, in research assessment, there is an almost singular focus on the individual researcher or the individual paper, in part because the metrics are so easy to generate (for example, see 2). Furthermore, in chiropractic, attempts to cultivate research tend to focus, not without some justification, on enabling the individual researcher (for example, see 3). However, it appears that it is the interplay of individual, group (lab), and institutional factors that characterizes the most productive organizations.(4)

In this regard, the newly founded Center for Collaborative Research in Complementary and Integrative Health (cihcenter.org) may open a new front in the struggle to cultivate chiropractic research.(5) The members of this new center are institutions, rather than individual researchers, and the program of the center emphasizes inter-institutional collaboration which necessarily draws administrators into the otherwise unfamiliar world of research.


  1. Bland C.J., Ruffin M.T. Characteristics of a productive environment; literature review. Acad Med 1992;67:385-397.
  2. Marchiori D.M., Meeker W., Hawk C., Long C.R. Research productivity of chiropractic college faculty. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 1998;21(1):8-13.
  3. Lothe L.R., Bolton J.E. Increasing research capacity in the chiropractic profession: a case study and evaluation of an innovative research program in Norway. J Chiropr Educ 2013;27(1):40-47.
  4. Bland C.J., Center B.A., Finstad D.A., Risby K.R., Staples, J.G. A theoretical, practical and predictive model of faculty and department research productivity. Acad Med 2005;80(3):225-237.
  5. Coulter I.D., Herman P.M. The research crisis in American institutions of complementary and integrative health: one proposed solution for chiropractic profession. Chiropr Man Therap 2019;27:32.

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