ExploreVR: An Interactive Web Portal Informing Disability Employment Research, Policy, and Practice
Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts Boston
Explore VR Increasing Adoption and Utilization of a Web Based Open Share Public Portal of Survey Data on VR and Other Employment Service Providers
Submitted by DeBrittany Mitchell
ExploreVR is an open-source portal that integrates vocational rehabilitation (VR) research, training, and technical assistance across multiple national centers in order to disseminate information tailored to VR audiences. The web platform transmits information through familiar channels for specific audiences. It provides a fully accessible, well-organized central location for continuously updated information produced by multiple national centers. The ExploreVR web portal is used as a knowledge translation (KT) tool to incorporate data into VR research, policy, and practice decisions that enable the federal-state VR system to effectively and efficiently deliver employment services to persons with disabilities.
ExploreVR is a web application that provides easy, convenient access to a range of VR and related research and data for planning, evaluation, and decision-making. Overall, this KT effort seeks to increase knowledge about the public VR program and its role within the larger employment and disability service system within and across states and territories. ExploreVR has many uses that are beneficial to state VR agencies, rehabilitation researchers, individuals with disabilities, state agencies, community rehabilitation providers, and disability advocates.
Numerous academic reports stress the need to transfer research into practice and policy development for the end user. However, the process of transferring information into actionable knowledge often falls short of its desired results. The healthcare and medical fields and, more recently, the disability and rehabilitation fields have acknowledged that there is a “gap between evidence and practice” (Davis et al., 2003) and that “moving [research-based] knowledge into action” (Graham et al., 2006) continues to be a challenge. Several strategies have been developed to bridge this gap, including KT. In contrast to strategies that primarily target practitioners for intervention, KT engages all possible stakeholders (practitioners, researchers, customers, and policymakers) (Davis et al., 2003). We incorporated this KT principle into the development of ExploreVR.
The Framework for Knowledge Transfer established by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality includes three major processes that can be referenced to explain the knowledge transfer capabilities of ExploreVR. These processes include knowledge creation, mass diffusion, and organizational use. The ExploreVR team embedded this framework to enhance the ExploreVR web portal in partnership with key stakeholders, including content and technical experts. The expert panels provided feedback and suggestions to implement within ExploreVR in order to increase the portal’s usage, effectiveness, and relevance.
Knowledge Creation and Synthesis
ExploreVR is used as a portal to highlight the outcomes of research activities within the various projects featured on ExploreVR. Current and former research projects include:
- The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Vocational Rehabilitation built the capacity of public VR programs to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities through case studies, service provider surveys, and state agency surveys. The ExploreVR portal was created as part of this project in order to provide a national hub for VR policy data, research, and operations.
- The Vocational Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Demand-Side Strategies conducts research, training, and technical assistance activities to engage employers and respond to their needs as customers.
- The Substantial Gainful Activity Project developed and tested a service-delivery model to improve earnings outcomes for VR customers who are Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries.
- The Research and Technical Assistance Center on Vocational Rehabilitation Program Management was a collaborative initiative that identified, tested, and disseminated management practices in order to build a performance management model tailored to the VR system.
- The Job-Driven Vocational Rehabilitation Technical Assistance Center strives to identify, adapt, embed, and sustain job-driven practices that lead to improved employment outcomes for people with disabilities.
ExploreVR highlights the VR research findings emerging from various national centers and research initiatives. The knowledge gained from research findings across projects was synthesized and featured on ExploreVR to weave lessons learned from research and practice into a meaningful interface. As indicated by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, knowledge synthesis requires “contextualizing and integrating research studies within the larger body of knowledge on the topic.” To assist ExploreVR users in navigating through different content within the same context, all research and data findings housed on the portal are categorically synthesized.
After knowledge has been created and synthesized, the next step is to disseminate it to end users through the web portal. ExploreVR uses a number of web-based activities as KT strategies for diffusion (e.g., hosting webinars; a blog featuring VR leaders; online research briefs, reports, and analyses). In addition to these products, ExploreVR also facilitates information sharing via the web portal. It provides a “share” feature on the data portal, where users can disaggregate data and exchange filtered results with colleagues via e-mail and social networking sites.
ExploreVR was developed with the understanding that it will be accessed across multiple devices such as smart phones, tablets, and computers. All code used to create the website, statistical analyses, and data visualizations are open-sourced, which means it is available for all to contribute to the data or use it at no cost for their own purposes.
The Institute for Community Inclusion designed ExploreVR to enable three types of access to research and data: (1) self-directed use and analysis; (2) requests for data analysis assistance; and (3) complete access to downloadable datasets and products. VR directors, staff, and personnel can independently and quickly query the portal for information that answers a question. By providing public access to the data, VR personnel and researchers can quickly and independently access information. In addition, public access to the data allows VR program evaluators to use data as a tool for U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) reporting, as well as to provide input to management staff and inform decision making.
ExploreVR also has progressively built more interactive products with the end user in mind. For example, the Job-Driven toolkits featured on the ExploreVR home page hosts a number of instructional and informational materials in a variety of formats such as videos, infographics, educational animations, briefs, reports, and fact sheets. The toolkits were designed with a focus on organizational use for staff in VR agency settings and has become the website’s most visited knowledge transfer tool.
As a development activity aimed at enhancing the features of ExploreVR, the team recruited three expert panels that included individuals with significant knowledge of the VR field and of disability policy: the General VR Content Expert Panel, the VR Program Evaluator Panel, and the RSA Monitoring Team Panel. Panel activities included three online surveys and conference-call discussions conducted during a four-month timeframe. Panel members shared feedback to assist in the enhancement of ExploreVR relative to content and ease of use. Specifically, the panels’ goals were to improve and expand the content of ExploreVR, more clearly define how various stakeholders may use ExploreVR, and identify appropriate dissemination and marketing outlets.
Input from the General VR Content Expert Panel supported ExploreVR during its development as a mature, robust product. Improvements to the site were implemented based on the feedback we received from stakeholders including a redesign of the home page, the addition of interactive toolkits, new data lab content, and more. KT is an active process that is shaped by communication and interaction between the creators of knowledge and the people who will use that knowledge (Graham et al., 2006; NCDDR, 2005a). Ongoing communication and interaction with current and potential ExploreVR users was key to increasing adoption and use among stakeholders.
Project Website: http://www.explorevr.org
Principal Investigator: Julisa Cully, firstname.lastname@example.org, Knowledge Translation Program Director,
DeBrittany Mitchell, email@example.com, Knowledge Translation Associate
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