Tyler R. Harrison

Tyler R. Harrison

Associate Professor
Purdue University

Most of my work in the health area has been in the area or organ donation campaigns, working collaboratively with organ procurement organizations to develop campaigns for worksites and driver license bureaus (DMVs). Two of the most recent projects have been DMV based campaigns in Michigan and Illinois that used point-of-decision materials, media campaigns, and volunteers to encourage people to join the organ donor registries of each state. Each of these campaigns involved designing campaign materials to place in DMVs, creating messages for radio broadcast and billboards, and training volunteers in how to communicate effectively with the public about organ donation.  In addition to increasing rates of joining organ donor registries, some of the challenges and opportunities result from the different approaches of academic researchers and community based health care organizations, and learning how to bring the best of both traditions to communicating with the pubic.

I am currently working on a project with organ transplantation specialists from the University of Barcelona examining the effects of specialized organ donation and transplantation trainings on knowledge and skills related to transplantation, communication abilities, perceived barriers to donation (looking at multiple levels, including family refusals, policy, etc.), motivation to work in transplantation, career trajectories, innovations, networking and collaboration, influence on policy, and several other areas. A survey asking about the influence of organ donation and transplantation training programs was developed and translated into five languages (Spanish, English, Italian, French, and Portuguese). Individuals who had participated in Transplant Procurement Management training courses were emailed a cover letter and link to an online survey. Additionally, links were posted on Facebook and handed out at organ donation meetings and congresses. Potential participants and key individuals were also asked to forward the link to individuals active in donation and transplantation.  Follow up emails were sent reminding potential participants about the opportunity to complete the survey. Eight hundred and ninety respondents provided information about their participation in training processes, and 794 participants reported still being active in donation. Of those that reported gender, 252 were male (42%) and 355 were female (58%). Participants reporting position at time of training consisted of 306 (41%) MDs, 318 (42%) RNs, 4 (1%) lab technicians, 12 (2%) biologists, 5 (1%) social workers, 23 (3%) Ph.D. and 83 (11%) reported other positions, ranging from transplant coordinators (n = 23), to psychologists, director of hospitals, paramedics, quality control, and positions in tissue banks. Respondents reported participating in 1498 training courses in 42 countries, with many respondents reporting participating in multiple courses. We area currently is the early stages of data analysis, but results show strong influence on respect from peers, knowledge, skills, communication abilities, and motivation to work in transplantation. Perceived barriers to family consent vary by country.  We are still exploring questions related to networking, innovation, and other areas.

key words to describe work

Organ donation, campaigns, training, community, worksites, dissemination

Work in relation to symposium keywords

The words dissemination and methods relate most to my work.

Dissemination: One of the primary goals I have in developing interventions is to help create approaches that can be replicated and shared to increase effectiveness. I am a strong believer that academic knowledge needs to have practical use. We have shared our work on campaigns with members of over 30 organ procurement organizations in the U.S. as well as with transplantation specialists from over 40 countries.

Methods is an area where there is often misunderstanding when working in collaboration with non-academic partners. Trying to get a shared sense of understanding of the importance of rigorous methods is difficult, but essential, in being able to maintain the integrity of an intervention and in being able to adequately demonstrate the efficacy of an approach.

Participation Questions

  • How do you explain/define what you do to medical personnel and/or other stakeholders in the research process or to the public?

I study social and structural influences on health related behaviors and design campaigns to address key barriers to attitude and behavior change. These social and structural influences include such things as media representations of the issue, the influence of personal and professional relationships, and organizational structures. My work has largely focused on organ donation and how to best create campaigns to address barriers to donation.

  • What other keywords would you add to the list above (connections, dissemination, ethics, methods, and theory) and why? (no more than three additions)

Two new keywords: Community partnerships and conflict. I believe it is crucial to have partnerships between academic researchers and practitioners when addressing health behaviors.  The partnerships combine the best knowledge and resources to create effective interventions. It can take a significant amount of time for a researcher to fully understand the medical terminology and practices around a particular issue. It is also difficult to gain access to the right populations without a community partner. Researchers bring expertise on theory and methods that can improve the quality, rigor, and replicability of interventions.  However, trying to bridge these different approaches often leads to conflict between community partners and researchers. It is important to develop trust, open communication, and processes to resolve these conflicts.

  • What research challenges have you experienced and how did you solve them?  Choose to focus on one or two specific examples that can help the group develop strategies for overcoming these types of challenges.


Two challenges that often occur in field interventions with community partners involve trying to move past traditional ways of dong things and balancing competing organizational needs. In organ donation, one of the more traditional approaches organ procurement organizations (OPOs) use is to conduct lunch and learns. These are often attended by only a handful of people who are already invested in the topic. But, OPOs have limited resources and have seen this as a way to engage the community.  Even when grant funding is obtained it can be difficult to convince them of the benefits of large scale interventions that target broader audiences. However, after results of the interventions come in we often see changes in attitudes and future approaches.  The second part of the challenge, though, comes from the sites of interventions. We often work in organizations or DMVs. Conducting campaigns in the ideal way means we want complete control and unlimited access. This is almost impossible to attain. For example, two of the DMVs we have worked with were run by the office of the Secretary of State, a political office. Even though they are not experts in organ donation they demanded significant control of the messages and placement of messages in order to gain access to their facilities. Their goals included minimizing transaction time, not appearing to favor organ donation to the extent other “causes” would want equal space for campaigns, and highlighting the support of the Secretary of State toward the cause. These types of competing needs and goals often compromise the integrity of an intervention, and it is important to work to find the best possible solutions to these limitations. Working with groups who already have ties can help facilitate some of these issues, but ultimately, fieldwork is messy and compromises have to be made.


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