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The MacGyver effect: alive and well in health services research?

Roshan Perera1* and Helen J Moriarty2

Author Affiliations

1 Medical Education Unit, Department of the Dean, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Otago, Wellington, P.O. Box 7343, Wellington South 6242, New Zealand

2 Department of Primary Health Care and General Practice, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand

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BMC Health Services Research 2011, 11:226  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-11-226

Published: 20 September 2011



In a manner similar to the television action hero MacGyver, health services researchers need to respond to the pressure of unpredictable demands and constrained time frames. The results are often both innovative and functional, with the creation of outputs that could not have been anticipated in the initial planning and design of the research.


In the conduct of health services research many challenges to robust research processes are generated as a result of the interface between academic research, health policy and implementation agendas. Within a complex and rapidly evolving environment the task of the health services researcher is, therefore, to juggle sometimes contradictory pressures to produce valid results.


This paper identifies the MacGyver-type dilemmas which arise in health services research, wherein innovation may be called for, to maintain the intended scientific method and rigour. These 'MacGyver drivers' are framed as opposing issues from the perspective of both academic and public policy communities. The ideas expressed in this paper are illustrated by four examples from research projects positioned at the interface between public policy strategy and academia.