Embedding researchers in service organisations is the latest in a long line of approaches to better link the worlds of research and practice. Embedded researchers have become particularly popular in the field of healthcare, but can also be found in education and local government. As with any new initiative, one of the big questions on people’s minds is ‘does it work’? The problem, though, is that until now we haven’t had a clear picture of what ‘it’ (i.e. embedded research) is and how those interested in the approach might design an initiative.
To address this, our research team (a diverse group including researchers and healthcare managers) set out to better understand what embedded research initiatives look like in practice and produce a practical framework for anyone involved in designing or cultivating an initiative.
You know the story. A lone cowboy (unfortunately never a cowgirl) rides away into the sunset having saved the day. The same expectations are often placed on knowledge brokers who bring together different communities to share knowledge and catalyse change. The lone knowledge broker is supposed to be a hero. But speaking from decades of experience, you just can’t do it alone. A single person does not have all the necessary networks, knowledge, understanding, skills or credibility. To be effective, knowledge brokers need teams.
In a unique experiment from 2013–2016, we set up the Bristol Knowledge Mobilisation team. This was made up of four local healthcare policymakers (called ‘commissioners’) and three primary care academics; all of whom had part-time contracts with both the university and in healthcare commissioning. Our aim was for both communities to draw on each other’s knowledge to create ‘research-informed commissioning’ and ‘commissioning-informed research’ (i.e. research of genuine relevance).
We have spent much of our academic and professional careers participating in and leading initiatives that are trying to change how organisations, institutions and systems function. The relentless demands of this work mean there is often little opportunity to reflect on the efficacy of our efforts. To address this gap, we conducted more than two years of ethnographic research to learn how community-university-policy partnerships use research and strategic communication to change how youth homelessness is addressed on a pan-Canadian scale. Our intention was to improve our own tactical efforts to ensure our research contributes to the types of changes we want to see (e.g. an end to youth poverty and homelessness).
We learned that networked knowledge exchange is central to ensuring research-to-policy impact.
In this blog post, we suggest three things researchers can do to produce research that addresses persistent social problems.