Embedded research
design framework













Designing an embedded research initiative

Embedded research initiatives – where health services researchers are physically located within health service organisations – can come in a variety of shapes and forms. Although they often change and grow over time, there are many things that can be planned and designed at the outset.

This illustration shows 10 key areas in which an embedded research initiative can be planned and cultivated.

These areas, or themes, are grouped into:

  • intent – covering intended outcomes and power dynamics
  • structure – covering scale, involvement, proximity and belonging
  • processes – covering functional activities, researcher skills and expertise, learning mechanisms, and relational role.

Scroll over the image for a description of each theme and click through for further details.

These areas, or themes, were developed from a review of the embedded research literature, information from embedded research initiatives in the UK and interviews with people involved in them.

We have also produced a set of questions to aid discussion and consideration of the features of an embedded research initiative











Please select one of the areas on the map to reveal further information on the specific area



This design theme focuses on the researchers involved in the embedded research initiative and their proximity to the practice context or organisation which they are to be embedded.

More details


This design theme concerns the scale at which the initiative will operate.

More details


This design theme focuses on the mechanisms that an initiative will use to monitor and learn about itself (including whether it is achieving its intended outcomes).

More details


This design theme focuses on the specific activities that the embedded researchers will undertake within the initiative.

More details


This design theme focuses on the range of researcher skills and expertise that an embedded research initiative might need in order to fulfil its intended outcomes.

More details


This design theme concerns the power dynamics that surround the embedded research initiative.

More details


This area focuses on the ways in which embedded researchers engage with and relate to the practice context or organisation in which they are embedded and the role that they play within that context.

More details


This design theme focuses on how researchers in an embedded research initiative will belong to the worlds of research and practice and the arrangements that will support their belonging.

More details


This area focuses on the involvement of various actors in an embedded research initiative.

More details


This design theme concerns the intended outcomes or benefits of the embedded research initiative.

More details






Background to the illustration

The idea for the illustration came from a co-design workshop with people involved in embedded research initiatives. During the workshop, attendees reflected on the themes we had identified and gave us a strong steer about:

  • the emergent and at times uncertain aspects of designing (and operationalising) an embedded research initiative
  • the emergent nature of some of the themes (e.g. intended outcomes)
  • the amount of work that needs to be put into an embedded research initiative
  • the holistic and intertwined nature of the themes.

We felt that the metaphor of a garden captured these aspects of an embedded research initiative and reflected some of the metaphors used by workshop attendees.

Illustrations/metaphors for each theme were developed in discussion with a professional illustrator (Chris Redford) and with the wider Embedded team. Individual illustrations are not necessarily designed to fully capture the ‘meaning’ of each theme (these are provided in the associated text) but do attempt to capture some aspects of each theme:

  • Intended outcomes are represented by the range of desirable produce emerging from the garden as a whole.
  • Power dynamics are seen as a river flowing through the whole space, with the scope to both power initiatives (the water wheel) but also (implicitly) to overwhelm (e.g. flooding).
  • Scale is hinted at by the idea of a wood containing trees of different size, species and maturity.
  • Involvement uses ideas of the hive (honey bees) to suggest that collective engagement is needed to produce more than individuals can in isolation.
  • Proximity hints at ideas of distinct choices (the signpost), purposeful navigation (the map) and boundaries to be negotiated (the fence).
  • Belonging is represented by both a summer house (a structural space for belonging) and a picnic (reflecting informal social spaces for belonging).
  • Functional activities suggests the range of activities needed for success, their interconnectedness, ideas of investment for the future, and the sometimes toilsome nature of some of the tasks.
  • Researcher skill and expertise are represented by gardening equipment and tools.
  • Relational roles playfully suggests that actors from very different backgrounds and abilities may need to find ways to get along!
  • Learning mechanisms points towards growth (the baby birds), maturity and stillness (the wise heron) and calm reflection (seen here literally but intended metaphorically).

There was some discussion about the ordering of the themes. We have chosen to move from the intent (intended outcomes), through the structural aspects/decisions and down to the level of the individual researcher(s) at the bottom of the illustration. But we have tried not to over-think this aspect due to the overall focus on the holistic/emergent nature of an embedded research initiative.