Embedded research
design framework













During our research we found that embedded research initiatives come in a wide variety of shapes and forms. Despite this, they tend to share 10 broad features or themes. These relate to the underlying intent of the initiative, it’s structure and the processes  used within it.

The illustration below shows the 10 themes. These 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. 

Scroll over the image to explore the themes. A description of the theme will appear on the left of the image. Click through for more details on each theme.

During our research we also identified that one of the challenges of embedded research is working out how to plan and cultivate an initiative. Designing an initiative involves many choices and decisions, many of which may not seem obvious, but considering the themes we have identified can help. If you are involved in planning an embedded research initiative you might like to use this set of questions we have produced to help you to consider and discuss how you might design your initiative and continue to cultivate it over time. 

We have now published this work as two papers in Evidence & Policy. Click the links to access them (they are both free!)

Embedding researchers into organi…of embedded research initiatives: Ingenta Connect Fast Track Article

A framework to support the design…of embedded research initiatives: Ingenta Connect Fast Track Article











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.

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

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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).

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.