Functional activities

This page provides further information on the design framework ‘Functional activities’ theme, including the background and supporting material, and the development process.


Background and supporting material

Across our data, the functional activities being undertaken within embedded research initiatives featured prominently. Reading across this data we were able to discern three sets of insights: the range of activities being undertaken, the purpose of these activities and training and support for the activities.

The range of activities being undertaken within and across initiatives was varied and job descriptions gathered from our scoped examples often comprised lengthy lists of activities. Looking across our data we were able to discern four types of activities: relational (e.g. attending meetings and facilitating relationships), knowledge creation (e.g. collecting and analysing data), educational (e.g. facilitating a journal club and arranging seminars), and project management (e.g. planning, managing and leading individual projects).

As well as speaking to the range of activities being undertaken, these categories also focused attention on the purpose of these activities. In practice, although job descriptions suggested that these activities (and their purpose) were relatively tightly defined, many interviewees suggested that they were instead fluid and emergent with new opportunities presenting themselves throughout the initiative. 

Our data showed that there was a tendency for those leading initiatives to be over-ambitious about the activities that researchers should carry out, leading to ‘role strain’ and contributing to boundary management difficulties (Wye et al 2019). Our interviewees and workshop participants suggested that focusing on the purpose of activities was an important way of combatting this.

The ‘training and support’ sub-theme was informed by discussions with our workshop participants and some interviewees. They suggested that training and support could enable researchers to carry out the range of activities required by an embedded research initiative. We found relatively few examples of such training and support for functional activities being provided to embedded researchers, although some researchers accessed these via their informal arrangements for belonging.


Wye, L., Cramer, H., Beckett, K., Farr, M., le May, A., Carey, J., Robinson, R., Anthwal, R., Rooney, J. and Baxter, H. (2019) ‘Collective knowledge brokering: the model and impact of an embedded team’, Evidence & Policy.

Development and adaptation process

This theme originally comprised five sub-themes, which covered the distinct types of functional and concrete work being undertaken in the initiative. These were:

  • organising and managing (i.e. meetings and other ways of linking people together as well as project management aspects of the work such as overseeing people and budgets)
  • teaching (i.e. informing and developing others such as mentoring, providing feedback, facilitating a journal club and running seminars)
  • analysing (i.e. formal research activities such as reviewing and analysing materials or conducting ethnographic work)
  • sharing (i.e. giving and receiving information through formal and informal dissemination processes)
  • creating (i.e. capitalising on the ER’s perspective to spark ideas, problem-solve, and inspire new ways of thinking).

During the workshop we came to realise that using such an instrumental categorisation of the types of activities which an initiative could cover was not in line with our presentation of other themes, which were designed to prompt thought and discussion rather than list possible options. On reflection we recognised the need to overhaul this theme so that it was more in line with the other themes.

During the workshop participants discussed the feeling of having multiple (and often too many) activities to juggle and the need to balance relational activities (e.g. meetings, relationship building and management), knowledge creation and mobilisation activities and project management activities. They also discussed the extent to which activities needed to be tightly defined or fluid and emergent.

These discussions led participants to reimagine the theme, creating a visual representation which incorporated four themes – purpose and focus, governance and monitoring arrangements, training and support (for researcher), networks to support emotional labour. Three of these have been incorporated into the sub-themes and/or description of the theme. Governance and monitoring arrangements insights have been incorporated into the contractual arrangements element of the ‘belonging’ theme and into the ‘learning mechanisms’ theme.