Researcher skills and expertise

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


Background and supporting material

The necessary skills and expertise of embedded researchers were a frequent preoccupation across our data, and these came in three broad types: topic specific skills and expertise; methodological skills and expertise; and interpersonal skills and expertise.

Topic specific skills relates to the clinical or practice-related issue that the embedded research initiative focuses on, such as diabetes, neuro-rehabilitation or childhood obesity. Whilst many initiatives sought researchers with such specific content knowledge, some (particularly those working at larger scales, comprising a portfolio of projects or a team of embedded researchers) prioritised other, more generic, forms of skill and expertise.

“Because we’ve got such a diverse Trust we have to not be too precious about what subject area we work in.  However I think we all have our own expertise in terms of skill set rather than subject.” – Embedded researcher interview

Methodological skills support the ways in which knowledge is created within the initiative and include the skills needed to define the focus of the knowledge creation activity, to collect and analyse data and to produce knowledge of different kinds. For many initiatives this type of research ‘know how’ was seen as particularly valuable, over and above any topic specific skills and expertise (Wye et al., 2018, p13).

Interpersonal skills and expertise were seen as highly valuable across the initiatives we identified. All role descriptions listed a range of required interpersonal skills for embedded researchers. These included facilitation skills, communication skills, relationship building skills and emotional intelligence and chimed with the emphasis in much of the literature on the social skills and dispositions of embedded researchers (Marshall et al 2014, Wong 2009).


Marshall, M., Pagel, C., French, C., Utley, M., Allwood, D., Fulop, N., Pope, C., Banks, V. and Goldmann, A. (2014) ‘Moving improvement research closer to practice: the Researcher-in-Residence model’, BMJ Quality & Safety, 10.1136/bmjqs-2013-002779.

Wong, S. (2009) ‘Tales from the frontline: The experiences of early childhood practitioners working with an ’embedded’ research team’, Evaluation and Program Planning, 32(2): 99-108.

Wye, L., Cramer, H., Carey, J., Anthwal, R., Rooney, J., Robinson, R., Beckett, K., Farr, M., le May, A.andBaxter, H. (2018), Knowledge brokers or relationship brokers? The role of an embedded knowledge mobilisation team. Evidence & Policy.

Development and adaptation process

This theme originally encompassed two sub-themes – generic/methodological skills and expertise and content specific skills and expertise.

During the workshop, much of the discussion focused on the need to clearly understand and map the different forms of skills and knowledge which an initiative might require and to match the researchers skills and expertise to these needs. There was a strong sense that interpersonal skills and expertise were one of the most important requirements of an embedded research initiative. This led to the inclusion of a third sub-theme focusing specifically on this type of skill/expertise.

Within the workshop there was also discussion about the challenges that individual researchers face when trying to manage expectations (including their own) about their individual expertise. Whilst some participants noted that ‘you don’t need to be an expert in everything’, others discussed their sense of needing to be a chameleon, wear multiple hats and manage their thoughts and worries in relation to their skills and expertise. This led to the inclusion of two overarching questions around the size and scope of the team and the management of expectations.