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


Background and supporting material

Embedded research initiatives can be thought of as a mechanism for bringing together the worlds of research and practice. As such, we identified a number of structural features influencing belonging: boundary management, contractual arrangements and informal arrangements.

Both the literature and those we interviewed emphasised the precarious nature of working in an embedded role, and the sense of liminality which can arise from the need to work across (and between) boundaries (Rowley, 2014). These include the epistemic and functional boundaries between academia and healthcare settings and those that arise between different organisations, professions, teams and priorities within each of those settings.

“If I’m really honest, this has tested me to breaking point almost, because it’s not easy.  The University were interested, then they weren’t, and then they were – I don’t belong to the teaching fraternity, I don’t belong to the research fraternity.” – Embedded researcher interview

Across our data these insights were often used to emphasise the importance of managing boundaries within initiatives and using a range of mechanisms (both formal and informal) to facilitate this.

Embedded research initiatives often made use of a variety of formal, contractual arrangements to enable researchers to belong to and manage boundaries between the worlds of research and practice. Contrary to earlier literature on embedded research (Vindrola-Padros et al 2016), the initiatives we uncovered rarely made use of joint contracts of employment between academic and health service organisations. Instead, expectations and agreements about belonging were often documented in memoranda of understanding, funding agreements and job descriptions.

In addition to formal, contractual arrangements embedded research initiatives also made use of a range of more informal arrangements to enable researchers to belong to different worlds. These included support networks, mentors and champions. Whilst some initiatives built such arrangements into their structures, it was often researchers themselves who created, sought out or nurtured them. Researchers who lacked formal, contractual links with academia often sought to maintain their links by participating in academic activities such as conferences. These researchers highlighted the importance of being given permission and encouragement to engage in these activities.

“I think it’s really, really important that I make sure I keep those links with academia… I think that’s one of the biggest challenges, that if I left and someone else took up this post, I think that they would have to somehow find that academic support…  It doesn’t come naturally with this, you have to find it yourself.”  – Embedded researcher interview


Rowley, H. (2014) ‘Going beyond procedure: Engaging with the ethical complexities of being an embedded researcher’, Management in Education, 28(1): 19-24.

Vindrola-Padros, C., Pape, T., Utley, M. and Fulop, N. J. (2016) ‘The role of embedded research in quality improvement: a narrative review’, BMJ Quality & Safety, 10.1136/bmjqs-2015-004877.

Development and adaptation process

This theme was originally labelled ‘home’ and comprised two sub-themes – formal/contractual arrangements and informal/in-practice arrangements. During the workshop many participants reflected on the difficulty of managing multiple ‘homes’ and the transient nature of being an embedded researcher (including the tendency to feel homeless).

In the context of discussions about the proximity theme, they also discussed the precarious nature of being an embedded researcher, being in a liminal space and juggling competing demands along with the importance of finding sources of support. To reflect these discussions, we introduced a third sub-theme – boundary management – and changed the name of the theme to ‘belonging’.