Martin Marshall

It’s all getting a bit complicated….

They say the more you know, the more uncertain you become, and I’m becoming very uncertain about how to set up an embedded research programme.

A few years ago it was all so easy. I found an NHS partner who wanted a pragmatic evaluation, a researcher who wanted to make a difference, and a bit of money. I then put them all together and if everything clicked then stuff happened. And that stuff was exciting enough for a few of us to want to write about it in scientific journals.

But then the idea spread and people started asking difficult (ok, useful) questions about the purpose of participatory research, how to design and deliver embedded research programmes, and whether models such as researchers-in-residence actually made a difference.

Emboldened by the true spirit of inquiry, we rose to the challenge. Eighteen months down the line, the NIHR-funded ‘Embedded’ project is starting to produce findings that make my life a whole a lot more interesting.

It is now becoming clear that people who want to design and run an embedded research programme need to think carefully about the obvious design elements, like matching the evaluation question to the researcher’s skills, clarifying the likely scale of the work, the focus and the nature of the activities, and agreeing the intended outcomes.

But they also need to think carefully about how to develop effective working relationships between researchers and practitioners, how close they want the relationships to be, how to best involve patients and how to support the career development of the researchers. And if that wasn’t enough they need to be sensitive to the political and power dynamics that inevitably underpin a participatory research process.

It’s all a bit complicated but it’s fun too. Do let us know what challenges you are experiencing in getting embedded research programmes off the ground and how you are addressing them.

And please join our next webinar​, which will focus on practical tips and tricks on how to make embedded research projects a success.

Martin Marshall, who leads the Embedded Research project, is Professor of Healthcare Improvement at UCL and a GP in east London.

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