Kate Kirk

The third stage (or work package) for the Embedded study involves undertaking in-depth qualitative research with four embedded initiatives to understand how these initiatives develop, to explore how relationships mature over time, to evidence the strategies that embedded researchers use, and to develop rich case studies of how they support the co-production of health research.

Over the next year, we will be visiting initiatives across the UK with differing project characteristics (including funding and affiliations) and speaking with embedded researchers and their colleagues to understand their backgrounds, motivations and evolving experiences of embedded researchers. ​

We will explore specifically their career histories; networks and relationships; interactions and communication, as well as their daily tasks and activities. There will be a focus on how embedded researchers negotiate knowledge across different ‘boundaries’, for example, the mediation of social, cultural and political boundaries in their work.

Designing data collection methods for this part of the study has proved challenging as well as thought provoking so, given the focus on practical tips and know-how for the upcoming webinar, I have taken the opportunity to reflect on some of the practical challenges of data collection for this work package. I offer a snapshot of these reflections below.

It has been important to think about how we can unearth the intricate relationships and structures underpinning each initiative. Diversity relating to the background and typographical differences of each initiative gives an added layer of complexity. There has been a realisation that the networks underpinning and supporting each initiative are distinctive – one size doesn’t fit all!


Designing data collection methods for this part of the study has proved challenging as well as thought provoking


​In response, a ‘partner identification tool’ has been developed, drawing on research on social networks, to prompt participants to think of the individuals and/or groups most important to their work. This helps us to challenge any assumptions about the networks and relationships which underpin embedded researchers.

A combination of interviews, observation and diaries form the majority of data collection activities – this narrative approach encourages participants to share their ‘story’ of embedded research but we were aware that a lot of participants are short on time. The reflective diary in particular, gives participants a private opportunity to note the day’s activities, their interactions and any challenges faced, so it is an important tool. But we acknowledged that asking participants to write their reflections down would be time consuming for those with already full work schedules.

To make this more convenient, we will instead offer participants the use of a digital voice recorder – to record their reflections ‘on the go’. As well as this being practically easier, recording thoughts in the moment is likely to be insightful contextually and generate rich data. We then hope to speak with participants regularly about their experiences and reflections.

The points above offer a brief insight into the thinking and reflection behind the process of designing methods which aim to explore the world of the embedded researcher – we have enjoyed the process of piloting these methods and learning from the experience. We have no doubt that as formal data collection progresses, so too will our deeper understanding of how to study embedded researchers as well as other complex health care initiatives and networks.

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