Andrew Walker

I recently took part in the Embedded Research co-design workshop that aimed at drawing on people’s experiences of planning, managing, delivering embedded researcher initiatives.

It brought together people from across the UK with experience of a range of embedded researcher initiatives. The key question we were asked to keep hold of throughout the workshop was: “What do you wish you had known at the start of your embedded researcher work?”

Here, I’ll reflect on how I would now answer that question following on from the workshop.

Before I do, I want to do some scene-settings about the workshop because the approach helped me work through the question in a different way. I’ve participated in a fair number of workshops (and even facilitated a few), so I assumed I knew what to expect.

However, co-facilitators Joe Langley and Rebecca Partridge from Lab4Living took a refreshingly different approach, inviting us to put away our laptops, dust off the right side of our brains and tap into craft skills I’ve probably not used since primary school (using Play-Doh, pipe cleaners, and colouring pens).

The key thing the workshop did was help me reframe what an embedded researcher model ‘looked like’ by debunking the idea that embedded researcher initiatives have a defined form.

‚ÄčThe range of embedded researcher models represented in the room illustrated that they could come in many shapes (for example, an academic seconded to an NHS trust or a researcher employed by an NHS trust embedded within an Academic Health Science Network).

It debunked the idea that embedded researcher initiatives have a defined form.

This reframing was reinforced by the research team’s conceptualisation of embedded researcher initiatives as comprising a set of themes (or domains – discussed in the Embedded Research webinar) relating to commonalities in intent, structure and process. This reminded me of my own area of research, implementation science, where there is increasing recognition of a need to move away from an innovation having a defined form to focusing on principles of function or core elements (for example, Braithwaite et al, 2018; Sutherland et al, 2018).

However, the challenge of this approach is then how to make sense of the principles/common elements to put them into use in different local contexts. Helpfully, the facilitators challenged us to exemplify what the embedded researcher themes looked like in practical terms, such as what does these mean for me/my context and how could I make this work in practice?

A colleague and I discussed how we made sense of what ‘home’ meant for an embedded researcher initiative. There is a risk that embedded researchers can feel displaced or belonging nowhere. However, we can usefully reframe this idea of home by doing the groundwork to foster ownership of the initiative by all partners. Then the researcher’s experience can become one of many homes: the university, sponsoring department in the host organisation (for example, R&D, QI), and the local service in which they are embedded. So, in planning an embedded researcher model our aim is create an environment that is a home-from-home rather than making the researcher homeless.

If you haven’t already, I’d strongly recommend that you watch the project’s recent webinar ‘A framework of design options for embedded researcher initiatives’, which explores the ten embedded research themes.

Andrew Walker is Deputy Clinical Director (MSK) and evaluation lead at the Health Innovation Network (south London’s Academic Health Science Network). He has been working as an embedded researcher as part of his role within the Health Innovation Network.

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