Embedded research design framework
Embedded research initiatives can make use of a number of different processes and there are four areas to consider: functional activities, researcher skill and expertise, learning mechanisms, and the relational role.
Purpose and focus
There are a wide range of possible activities that embedded researchers could undertake within an initiative, meaning that there may be a tendency for many initiatives (and researchers) to be over-ambitious about what can be included. One way of avoiding this is to consider the intended purpose and focus of activities. Considering the aspects contained within other design themes, such as intended outcomes, power dynamics and involvement, is likely to be helpful when considering what the purpose and focus of the activities should be.
Range and scope of activities and training
The range and scope of activities is broad and includes relational activities (for example, attending meetings; linking people together in formal and informal networks), knowledge creation and sharing activities (for example, collecting, reviewing and analysing data; facilitating seminars and other learning opportunities) and project management activities (for example, planning, managing and leading individual projects).
With so many possible choices available, considering questions around the feasibility, scale and scope of activities is likely to be particularly important. Further questions can be asked about the extent to which the activities are fluid and emergent or tightly defined.
Support for activities
As part of their roles, those working as embedded researchers are often faced with the need to juggle multiple activities, some of which may be relatively new or unfamiliar to them. In this context, accessing training and support for activities becomes particularly important. What kind of training will be available for each of the identified activities? How will the researcher be supported to prioritise different activities? How will the researcher access training and support for the emotional labour (for example, their thoughts and worries) that is involved in activities such as facilitating learning, building networks and juggling multiple activities?
Researcher skills and expertise
Methodological skills and expertise
These can be thought of as 'how to' knowledge. This includes how to define and refine a research question or problem statement, how to design a project, how to collect and analyse information and how to produce knowledge of varying kinds.
Topic specific skills and expertise
Topic specific skills and expertise can be thought of as 'knowledge about' the topic or problem that the initiative will focus on (e.g. neuro-rehabilitiation, childhood obesity).
Interpersonal skills and expertise
The interpersonal skills and expertise that an initiative might need include facilitation skills, communication skills, relationship building and emotional intelligence. As there are many options, the core question to consider is what kind of skills and expertise an initiative will need in each of these areas.
Two further overarching questions may be helpful in relation to the skills and expertise that an initiative will need. First, how many researchers will be needed in order to fulfil the skill and expertise needs of the initiative? This consideration is closely related to the 'scale' design theme. Second, how will expectations about the skills and expertise which individual researchers will bring to the initiative be managed? This includes considering how individual researchers will manage their own expectations and judgements about their skills and expertise. Aspects of the 'belonging' and 'functional activities' design themes may be helpful when considering this question.
Performance monitoring refers to mechanisms such as key performance indicators, annual performance reviews and other governance mechanisms used to assess how well an initiative is meeting its targets. Questions to consider include the targets that the initiative will be designed to meet (which could be considered alongside the ‘intended outcomes’ design theme), what monitoring mechanisms will be appropriate and feasible, when they might be used (i.e. at a single time point, on an ongoing basis?) and what benefit they might bring to the initiative.
Formal evaluations have been undertaken by some embedded research initiatives and often focus on producing an in-depth understanding of how and why and initiative is (or isn’t) working. Similarly to performance monitoring, questions to consider include the outcomes which the initiative will be designed to achieve, which evaluation methodology or design will be appropriate and feasible (e.g. formative evaluation, summative evaluation, process evaluation), when and how data and information will be gathered and how this will be used both within and beyond the initiative.
Informal learning and reflection
Informal learning and reflection refers to a more emergent type of learning and focuses on the mechanisms which those involved in an embedded research initiative might use to reflect on, learn about and adapt various aspects of the initiative. These mechanisms could include group or individual supervision, team meetings, workshops, shadowing or learning sets. Questions to consider here include which mechanisms will be appropriate and feasible, whose reflections will be incorporated into the learning process, whose learning will be supported and how this learning will be used to support or adapt the initiative.
As with many of the other design themes, the roles and relationships described here may not be fixed or static for the duration of the initiative, but may need to evolve and unfold as the initiative progresses.
Level of interdependence
The first aspect to consider is the anticipated level of interdependence between the researcher and the organisation. Will they be seen as (and consider themselves) an insider, an outsider, or somewhere in-between the two? Will this vary across settings or contexts? How much flexibility and control will they (or others) have over their work? What practical implications will this have for their ability to access settings and information or to disseminate and share the results of their work? These considerations are closely linked to the belonging design theme so questions included there are also likely to be helpful in considering this aspect.
The second aspect to consider is the relational stance that the researchers will be expected to adopt. Will the researchers be a friendly, safe sounding board or will they have a more critical and questioning role? Will they be considered as an advocate, critical friend, evaluator, or something else? How will they be supported to nurture and maintain their stance?
Types of input
The third aspect to consider is the types of input that are expected from the researchers. Whilst the ‘functional activities’ design theme calls for consideration of the purpose, range and scope of activities which the researchers will undertake, this aspect focuses on the broader role of the researchers. Will they provide a fresh pair of eyes and a new way of seeing things? Will they provide another pair of arms and be involved in hands-on activities? Will they provide specialist or expert advice? Will this vary across settings or contexts?