Embedded research design framework
Embedded research initiatives can be structured in different ways, but there are four key areas to consider: the scale at which the initiative will operate, the involvement of various actors in an embedded research initiative, the proximity to the practice, context or organisation in which researchers are to be embedded, and how the researcher will belong to both the world of practice and research.
The scale of the work refers to the number and configuration of projects or pieces of work that the embedded research initiative will encompass. Will the initiative focus on a single project, a portfolio of projects, or will the work be more open-ended and emergent? This is likely to be related to the scale of the problem being addressed and the knowledge which will be produced (see ‘intended outcomes’ theme for further questions to consider) as well as to the scale or size of the organisation in which the researcher will be embedded.
Team size and composition
While many embedded researcher initiatives involve a single researcher working on a well-defined project, others involve teams of researchers working together. Questions to consider include the number of researchers who will need to be involved in the initiative and the range of methodological, topic/subject and interpersonal skills and expertise that will be required (see ‘researcher skill and expertise’ theme for further information).
Questions about the timescale or duration of the initiative will also relate to the scale and intended outcomes of the work - how long will the initiative need to last in order to accomplish the intended outcomes? Is the necessary timescale for the work known or unknown?
An overarching question to consider in relation to all aspects of scale is the extent to which they are fixed or adaptable/emergent.
Who to involve
Who to involve in the embedded research initiative could be anyone who is likely to be affected by the issue(s) being addressed within the embedded research initiative (e.g. patients or community members) and/or by the activities which are being undertaken within the initiative. Considering the aspects contained within the power dynamics design theme (control, contribution and benefit) is likely to be helpful as a way of identifying groups of people who could be involved in the initiative.
Scale and location of involvement
How involved should each group of people be? When should they be involved and for how long? Will people be involved in individual projects or in the design of the embedded research initiative itself? Are there existing groups and networks of people who could be drawn upon in the setting the embedded researcher will be working in?
Type of involvement
The key consideration here is the types of activities in which people will become involved – planning or designing the embedded research initiative and/or project, collecting and/or analysing data, reacting to results? And how useful and meaningful will these activities be to the project, initiative and the people involved?
The final area to consider is what mechanisms exist, or will be put in place, to involve people in the embedded research initiative. How much dialogue will be involved? How much facilitation will be required? Will these mechanisms provide people with a safe space to get involved and contribute to the initiative?
Location refers to the physical location of the researcher(s). Where (and with whom) will they be located? What physical spaces will they have access to? Will they be working at a single location or across multiple spaces? How will their location enable their work?
Intensity refers to the time that the researcher(s) will spend in the practice context in which they are to be embedded. What proportion of their time will they spend embedded in practice? Will this need to vary across the duration of the initiative (e.g. greater intensity at the beginning)? Will their presence be regular or more intermittent? If the researcher(s) will be working in multiple locations, these questions could be asked in relation to each location.
Visibility refers to the extent to which the researcher(s) and their work will be visible to the organisation and to others working within the practice context. The main questions to consider here are how visible the researcher(s) should be to different parts of the organisation and practice setting, and how the appropriate level of visibility will be facilitated and maintained. This is closely related to the 'belonging' design theme, which lays out the different types of mechanism for building relationships and a sense of belonging.
Boundary management refers to the importance of managing the multiple boundaries that may be encountered during an embedded research initiative. These include the boundaries between the worlds of research and practice, but also the boundaries that may exist between different organisations, groups of people, professions, settings or priorities. For many embedded researchers these boundaries result in a feeling of precariousness and liminality and require them to juggle competing demands. It is therefore important to consider what boundaries the embedded researcher(s) will need to cross and how these multiple boundaries will be managed.
The second and third aspects refer to the arrangements that will support the researchers sense of belonging to these multiple communities. Contractual arrangements such as job descriptions, contracts of employment, memoranda of understanding, governance arrangements and funding agreements can be used to formally express the communities and organisations that the researcher will belong (and be accountable) to. The initial considerations are what type of contractual arrangements will be available and which will the initiative make use of. Further considerations will focus on the content of those contractual arrangements, such as whether the researcher will have a formal contract with an academic and/or practice organisation, but these are likely to be determined through consideration of the other design themes (e.g. scale, involvement, proximity, intended outcomes).
Informal arrangements are those that will support the researcher's sense of identity and belonging during their day to day practice as an embedded researcher. Will the researcher have access to a support network involving other embedded researchers? Will they have mentors or ‘champions’ within each community or organisation to which they belong? Will they have the opportunity to engage with others within their own academic discipline or ‘home’ (i.e. outwith any formal links to an academic organisation)? The key consideration is what type of informal arrangements will be necessary to support the researcher's sense of identity and belonging.