What determinants of public health research activity contextualise embedded researcher roles? A qualitative investigation in English local government
Background: Embedded researchers are a novel intervention to improve the translation of research evidence into policy and practice settings, including public health. These roles are being implemented with increasing popularity, but they often lack clear theories of change and evaluative frameworks. Understanding initial levels of research activity within public health settings, including associated barriers and opportunities, is essential to shaping these roles and defining expectations.
Objectives: We aimed to i) explore the principal determinants of research activity in public health that contextualise embedded researcher roles and ii) identify the attributes of embedded researchers that are needed to influence this activity.
Methods: We undertook seventeen semi-structured interviews with embedded researchers in diverse public health settings in English local government. These roles were part of a Clinical Research Network funded programme to enhance public health research cultures in local authorities. An inductive thematic analysis approach was applied.
Results: Research activity varied substantially across local government settings and rising funding inequities were discussed. Research and interpersonal skills, as well as pre-existing connections and experience within local government, were primary valued attributes for embedded researchers. Resource deficiencies (funding, time, and infrastructure) were primary barriers to research activity. A strong local appetite for research presented a primary opportunity. However, perceptions of what constituted “research” varied across public health teams and there was a hesitancy to engage in research activity due to concerns that involvement would be highly resource intensive.
Conclusions: A wide variety of determinants of research activity were identified as relevant to embedded researcher roles in public health settings. Involving embedded researchers in the process of investigating these determinants in a local context could provide an opportunity to build trust with colleagues and enhance local buy-in. Our results provide initial guidance for investigating the research context within local government, an essential step in the evidence informed design of embedded researcher interventions. If effectively implemented, embedded researchers can enhance research activity and thus improve the effectiveness of public health interventions.
Patient, public and/or healthcare consumer involvement: This research was informed by an advisory group consisting of diverse representatives from academia and public health practice settings.