Creating a vibrant research culture

28 June 2017

Patrick Callaghan, CoDH Executive Member (Research)  

Research makes discoveries. Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professionals’ research makes these discoveries matter to individual’s and communities’ health and wellbeing: 81% of research that includes nurses, midwives and allied professionals is rated as world leading (31%) or internationally excellent (50%), bettering the national average relative to other subjects by 5%. But what are the features of outstanding research centres that produce these results?

Following publication of the REF 2014 results, researchers from Kings College London analysed the contents of a selection of the highest rated submissions across different subject areas to determine the characteristics of high performing research units. HPRUs have a higher volume of staff: more professors, PhD-educated staff, with international experience and whose salaries are externally funded. These units are more focused on recruiting and retaining the best staff, provide better training and mentorship programmes, offer rewards for strong performance and staff demonstrate distinct social and ethical values. Such units also enable and encourage researchers to initiate collaborations organically as opposed to using a top-down approach, have strategies that are real, lived and owned, and their leaders have earned accountability within their Universities. Not surprisingly, they receive more income per researcher than the average research unit.

As part of its research strategy, the Council of Deans of Health will be publishing its report showcasing the active ingredients of an outstanding research environment in nursing, midwifery and allied health using evidence taken from a selection of the highest rated environment templates from our unit of assessment in REF 2014. We are also concerned to hear the experiences of people working in research across our disciplines and recently hosted an online twitter discussion using the hashtag: #whywedoresearch.

We had contributions from a range of researchers across the country. On what makes a vibrant and sustained research culture, comments included senior leadership engagement, creating a positive, challenging culture with research seen as business as usual, great team and team working where people have a can do attitude and where everyone can contribute ideas freely.

The collaborations and networks central to a high performing research culture included: meaningful partnerships between Trusts, patients, the third sector, industry and Universities, with shared aims, linked to global networks and effective use of social media. Many people highlighted the importance of being involved in CLAHRCS – Collaborative Leaderships for Applied Health, Research and Care.

We were particularly interested in how research capacity could be most effectively developed and heard ideas such as embracing existing expertise, joint roles between Trusts and academia, involving research nurses in designing studies, brokering partnerships, flexibility in clinical contracts and bespoke undergraduate research placements for student nurses, midwives and AHPs.

The most effective strategies for planning, capturing and evaluating research impact included: better use of social media, joint development of research proposals between frontline clinicians and academics with better patient and public involvement and the use of impact surveys at the end of research projects.

Finally, in relation to translating research into practice, people suggested portfolio adoption to enable support from clinical studies officers, patients acknowledging and being informed of the value of research to their care, and crucially, clinical commissioning groups using research-based evidence in commissioning decisions.

A report from the NIHR in England showed that 87% of people expressed a preference to be treated in a hospital or surgery that does clinical research, if given a choice. This is unsurprising given that research active hospitals are safer and have better quality outcomes. Many nurses, midwives and AHPs are conducting high quality research that is generating impressive clinical outcomes, but more need to be engaged in this enterprise as part of high performing research units. The Council of Deans will soon report on the elements of high performing research environments in nursing, midwifery and allied health and will outline our strategy for helping nursing, midwifery and AHP academics develop and support such units.


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