The collaborative research process between practitioners and researchers is often the best way to build evidence and create the most appropriate interventions/treatments for service users, but it can sometimes be challenging. To address this, on the 6th May 2021, Turning Point Scotland and DRNS collaborated on an event to discuss the involvement of practitioners in research. The 90-minute event was designed to share experiences of practitioners involved with research as well as researchers working with people in practice.
The event was attended by 20 individuals including academic researchers, NHS colleagues and third sector service providers. This event started with a series of short contributions from a variety of practitioners and academics detailing their own experiences of conducting research. They talked about the benefits of being part of the process and the barriers they faced. An interactive group discussion among all attendees followed, providing an opportunity for questions and sharing of ideas. Discussion covered seven key areas; 1) research processes which work well with practitioners; 2) training needs of practitioners; 3) support available to practitioners completing research; 4) guidance for practitioners; 5) ethical concerns; 6)understanding research from each others viewpoint 7) other points of interest. The discussion is summarised below.
Research processes which work well with practitioners
- Early engagement with stakeholders – don’t try to ask too many questions, keep it as straight forward as possible.
- Practitioners have to be included to help set research agendas. This includes involvement in the research design stages, an emphasis should be placed on practitioner and public involvement.
- Involving practitioners from early stages can better shape the research and positively influence participation by service users.
- Collaborative processes which bring practitioners together with peers/lived experience as well as academics. ‘Study Circles’ are a great example – these are founded on two basic values. One is the belief in the power of knowledge. In the study circle, you gain knowledge and experience. The other is a belief in democracy, in the sense that a better society can be built if everyone has a voice and is allowed to participate. A research circle is a study circle where a researcher plays an important role as a source of knowledge, as a liaison to academic knowledge, and as an organiser.
- Everyone should have a role to play and there needs to be a balance between role and responsibilities.
- Dealing with real life and practical scenarios, working to improve practice.
- Time can be a barrier for practitioners, with heavy workloads limiting the time available to support research processes. However, if research is relevant to ‘the day job’ this can help ease pressures.
- Practitioners should not feel pressured to say yes to everything. The collaborative process should allow practitioners to explain what it is they can provide, what they wouldn’t be comfortable doing and the support they would require.
Training needs of practitioners
- Training on how to frame research questions.
- Informal training sessions on general research methods, as well as support to attend more formal training events – The Society for the Study of Addiction provide support for research training for practitioners through bursaries and funding opportunities.
- Training and support should be provided/included at the start of any research process of all those involved.
- Training on conducting qualitative research.
- Additional training for academic researchers on what needs to be considered when working collaboratively with practitioners in the research process.
Support available for practitioners completing research
- Practitioners need support in identifying the questions which need answers, what are the barriers to putting research into practice?
- Mentors – academics willing to provide guidance, advice and non-judgemental support throughout the research process.
Guidance for academic researchers working with practitioners
- Researchers should adapt information for different audiences, the research process should be easy to follow for all those involved. Limit technical jargon that is not understood outside academia.
- Research agendas – researchers should not assume they own/control the research agenda. Agendas should be set and designed collaboratively.
- Be flexible for meetings, virtual meetings have been a massive asset for involving practitioners in the research process. However, try to avoid overloading information virtually – long meetings on Zoom can be difficult to engage with.
Ethical consideration when involving practitioners in research
- The therapeutic relationship between practitioner and research participant may be beneficial but potential to introduce bias.
- Ensuring practitioners have an understanding of research ethics.
- Practitioner insight is invaluable but can affect objectivity.
Understanding research from each other’s viewpoint
- Sometimes there is a preconceived notion that research is something far removed from what practitioners do day-to-day. However, the work practitioners do is often informed by or is helping to generate research to help evaluate the services they provide.
- Having a multidisciplinary team helps to ensure different viewpoints and ideas are included in discussions. Everyone in the research process needs to be open to other opinions and perspectives. This should start from the initial research design and generating research questions. Most importantly service users and those delivering the service should be consulted throughout all stages.
- Research is for everybody – we need that balanced team. Research is not just down to academics.
- Getting practitioners actively involved in research will require services to be supportive and allow time for this to happen. This might mean that service leads need to be educated on the benefits of active research involvement.
- Putting time in to research in the beginning can allow a service to be adjusted to benefit both practitioner and patient, leading to improved outcomes. Research doesn’t necessarily have to be a long process but adds to the value of ongoing interactions.
- How do we translate research into methodology that can be used in other settings? For example, outside academia.
- How can we ‘close the loop’? We need better ways to present evidence back to the participants in the study in a way that’s easy to understand. The involvement of practitioners can aid this as they often know these individuals, they know the appropriate language to use.
- What are practitioners gaining from taking part in research? A balance is required, as often research may be exploring traumatic events and it’s impact leading to difficult conversations for practitioners – their wellbeing must be protected while tapping into their essential knowledge and experience.
- A move toward involving both practitioners and peers in research, if profoundly adopted, poses a threat to an array of interests: both the positions of research authorities on which careers can depend, but also the systems of legitimation and control which, internationally or not, shore up the structures of university funding.
- Research is about perseverance! It is not solely about having years of experience in an academic background, practitioners have a vast range of frontline knowledge that should be shared. Getting in touch with organisations and researchers can help move ideas forward.
- A good researcher is someone grounded by reality, and practitioners have this from working in patient facing environments and at the forefront of services.
- The discussion noted that DRNS aims to link practitioners with academics, people with lived experience and other key collaborators in order to move their research ideas forward. Also covered was the role of the DRNS in running a wide range of events such as this, designed to seek and share knowledge.
It was suggested that additional sessions could be held to further discuss issues on practitioner support and what to do with data collected by practitioners – how can practitioners push forward research ideas from their perspective?
Turning Point Scotland are keen to continue collaborating on this with the DRNS and to develop links and partnerships with academics and other organisations. Turning Point Scotland is particularly interested in progressing the following:
- Developing training for practitioners who are interested in being involved in research.
- Hosting information sessions for researchers to present research opportunities to practitioners, to disseminate findings, and to hear from practitioners about what areas they feel are relevant for future research.
- Promoting opportunities for practitioners who are interested in gaining a research qualification and continuing to support student placement opportunities.