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BMC Health Serv Res. 2018 Mar 22;18(1):198. doi: 10.1186/s12913-018-2992-2.

How do NHS organisations plan research capacity development? Strategies, strengths, and opportunities for improvement.

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Faculty of Health and Wellbeing, Sheffield Hallam University, Montgomery House, 32 Collegiate Crescent, Collegiate Campus S10 2BP, Sheffield, UK.
NIHR CLAHRC Yorkshire and Humber, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Room D33, D Floor, Royal Hallamshire Hospital S10 2JF, Sheffield, UK.


Research that is integral into a 'learning healthcare system' can promote cost effective services and knowledge creation. As such, research is defined as a 'core function' in UK health service organisations, and is often planned through research and development (R&D) strategies that aim to promote research activity and research capacity development (RCD). The discussion focuses around the content of ten R&D strategies for healthcare organisations in England and Scotland, with respect to RCD. These organisations were engaged with a research interest network called ACORN (Addressing Organisational Capacity to do Research Network) that included two Scottish Health Boards, four community and mental health trusts, two provincial district hospitals, and two teaching hospitals. We undertook a thematic documentary analysis of the R&D strategies which identified 11 'core activities' of RCD. The potential for building research capacity in these 'core activities' was established by reviewing them through the lens of a RCD framework. Core activities aimed to 'hard wire' RCD into health organisations. They demonstrated a complex interplay between developing a strong internal organisational infrastructure, and supporting individual career planning and skills development, in turn enabled by organisational processes. They also included activities to build stronger inter-organisational relationships and networks. Practitioner, manager and patient involvement was a cross cutting theme. The potential to demonstrate progress was included in plans through monitoring activity across all RCD principles. Strategies were primarily aimed at research production rather than research use. Developing 'actionable dissemination' was poorly addressed in the strategies, and represents an area for improvement. We describe strengths of RCD planning activities, and opportunities for improvement. We explore how national policy and research funders can influence health systems' engagement in research.


Health systems research; Organisational infrastructure; Research capacity development; Research funding

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