How the practice of research challenges both research and practice

12llA couple of days I ran a workshop at Cass Business School with a friend on how clinical research comes to affect practice.  As a case study we used the experience of Macmillan Cancer Support, an organisation that enables people to live with of cancer.  The particular aspect of Macmillan’s work that we discussed had a simple aim: it centred on the question of how different professionals and researchers across different organisations can overcome traditional boundaries and work together for the benefit of the patient.

Traditionally in research the objectives are stated,methodology agreed, actions implemented, results obtained, conclusions drawn and findings published: a key feature being a separation between the funding organisation, the researchers and the researched.  However, in the community we talked about (a group of researchers most of whom had clinical backgrounds) the practice of research was interwoven with the activity of practitioners.

This approach draws all the players on the ‘pitch’, in this case the commissioners, researchers, practitioners and patients; they became actively involved as the work developed and as insights became apparent and different courses of action decided upon.  This is a real opportunity.  It forces the questions; ‘is the work that were doing together useful, does it deliver the outcomes that both the researchers and the practitioners need and what do we need to do next?’

So, in undertaking research along with practice it enables the development of a collective memory that enables further discussions to be taken with sound evidence from research.  It also provided evidence to discuss with commissioners and others of the value (or not) of various practices and working relationships.

In this approach there are links with Action Research particularly: a focus on getting to grips with practical organisational problems; an emergent approach to how research was conducted;and using insights as they become apparent to initiate beneficial change.  However, there were differences, for instance there was no mention of cycles of research and activity, or indeed of ‘steppingback’ and considering the activity from a neutral space as is commonly spoken about.

The way of working pioneered by Macmillan has not only delivered practical benefits for the organisation, the researchers and the patient, but also provided a real challenge on how we carry out research.

Reference:  Donaldson, A., Lank, E., & Maher, J. (2011). Communities of Influence – Improving Healthcare Through Conversations and Connections. London and New York: Radcliffe Publishing.


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