Embedded Researchers as Part of a Whole Systems Approach to Physical Activity: Reflections and Recommendations
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Embedded Researchers
2.2. Data Collection and Analysis
3.1. The Role of an Embedded Researcher within a Whole Systems Approach
3.2. Expanding Our Researcher Skill Set
3.3. Grappling with the Boundaries of the System and the Evaluation
3.4. Managing Competing (and Sometimes Conflicting) Agendas
5.1. Recommendations for All
5.2. Recommendations for Researchers
5.3. Recommendations for Those Commissioning Embedded Researchers
6. Strengths and Limitations
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
Appendix A. Terms of Reference
|Process Evaluation: Terms of Reference and Reminders|
|What it is:|
|How we are doing it:|
|What it is not:|
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|About the WSA||About the Embedded Researcher and Role|
|Name: Active Calderdale.|
Initiated: December 2018.
Footprint: Calderdale, West Yorkshire, England. Approximate target population of 200,000 people.
Vision: Everyone in Calderdale has the opportunity, capability, and motivation to be physically active in any way they choose.
Principles: Active Calderdale is underpinned by a Theory of Change and takes a whole-systems approach to tackling physical inactivity. The mission is to work with communities to make physical activity an embedded part of day-to-day life in Calderdale.
Key partners: NHS trusts and health and social care providers, voluntary and community organisations and services, workplaces, educational establishments, leisure services, sport providers, parks and green spaces, the built environment, walking and cycling, and planning teams, and local residents.
Host organisation: Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council.
|Evaluation period: August 2019 to present.|
Embedded role: AP was embedded in Active Calderdale on a full-time basis between August 2019 and September 2021. AP transitioned out of the role in September 2021, but a full-time embedded researcher from the same institution took on the role and AP is embedded for one day a week.
Nature of the role: To deliver on the evaluation of Active Calderdale and understand the process of enabling system change and capture the impact of changes on residents. Being embedded allowed AP to capture daily processes and changes and to identify the approaches that were most appropriate to the localities and partners in Calderdale. AP met with the core team weekly, with the programme team fortnightly, and with senior leaders and key stakeholders bi-monthly. This enabled insight to be gathered and a continuous learning process to be developed.
|About the WSA||About the embedded researcher and role|
|Name: We can move (WCM).|
Initiated: April 2018.
Footprint: Gloucestershire, England. Approximate target population of 640,000 people.
Vision: WCM aimed to get 10 000 inactive people more physically active.
Principles: WCM is underpinned by a Theory of Change which includes systems science, behaviour change theory, and social movement building. A core element of WCM is that it creates a social movement whereby people in the community feel empowered to actively promote, champion and undertake the work of WCM.
Key partners: Local authorities, NHS Trusts and Clinical Commissioning Groups, Voluntary and Community Sector Organisations, local community members and groups.
Host organisation: Active Gloucestershire. Active Gloucestershire are the backbone organisation for WCM.
|Evaluation period: April 2019–April 2021.|
Embedded role: JN was embedded in the Active Gloucestershire team for one day per week (until March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
Nature of the role: To improve the quality of the WCM evaluation being carried out. Being embedded in the Active Gloucestershire team meant that JN was able to understand the intricacies of WCM by attending meetings and observing the day-to-day facilitation of WCM. Through discussion with wider stakeholders, JN was able to co-produce elements of the evaluation to ensure they supported continuous service improvement and learning. JN regularly (at least every three months) provided a detailed overview of the evaluation, its findings to date, and the perceived implications for WCM. A final purpose of the role was to provide formal and informal training for the Active Gloucestershire team in evaluation to increase capacity and capability.
|Researchers: KS & GF|
|About the WSA||About the embedded researcher and role|
|Name: GM Moving.|
Initiated: September 2018.
Footprint: Greater Manchester (GM), England. Approximate target population of 2,800,000 people.
Vision: GM Moving is not an organisation or a collective but a ‘social movement’ to widen access and participation in physical activity, sport, and active travel to create a greater number of more inclusive ways to be active every day.
Principles: Whole system approach which now considers change in policy, physical environment, organisations and institutions, asset-based community development, families and behaviour change. It operates across and between two layers of social structure. GM wide (through engagement, influence and collective working with other pan GM collectives) and within localities. Important principle that local decision makers and people are empowered to make decisions about what works for them in their locality.
Key partners: Greater Manchester Combined Authority, NHS in Greater Manchester, Transport for Greater Manchester, GreaterSport, Voluntary and Community Infrastructure.
Host organisation: GreaterSport.
|Evaluation period: May 2019 to present|
Embedded role: GF was embedded on a locality basis and KS was embedded in the central evaluation team.
Nature of the role: To help stakeholders to set out their ideas about what they were trying to do and how this might lead to a sustainable system change which support population level changes in physical activity (even if this change might be observed many years hence). These ideas informed bespoke data collection activities, including individual reflections. KS and GF attended meetings, observed proceedings, asked ad hoc questions, and designed, implemented qualitative and quantitative data collection, and carried out analysis. They facilitated collective sense-making in place. The evaluation approach was rooted in an understanding of the WSA being an attempt to simultaneously orientate multiple interconnected, intersecting parts to encourage physical activity. It drew on systems thinking, complexity science and realist evaluation. Crucial to its execution is a deep understanding of context and a sufficient proximity to the actions of multiple actors in the system to identify patterns of behaviour and how these fit within the wider social, economic, and political cultures and structures.
|About the WSA||About the embedded researcher and role|
|Name: You’ve Got This|
Initiated: July 2018
Footprint: South Tees, North East England. Approximate target population of 400,000 people.
Vision: To create a ‘movement’ of people within South Tees taking collective action towards the common purpose of active lives as a way of life.
Principles: You’ve Got This aims to create a social movement for physical activity. The aim is to support local people to incorporate more movement into their everyday. Collaboration is at the heart of the approach and a central team support a wide range of partners to work towards the common purpose through aligning funding, fostering partnerships between organisations and working directly with communities and local practitioners. The work is insight and evidence led and built on behaviour change principles and theories.
Key partners: You’ve Got This has four ‘communities of interest’; 1. Health professionals, 2. Slimming World, 3. Type 2 diabetes and 4. Prehabilitation. You’ve Got This also has four focus wards, two in each of the local authority areas in South Tees. Grangetown and Southbank in Middlesbrough and Brambles and Thorntree and North Ormesby in Redcar and Cleveland. You’ve Got This work in partnership with an ‘Exchange’ of local professionals across public, voluntary, charity and private sectors in South Tees.
Host organisation: Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council.
|Evaluation period: November 2019–present|
Embedded role: KD was embedded with You’ve Got This in the core programme team on a full-time basis until December 2021.
Nature of the role: To undertake a process evaluation with a focus on professional stakeholders. This involved KD working alongside the core programme team and the wider governance team (Programme Management Office). Practically this involved attending meetings in an observational role, facilitating weekly reflective process learning meetings, facilitating workshops on an ad hoc basis and undertaking in-depth data collection on a six-monthly basis to explore a particular area. The role enabled a detailed understanding and collection of data in relation to the context of South Tees as a place, insight and awareness of partnerships, relationships and organisational processes. The role also involved fostering a trusting relationship with the core programme team and developing a learning culture within You’ve Got This that facilitated open and honest conversation to support meaningful collective sense-making of the work.
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Potts, A.J.; Nobles, J.; Shearn, K.; Danks, K.; Frith, G. Embedded Researchers as Part of a Whole Systems Approach to Physical Activity: Reflections and Recommendations. Systems 2022, 10, 69. https://doi.org/10.3390/systems10030069
Potts AJ, Nobles J, Shearn K, Danks K, Frith G. Embedded Researchers as Part of a Whole Systems Approach to Physical Activity: Reflections and Recommendations. Systems. 2022; 10(3):69. https://doi.org/10.3390/systems10030069Chicago/Turabian Style
Potts, Alexandra J., James Nobles, Katie Shearn, Kara Danks, and Gabriella Frith. 2022. "Embedded Researchers as Part of a Whole Systems Approach to Physical Activity: Reflections and Recommendations" Systems 10, no. 3: 69. https://doi.org/10.3390/systems10030069