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The RDS Model of Support for Social Care Research

The RDS Model of Support for Social Care Research

01 September 2020

Hazel Morbey, RDS Case Manager (North West), Caroline Norrie, RDS Social Care Adviser (London), Chris Hatton, RDS Senior Adviser (North West)

Social care firmly on the agenda ….
In a post-Covid-19 time, social care will be firmly at the forefront of political minds, and surfacing near the top of the priorities for national social care and health organisations is research that underpins and develops its evidence base. There is pressing need for the RDS to support social care researchers and those interested in joining the social care research community, to help the development of research on a range of issues around social care service provision, funding and workforce.

Consultation on a ‘messy landscape’ ….
During a consultation in 2019, we listened to different groups of people including those using and providing social care, and people undertaking or interested in social care research. The consultation helped us to understand the challenges and that it is important to build capacity in social care research for all those involved.  A comment made by one of the consultation participants captured a common view of the difficulties faced by those researching social care,

‘It is a messy landscape we are operating in … One size does not fit all. What might work for testing out a new drug, or a new health intervention doesn’t work for social care … it might be older age and frailty, but it is also social isolation, housing problems, worklessness or wider societal issues about poverty or lack of universal services in one particular area.’
Third Sector Researcher consultation group, RDS London

Challenges faced by social care researchers ….
We identified three main areas of challenge associated with designing and conducting social care research:

  • The complexity of social care organisations and funding:
    Social care comprises multi-sector organisations that can go through frequent system changes and that work with severe budgetary limitations. Social care provision is varied, contracted-out and includes autonomous approaches to providing services. There are workforce issues including high turnover, insecure employment practices, and high-pressure work environments. Within this setting, appropriate research and funding models for rights-based practice and personalised services perspectives are key facilitators to conducting social care studies.

  • Research culture and research readiness:
    There is less of an infrastructure to support research cultures and research activity in social care compared to health care. Within the social care sector there is an underdeveloped research culture, and limited research literacy. Some research governance structures have regional variation, creating complexity for researchers conducting national or cross-regional research. Social care practitioners wishing to engage in research have limited easy access, for example to funding opportunities, ethics and governance guidance and processes, or research methods training.

  • Opportunities to undertake and develop social care research:
    In our consultation people spoke about the limited opportunities to commission social care research, priority-set and translate research for practice. Funding streams with application procedures appropriate to support capacity to deliver social care research are few, as are opportunities to build practitioner researcher capability through supporting their development of research expertise, portfolios and evidence base. There is significant potential for exploiting existing but under reported public involvement and engagement across the social care sector.

How RDS is supporting social care research ….
Over the past 18 months RDS colleagues nationally have developed a model to support researchers in social care. This model of support is designed to ensure high quality RDS support for social care research in collaboration with other parts of NIHR and the wider social care community.

The Model targets priorities with main workstreams for:

  • Supporting social care researchers, and those interested in social care research.
  • Encouraging social care research in RDS regions.
  • Designing and seeking funding for social care studies.

How can RDS help you with social care research?
The RDS can provide support on all aspects of developing and writing a grant application for NIHR and other open national peer-reviewed funding programmes. Opportunities to apply for social care research funding are growing, with a dedicated NIHR Research for Social Care funding stream, as well as the opportunity to apply for the range of NIHR commissioned, themed, researcher-led and career development awards. Indeed the annual Research for Social Care (RfSC) call opens at the end of September and there will be 6 RDS online roadshows to support and promote the call.

The current School for Social Care Research (SSCR) call for proposals is designed to be developmental and fast. It seeks to encourage new and developing adult social care researchers to lead studies through this funding stream. It welcomes proposals led by practice researchers, social care professionals (including managers and commissioners), and people who use services and/or carers. The call has a one-stage application process for the end of November 2020, with projects scheduled to start in spring 2021. Another funding call of interest is the SSCR Career Development Awards that is seeking high-quality applications from individuals who have a commitment to developing the evidence base to improve adult social care practice in England.

If you are a social care researcher (e.g. social worker, social care practitioner, local authority officer, third sector or academic social care researcher), or are interested in how you can undertake social care research, RDS  can talk with you about research design, research methods, building a strong research team and identifying funding sources. We can also help identify ways to ensure the involvement of public and social care service users in the development of study proposals and in the research study itself. If appropriate, we will signpost you to other regional NIHR network organisations that may be able to work with you to plan and develop your research, for example Clinical Research Networks (CRNs) and Applied Research Collaborations (ARCs).   

Get in touch …

Find your local RDS office and contact them to start the conversation about your social care research plans. You might have a well-drafted proposal or nothing committed to paper and just a great research idea! Whatever stage you have reached, RDS will support you through the steps of producing a high quality research proposal.
If you would like to know more about the Model, please contact NIHR Research Design Service North West



Big thanks to ….

We are very grateful for the time individuals gave during the consultation and would especially like to thank people with social care needs and public involvement representatives who took part in the consultation groups, individual discussions, and commented on draft documents. Thank you too, to the RDS regions that facilitated this involvement.

In particular, we would like to acknowledge:
Jane Hopkins, lay representative for the NIHR Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce Public and Patient Involvement Experience Group at King´s College London, who participated in a consultation group and provided written comments on the draft report.
Members of North East Social Care and Health Advisers (NESCHA) who took part in a consultation group.
Members of Lincolnshire Patient and Public Forum; Together Group, University of Lincoln; Community and Health Research Unit, Healthier Ageing Patient and Public Involvement Group (CAHRU HAPPI GROUP); Carers FIRST, Lincolnshire; and Lincolnshire Neurological Alliance who took part in a consultation group.
Members of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services North West who took part in a consultation group.
Participants from London who took part in consultation groups and one to one discussions.

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