Do Research–Practice Partnerships Offer a Promising Approach to Producing Research that Improves Social Care Practice and Outcomes?

Boaz, A, Fitzsimons, B, Meakin, B, Muirhead, S, Williams, C, Weatherley, M, Knapp, M, Smith, L, Langley, J, Kendrick, H, Malley, J and Bauer, A. 2023. Do Research–Practice Partnerships Offer a Promising Approach to Producing Research that Improves Social Care Practice and Outcomes? Journal of Long-Term Care, (2023), pp. 241–248. DOI: https://


There are many pressing questions about how to deliver adult social care services. Where research evidence exists to address these questions, there is often limited use by social care commissioners, providers and the workforce. Sometimes this is attributed to the lack of perceived relevance and accessibility of the research itself, at other times it is considered to be a matter of individual and organizational capacity. As things stand, there is a gap between social care research and practice. Improving interaction between different stakeholders in the research process is a contemporary mechanism for promoting the production of research that is useful, usable and used. This paper describes one collaborative approach called Research Practice Partnerships (RPPs). These partnerships share the goal of benefit for all partners and are supported by a growing international evidence base. This paper summarizes some of the key literature from different countries and contexts where the approach has been tried. It highlights the main features of RPPs, introduces a project setting up three new partnerships in the care home sector in England and highlights aspects of the theory of change that will guide the evaluation of the partnerships. In doing so, the paper introduces a promising collaborative approach to a social care audience and considers whether RPPs have the potential to achieve meaningful and impactful research in social care contexts.

Anything from Annette Boaz is good for thinking about how to apply scholarship to the practice of knowledge mobilization, research partnerships, and research impact. Drawing on experience from the US education sector this article describes efforts to set up Research Practice Partnerships in the UK social care sector focusing on care homes. One thing off the top…the article ends early. It describes what RPPs are and what they hope to do and the resources they have but they haven’t yet done it. Yet. It feels like a methods publication which is fine, just surprising when you scroll to the next page and suddenly are faced with the references.

Some things about RPPs that aren’t surprising: trust, communication, balance power, boundary spanning. How you do things will likely change depending on context but since the authors haven’t yet done it I hope they will come back in 3 years with the answers. I will be particularly interested in the forms and formats of boundary spanning since those will likely facilitate trust, communication, and power sharing.

Because of RPPs, the changes sought include “Research produced by the partnerships will aim to support improvements in practice and achieve better outcomes for residents and their families. The partnerships will provide opportunities for social care staff to develop research skills and for

organisations to have some help in making the best use of their own data. They will also help researchers develop a better awareness of social care practice.”

But they also have more immediate outcomes identified. “(1) individual skills, knowledge and

capacity to engage in partnership work; (2) building trust and relationships and redistributing power between partners; (3) partnership capacity to do research and (4) organisational capacity to use research for service and system-level improvement.”

Oh yeah…resources. They have £100,000 over three years for each of three RPP sites. This includes funding to buy out staff time. So important.

And although the article ends suddenly there is an eye to the future that will arise out of next three years. “Assessing how these outcomes change over time will be critical to the evaluation of the partnerships and establishing the extent to which they offer a novel approach to knowledge production for and with practice. We also have more work to do in evaluating how the

development of these outcomes will be enabled, impeded or have an influence on the English social care system.”

The article ends with embedded evaluation. Again, so important.

Questions for brokers.

  1. What, if anything, is unique about RPPs that differentiate them from other forms of co-production?
  2. £100,000 over three years is an enabling condition for research but most of us don’t have those resources. Does this mean we shouldn’t be seeking our own RPPs? Or do we seek our own RPPs after learning from Annette Boaz’s research?
  3. How are you embedding evaluation in your projects?

Research Impact Canada is producing this journal club series to make evidence on knowledge mobilization more accessible to knowledge brokers and to facilitate discussion about research on knowledge mobilization. It is designed for knowledge brokers and other parties interested in knowledge mobilization.