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Local Authority Research Systems: identifying the capacity and infrastructure needs of Birmingham City Council

Leads: Prof Kate Jolly (Public Health), Ms Agnieszka Latuszynska (Organisational Science)

Five public contributors, who are residents of Birmingham, have been involved in the study from the outset.

Dates: October 2020 - January 2021

Background:

A person’s physical and mental health and wellbeing is determined by influences across the life-course including the built and natural environment, employment, education, welfare, transport, communication systems and health and social care. Since 2013, local authorities (LAs) have had a lead responsibility for public health and have an opportunity to tackle prevention and address inequalities in health.

Research has shown that LAs face challenges in the use of research evidence in their decision making (research studies being too far removed from what is happening on the ground, difficulties in translating national evidence to local settings and not accounting for local budget impacts, inconsistencies in findings between studies, poor access to good quality relevant research, and lack of timely research output) and may value locally produced evidence at the expense of relevant non-local evidence.

Additionally, there are barriers to LAs engaging with researchers including difference in timescales, limited budgets and difficulties in identifying appropriate researchers.

The National Institute of Health Research and Care seeks to understand what infrastructure local authorities need to support the development of research systems to tackle challenging public health problems.

Birmingham City Council (BCC) serves the largest and youngest population in the UK, it is socio-economically and ethnically very diverse. BCC collaborates on research with several local universities across a range of topics and has strategic priorities to reduce inequalities and tackle public health priorities using a systems-based approach. The university co-investigators have collaborated on research with BCC.

Policy Partners:

Birmingham City Council and NIHR Public Health Research.

Co-Funding Partners:

Birmingham City Council.

Aims and Objectives:

To understand better how BCC engages with the research community and explore how to develop mechanisms to enhance collaboration and embed a sustainable culture of research.

The objectives of this project are:

  1. To map current and recent research activity between BCC and local and national partners.
  2. To map the available infrastructure, capacity and resources to support research activity within BCC, and identify what additional resources would be needed to embed a sustainable research system.
  3. To map research expertise and understanding, understand culture and capacity/opportunity for change within BBC officers, elected members and supporting infrastructure.
  4. To identify opportunity for change in the way that researchers work with BCC to meet the needs of BCC.
  5. To explore the views of key stakeholders in relation to research and the potential for BCC to become a research system, and to identify barriers, potential facilitators and infrastructure needs for a sustainable research system.
  6. To explore potential mechanisms to improve interaction between public health and social care research.

Methods:

Survey and qualitative interviews underpinned by COM-B (capability, opportunity, motivation, behaviour) theory and Theoretical Domains Framework. The COM-B and TDF identify what needs to change in order for a behaviour to change or be implemented.

  1. Online survey of BCC officers and elected members to address objectives 1-4. Survey invitations from BCC, championed by BCC co-applicants, piloted with closed and open-ended questions.
  2. Individual qualitative interviews with 15-20 purposively selected officers and elected members from BCC identified as key stakeholders and from survey respondents. Interviews with 8-10 people in NIHR infrastructure, researchers and third sector organisations who interact with, or could support BCC’s research. Interviews will be piloted, recorded, transcribed and analysed thematically; they will address objectives 3-6.
  3. Synthesis of survey and interview findings by study management group and PPIE.

Main Results:

Ongoing.

Conclusion:

Ongoing.

Implications for Implementation:

The research will enable BCC to introduce infrastructure and processes to support research and effective use of research evidence to address common public health challenges; and as a case study for NIHR to look for commonalities across different LAs.

Additional funding has been obtained to take this research into two additional local authorities, including Sandwell Metropolitan District Council (February - May 2021).