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Research in action
There’s a lot to be said for small scale research projects being undertaken by health and social care staff in the settings in which they work. There are also a few pitfalls, and I want to explore both of these in this blog.
Staff are often in a great position to be able to gather data, and when I talk about data, I ‘m talking about information generally, not just statistics. That data can include feedback from care home residents and their families, observations by staff, satisfaction surveys, and comments from outside agencies.
Action research, as it’s often called, can be part of the cycle of learning on the job. It is a term first used in the 1940s by Kurt Lewin, a psychologist. We try out a new way of working (perhaps admission procedures, for example), we think about the effects, we test the experience from other perspectives, and we draw lessons. Hopefully as a result - and this should be the outcome of the research - we change our way of working. In this way our team, or care home, can show that our practice and way of working is backed up with solid evidence – evidence from our own research. This can often reinforce what we might have learnt from other national evidence.
Guarding against pitfalls
Now there are lots of potential problems, and I’m sure the first one that staff might come up with is that we do not have the time or research skills to undertake research. Sometimes organisations have students on placement – this may be an opportunity for them, and research projects need not be big. In my experience the smaller and the less ambitious, the greater the chance of successful completion.
An important factor to bear in mind is that research can involve ethical issues, particularly if your service users are research subjects. An example might be where you use one particular intervention with one group of residents, and another form with another group, and compare outcomes. Consent should always be gained, and where people lack mental capacity to consent to research, Chapter 11 of the Code of Practice to the Mental Capacity Act 2005 guides us as to how this should be done.
Of course, small action research projects in a care home setting need not include service users. It might be a survey of comments from families or GPs. However, ethical issues will still be there, such as how you use comments that might be given confidentially. The National Institute for Health Research website has some useful information for care homes interested in research.