Developing research management and governance capacity in primary care organizations: Transferable learning from a qualitative evaluation of UK pilot sites
Background. The capacity and capabilities for undertaking primary care research have increased both within and outside of the UK in recent years. The UK Department of Health aims to facilitate this further by establishing a national network of primary care organizations (PCOs) ready to act as hosts for shared research governance systems. However, it is unclear which models offer the most effective option. In addition, there is confusion over new processes and concern that researchers may be deterred from addressing important questions. Objectives. The research ascertains how PCOs selected as pilot sites have organized research management and governance (RM&G). Methods. We adopted a case study approach involving interviews with key informants in a purposive sample of eight pilot PCO (RM&G) sites. Results. Motivating factors for PCOs to host RM&G included the possibility of additional resources and more effective use of research to improve service delivery. A range of organizational models were adopted, often reflecting existing strategic alliances. It is envisaged that it will not be effective or cost-effective for many PCOs to make individual arrangements for RM&G, and so models are already developing among groups of PCOs and partner organizations. The extent of partnerships between PCOs varied with concern over critical mass and dilution of expertise in larger groupings. The development and implementation of systems in pilot sites was facilitated by the support of the wider PCO in recognizing research as a valued and integral part of the organization; the effective management of relationships and the establishment of equal partnership arrangements for RM&G, and the effective use of existing R&D infrastructure and expertise. Conclusions. RM&G partnerships vary according to local circumstances. It is likely that groupings will develop in the future with increasing co-terminosity and across wider health organization boundaries, such as Strategic Heath Authorities (in the UK) or primary care research networks. Critical mass of RM&G arrangements is likely to be linked to levels of research activity. There are real concerns over the levels of bureaucracy associated with the implementation of research governance; however, those PCOs that develop as RM&G sites have the opportunity to enrich their organizations and expand clinically relevant R&D. Partnership working within PCOs and with primary care research networks, academic departments or acute trusts, may be the key to success. Those undertaking research within primary care settings outside of the UK can learn important lessons from the UK experience and ensure development of high quality research that informs improvements in patient care.