Changing the culture: a qualitative study exploring research capacity in local government

Catherine Homer*, James Woodall, Charlotte Freeman, Jane South, Jo Cooke, Judith Holliday, Anna Hartley, Shane Mullen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Local government has become a key constituent for addressing health inequalities and influencing the health of individuals and communities in England. Lauded as an effective approach to tackle the multiple determinants of health, there are concerns that generating and utilising research evidence to inform decision-making and action is a challenge. This research was conducted in a local authority situated in the north of England and addressed the research question – ‘What is the capacity to collaborate and deliver research?’. The study explored the assets that exist to foster a stronger research culture, identified barriers and opportunities for developing research capacity, and how a sustainable research system could be developed to impact on local residents’ health and reduce health inequalities. Methods: This was a qualitative study utilising semi-structured interviews and focus groups. The study used an embedded researcher (ER) who was digitally embedded within the local authority for four months to conduct the data collection. Senior Managers were purposively sampled from across the local authority to take part in interviews. Three focus groups included representation from across the local authority. Framework analysis was conducted to develop the themes which were informed by the Research Capacity Development framework. Results: Tensions between research led decision making and the political and cultural context of local government were identified as a barrier to developing research which addressed health inequalities. Research was not prioritised through an organisational strategy and was led sporadically by research active employees. A recognition across leaders that a culture shift to an organisation which used research evidence to develop policy and commission services was needed. Building relationships and infrastructure across local government, place-based collaborators and academic institutions was required. The embedded researcher approach is one method of developing these relationships. The study identifies the strengths and assets that are embedded in the organisational make-up and the potential areas for development. Conclusion: Research leadership is required in local government to create a culture of evidence-based principles and policy. The embedded research model has high utility in gaining depth of information and recognising contextual and local factors which would support research capacity development.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1341
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study/project is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) 20/30 NIHR Local Authority Research Systems Call (project reference 131900/Public Health Research). The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Embedded researcher
  • Evidence based practice
  • Local government
  • Public health
  • Qualitative
  • Research capacity
  • Research system


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