Could embedding public health researchers in local authorities improve decision-making?

04 Mar 2024

Studies have shown* that there is a greater role for academic research to contribute to public health decision-making in local authorities through improving the links between the generators of research evidence and potential users. 

One way of addressing this issue could be to bring research ‘in-house’ in the form of embedded researchers.

What are embedded researchers and why are they valuable?

Embedded researchers are researchers who are co-affiliated with a research and policy or practice setting. They are situated (physically and/or virtually) in a host practice team for all or a portion of their time. Placements aim to develop a two-way, mutually beneficial relationship between organisations.

Most embedded researchers move from academic institutions, like universities, to work within organisations that design policy or deliver services around public health – all while maintaining an academic affiliation.

They aim to improve research activity and use within their host team. This could include building the host’s research capacity, co-producing research, and acting as knowledge brokers.

What are some reflections on embedded researchers in practice?

While embedded researchers are more commonly situated within clinical or healthcare environments, they are a relatively new phenomenon within public health.

On 6th October 2023, 85 attendees came together to reflect on a programme of research on embedded researchers in public health. The event marked the publication of an embedded researcher research report, which the team were keen to share and discuss with public health professionals, local government staff, research funders, and past, current or future embedded researchers.

While many attendees joined us from local authorities across different regions of England, we also heard from embedded researchers as far afield as Cape Town, South Africa, due to the hybrid nature of the event.

The event provided a useful opportunity to reflect on the unique challenges and opportunities for those working in these environments, as well as providing practical information for those funding future initiatives in this area.

Discussions covered how career pathways at the interface of academia and local government should be given more visibility and legitimacy, and how research-curious and research-literate members of local authority staff can be better supported to navigate opportunities.

Attendees also raised interesting questions around the relative benefits of recruiting embedded researcher roles ‘in house’ or introducing external academics into organisations, and what kind of metrics might be used in order to measure and better understand the influence and value of embedded research roles in the future.

An online attendee commented: “As someone who has been doing this role for two and a half years, it is valuable and validating to hear this overview of the role and exploration of the challenges and future opportunities”.  

What happens next for embedded researchers in public health?

This knowledge exchange event explored a future where every local authority public health team would host an embedded researcher to raise the profile of public health research in local government.

As an attendee who had experience working as an embedded researcher in a local authority remarked:

“It has been a fantastic opportunity to be part of the [embedded researcher scheme]. [We’re] very proud to be part of an expanding culture of research in local authorities”.  

If you want to help make this happen, explore the resources below or get in touch.

Resources and guidance on embedded researchers:

The embedded researcher team: (EPPI-Centre, UCL): Dr Dylan Kneale, Dr Rachael Edwards, Dr Claire Stansfield, Sarah Lester, Prof James Thomas and Rebecca Goldman (Independent Consultant).

This project benefited from the support and guidance of a steering group of embedded research experts and the team are grateful for their valuable input on this work.



*Lorenc T, Tyner EF, Petticrew M, Duffy S, Martineau FP, Phillips G, Lock K (2014) Cultures of evidence across policy sectors: systematic review of qualitative evidence. The European Journal of Public Health 24: 1041-1047.

Kneale, D., Rojas-García, A., Raine, R., Thomas, J., 2017. The use of evidence in English local public health decision-making: a systematic scoping review. Implement. Sci. 12 (1), 53.

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