The NIHR has a remit to develop the evidence base to inform and improve adult social care practice in England by commissioning and conducting internationally leading research. However, the research culture and infrastructure to support research is, to date, underdeveloped. Research capacity development is complicated as Adult Social Care is delivered through a highly devolved model and by a wide range of providers. There is a need for sustainable and targeted models that have the potential to develop research capacity in individuals and build supportive research cultures within organisations.

The gap between research evidence and its use in practice  is particularly wide for social care and social work. Barriers to active engagement in research and research informed practice include limitations in funding, a lack of collective identity, underdeveloped research governance, infrastructure, austerity policies, devolved and fragmented local authority systems, and a mixed economy of providers. A scoping exercise we completed for the NIHR Eastern Clinical Research Network (CRN) has shown that research capacity in social care in the East of England is low. However, this scoping exercise, and our discussions with senior managers in Adult Social Care found a readiness (and enthusiasm) to engage in research capacity development (RCD). Crucially, this is contingent on the availability of resources to support practitioners to take time out from front line duties to participate in research related activities (e.g. salary backfill). Building on this willingness to engage in RCD initiatives the next step is to develop and test the most appropriate models for research capacity building in Social Care. We propose to extend current knowledge on RCD in health and social care and learning from the NIHR EoE ARC Individual Fellowship Scheme to develop ‘Research in Practice Teams’ that can build research capacity and capability in adult social care in the East of England. Using teams will allow greater reach and impact. The rationale for focusing on a single region is that it has an adult social care workforce of over 160,000, includes rural, urban, new town and coastal communities and has a research infrastructure that has begun to work with social care.

We have close links with statutory and third sector social work and social care agencies and service user and carer organisations in Hertfordshire and Norfolk. The project has been developed in collaboration with key partners in Adult Social Care and NIHR infrastructure that supports research in the region (e.g. East of England Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) and Clinical Research Network Eastern. The support of the ARC allows us to draw on the resources and networks of the ARC and develop links between health and social care.