20 July 2021
Alan Inman-Ward is the Head of Insight and Intelligence at Active Gloucestershire and joined the organisation a few months into the two-year evaluation of we can move being carried out by NIHR ARC West. Alan was the relationship manager working closely with Dr James Nobles, Senior Research Associate at ARC West, throughout the project. Here he talks about his experience of working with an embedded researcher.
My background is in client-side research, having worked with numerous agencies and universities to carry out robust and independent evaluation. The projects I have been involved in have varied greatly, but I’ve never had the opportunity to work as closely with the researcher as I have done with James.
The innovative evaluation methods James and ARC West brought to this project were eye-opening. They provided the opportunity to engage with a considerable number of our key stakeholders in data capture – with extremely positive feedback from participants, some of which are now testing this methodology on their own projects!
Other than spending a few days with researchers in ethnographical work, this was the first time I’d worked with an embedded researcher. James sat in our office at least once a week, attended our events and engaged with our governance structure. Having James so closely involved meant that he felt like part of the team. Everyone knew him, and we all felt comfortable working with him. It meant that I wasn’t a barrier to James having access to the whole team – helping him truly understand both Active Gloucestershire and the development of we can move.
This also meant that we were an open book. There was no hiding from those less than picture perfect moments. Such as when we struggled to clarify what the movement meant and how we could easily describe it to people. James and the team provided a candid reflection of the successes and difficulties of our work, which they wouldn’t have been privy to without being embedded in our team.
Less than a year into this partnership, COVID-19 came along. With the initial frantic activity to make sure our team were safe and able to work remotely, it took time to develop ways to keep James embedded in a remote environment. Whilst we both felt that the evaluation missed out on some critical learnings, the foundations of his relationships with the team, built up before the first lockdown, allowed for open and frank reflections on how we dealt with the start of the pandemic.
I mentioned earlier about the innovative methodology James brought to this evaluation. One of the key successes from this partnership was how the evaluation became an intervention at times. It was a regular occurrence following a System Mapping or Ripple Effects Mapping workshop with our stakeholders, to hear about new relationships being developed or someone taking meaningful action off their own back. Each one of these actions developing and growing the reach of the movement beyond the work of Active Gloucestershire – giving the movement more life.
It’s been a great experience working with ARC West. Especially having James embedded within Active Gloucestershire, providing an honest and open view of the progress of we can move. Providing us with a comprehensive action list and is a partnership I hope to continue. Not only through further evaluation opportunities such as the community building initiative evaluation but through the wider development of Ripple Effects Mapping and the Systems Evaluation Network.