RPPs are staffed in various ways. A modestly sized partnership may employ a lead researcher, one or two junior researchers, and an administrative person. Larger centers may hold several additional positions, including data specialists and communications staff.
For moderately-sized to large partnerships, a popular staffing consideration is for RPPs to consider whether to locate one or more research staff in the agency setting. Reasons for locating the researcher onsite with the agency partner include: streamlining access to the data and facilitating knowledge of the inner workings of partner agencies.
Some RPPs opt for an “embedded researcher” model, deciding not only to locate a researcher in the agency setting, but also to establish direct reporting lines with the senior administrator overseeing the joint work. Even further, some RPPs make such research staff official employees of the partnering agency, even if they originally came from the research side of the partnership. This arrangement can ease bureaucratic hurdles that may limit access that non-employees have to agency data and facilitates communication between partners by having a liaison that understands the environment, protocols and professional culture of each partnering institution.
For many RPPs, including those starting out, the most practical decision about staffing is budgetary. Many staffing models are quite lean. The researchers themselves are often not paid for partnership work. Lean staffing models present significant challenges to maintaining and growing partnerships, but are a reality that many partnerships are meeting creatively:
- Research staff in university settings often have access to various supports. For example, university communications offices can provide basic support and generate publicity for RPPs. “This work is well-aligned with the university’s community outreach mission, so I’ve gotten enthusiastic support from communications staff,” one researcher observed. Others have tapped small pockets of money, earmarked for community-based work, that provide just enough funding to do relationship maintenance, especially between larger funded projects.
- Graduate students can be a resource for extending staff. Partnership work can be compelling for many graduate students interested in doing research that improves policy or practice. Some partnerships are able to offer paid graduate research assistant positions or post-doctoral fellowships. A goal of employing graduate students is to provide opportunities for young researchers to develop the skills that allow them to enter a career pipeline for this growing field. Lack of resources, however, can limit the amount of time that students can spend on projects.
- Many leaner RPPs take a do-it-yourself approach. “We maintain our own website and schedule our own trainings. If there’s an opportunity to do a tag-along event in conjunction with something that is paid for, we take the opportunity,” reports Megan Bair-Merritt of Boston’s Domestic Violence Program Evaluation and Research Collaborative.