Whether a research agenda emerges formally or more organically, there are a few principles that help guide its development:
- Root the research agenda in the real-world priorities and challenges that practitioners face. The research must be relevant to practical problems that are informed by multiple stakeholders’ perspectives. They may be wide-ranging, and could include specific practices, leadership decisions, or agency-wide policy changes.
- Collaborate from the beginning and integrate ongoing communication throughout your projects. Practitioners and researchers are co-designers of a research agenda. An iterative, collaborative approach continues as specific projects are developed and launched. Equal contribution is less important than frequent, consistent, authentic opportunities for informing and contributing to the research agenda. All parties’ ongoing ownership of the agenda is essential if the research is to matter.
- Develop an agenda that is likely to be used. There is often an incongruence between the availability of research and an agency’s capacity to use research, even research generated by a partnership. To avoid this, consider a diversified portfolio of projects and anticipate the supports necessary to encourage the use of the research. Although additional activities are needed to ensure use, some partnerships, like the Domestic Violence Program Evaluation and Research Collaborative in Boston, emphasize the development of practitioner-informed research products. “These tools have increased value and usefulness for practitioners. They trust these tools because practitioners have informed the process along the way,” says Megan Bair-Merritt, a researcher at Boston Medical Center.
- Attend to political realities and evolving priorities as the agenda is refined. The research agenda needs to be in tune with the emergent and complex political and community realities that agencies and practice partners navigate. Anticipate emergent and unexpected issues and plan research agenda to be in tune with the complex contexts in which agencies and practice partners operate. In some partnerships, the research agenda may require sign-off from multiple entities that engage stakeholders from many different departments and organizations.