International policy suggests that collaborative priority setting (CPS) between researchers and end users of research should shape the research agenda, and can increase capacity to address the research-practice translational gap. There is limited research evidence to guide how this should be done to meet the needs of dynamic healthcare systems. One-off priority setting events and time-lag between decision and action prove problematic. This study illustrates the use of CPS in a UK research collaboration called Collaboration and Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC).
Data were collected from a north of England CLAHRC through semi-structured interviews with 28 interviewees and a workshop of key stakeholders (n = 21) including academics, NHS clinicians, and managers. Documentary analysis of internal reports and CLAHRC annual reports for the first two and half years was also undertaken. These data were thematically coded.
Methods of CPS linked to the developmental phase of the CLAHRC. Early methods included pre-existing historical partnerships with on-going dialogue. Later, new platforms for on-going discussions were formed. Consensus techniques with staged project development were also used. All methods demonstrated actual or potential change in practice and services. Impact was enabled through the flexibility of research and implementation work streams; ‘matched’ funding arrangements to support alignment of priorities in partner organisations; the size of the collaboration offering a resource to meet project needs; and the length of the programme providing stability and long term relationships. Difficulties included tensions between being responsive to priorities and the possibility of ‘drift’ within project work, between academics and practice, and between service providers and commissioners in the health services. Providing protected ‘matched’ time proved difficult for some NHS managers, which put increasing work pressure on them. CPS is more time consuming than traditional approaches to project development.
CPS can produce needs-led projects that are bedded in services using a variety of methods. Contributing factors for effective CPS include flexibility in use and type of available resources, flexible work plans, and responsive leadership. The CLAHRC model provides a translational infrastructure that enables CPS that can impact on healthcare systems.