Rapidly prioritising innovations in adult social care for evaluation: a Q&A with Dr Holly Walton

Dr Holly Walton is co-author of new research published last week on rapidly prioritising innovations in adult social care for evaluation. In this Q&A we ask her more about the work, including the benefits and drawbacks of doing the research at such speed, and the possible lessons for researchers wanting to use this method during the pandemic.

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Published: 15/03/2021

Can you tell us what you did with this work and what made it unique?

In this research, published last week in the journal Health Research Policy and Systems, we rapidly identified and prioritised innovations in adult social care for evaluation. Starting with a longlist of 158 innovations, we used a rapid priority setting process to narrow the innovations down to a shortlist of 25 – of which we were able to prioritise five top innovations for evaluation. These five were: care coordination for dementia in the community, family group conferencing, Greenwich prisons social care, local area coordination and MySense.Ai.

This approach is novel as it is one of the first times that a priority setting process has been adapted to be used in a short space of time (four months). We adapted the James Lind Alliance (JLA) process for research priority setting, which has been widely used

This was a collaborative project involving two rapid evaluation teams funded by NIHR: the NIHR Rapid Service Evaluation Team (RSET) and NIHR Birmingham, RAND and Cambridge Evaluation (BRACE) Centre.

NIHR RSET involves collaborators from UCL, Nuffield Trust and the University of Cambridge. NIHR BRACE involves collaborators from the University of Birmingham, RAND Europe and the University of Cambridge.

What were some of the benefits of doing this exercise at such pace?

One of the benefits of carrying out the prioritisation process of adult social care innovations for evaluation in a rapid way is that topics can be identified for evaluation more quickly, which means that research projects evaluating these topics can start at speed. This is important because we know that evaluations often take time to show results, so speeding up the process of identifying suitable programmes to evaluate can mean more time is given to the evaluation itself.

What were some of the drawbacks?

One of the strengths of our rapid prioritisation process was that it included lots of stakeholders, including service users and professionals, which meant we were able to draw on an incredible range of expertise. But a limitation of doing this rapidly meant that we were unable to include service users in every single stage of the process (as would be done in JLA priority setting processes). For example, we were unable to include individual service users in the initial stage of the process (identifying which innovations to look at). People who use adult social care services and carers did take part in the prioritisation workshop though, and their perspectives were very helpful.

What do you think are some of the lessons for researchers wanting to use this method in the current pandemic environment?

We have outlined a method that is both systematic and pragmatic. We hope that other researchers can learn from this rapid prioritisation process when developing and designing future rapid prioritisation processes. Given the current fast-moving Covid-19 pandemic and the need for rapid research on a huge range of areas, it may be that rapid prioritisation processes could be helpful in quickly identifying the next Covid-19 priorities for research and evaluation.

What are the next steps for this work?

NIHR RSET and NIHR BRACE will be conducting evaluations of two of the adult social care innovations identified for evaluation. NIHR BRACE will be conducting an evaluation of MySense.AI, and NIHR RSET will be conducting an evaluation of prison social care peer support initiatives, so watch this space!

Dr Holly Walton is a research fellow in the Department of Applied Health Research at University College London, and works on the NIHR Rapid Service Evaluation (RSET) project. She is co-author of “Rapid prioritisation of topics for rapid evaluation: the case of innovations in adult social care and social work”, which was published last week in Health Research Policy and Systems.

Suggested citation

Walton H (2021) “Rapidly prioritising innovations in adult social care for evaluation: a Q&A with Dr Holly Walton”, Nuffield Trust Q&A.

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