In this blogpost for the NIHR’s Your Path in Research Campaign, Postdoctoral Research Associate Chloe Place introduces the University of Exeter and Care Homes and Knowledge (ExCHANGE) Collaboration and tells us how working collaboratively and exchanging ideas is helping to make care homes better places to live and work.
What is the ExCHANGE collaboration?
We are a collaboration of researchers, care home providers, staff, residents, and family carers. Our goal is to enhance the health, wellbeing and happiness of people living, working in, and visiting care homes. By exchanging ideas we’re learning how care homes can make confident use of research and how researchers, by working with care homes, can work more effectively with them. Together we’re working to identify the critical issues and translate them into researchable questions.
Working creatively to foster partnership working
ExCHANGE creatively works against the grain of typical research. Instead of using our care-home partners as a ‘petri-dish’, our radical approach works alongside care home stakeholders to co-design and co-run project activities in equal partnership. This collaborative approach means that our project objectives remain focused on care homes’ needs.
The Covid-19 pandemic shone a public light on the challenges faced by care homes; a lack of quality research, and a fragmented and neglected sector. So, we joined forces with the South West Academic Health Science Network (SW AHSN), which works on innovation and service change across the South West; a group of family carers of people in care homes and Directors from the Devon Care Homes Collaborative (DCHC), an existing network of local care home providers committed to improving the quality of care received by care home residents to form a research partnership.
This partnership has helped us to develop strong and lasting professional relationships. It has also helped our stakeholders to actively participate in project meetings, co-designing and co-running workshops into care homes evidence-use, and co-presenting work at conferences and events. These partnerships are proving integral to ExCHANGE as we put together funding bids for mutually generated research projects to help address pressing care home practice needs.
During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic we also worked with care home partners, the SW AHSN and the South West Integrated Personalised Commissioning team to hold three interdisciplinary Care Homes Conversations events. These important events helped inform an understanding of the impact of COVID-19 and what could make a difference in the future.
Championing the use of research to improve care
One of the chief benefits of our project has been seeing care home staff more able and confident to apply research to their practice, helping to produce better outcomes for the residents in their care. We co-designed a ‘Taster Research Placement’ where members of care home staff came onto campus to ‘buddy up’ with a researcher and learn research skills to take back to practice. We developed a ‘Research Champion’ role too, in which delegated care home staff were given responsibility for raising awareness of research in a specific area. We also co-created a manual on how to deliver ‘Making Sense of Evidence’ workshops for care homes. These workshops offer guidance on finding and using evidence that can help practitioners put research into practice. Our approach means enabling care home staff to use research to meet a need when they see it.
Keeping the conversation going
Blogs from family carers, care staff, and researchers have been a great way to get to understand different perspectives and our work with an illustrator produced colourful infographics to display in local care homes to help promote our work and broader engagement with research. We have also offered care home staff the opportunity, with the supervision of researchers, to conduct a mini-research project and present the findings at an end-of-project public event, which we are looking forward to. We continue to hold project-generation activities with care home staff, family carers, and residents to produce and prioritise a list of future care homes research questions and aim to apply for funding to research the most important of these. We plan to share the list of questions identified, to help shape the future of care home research.
After discussions with care home owners, staff, family members and residents we have generated some top priority, practice-focused questions for future care homes research. These questions are currently being investigated by the Evidence Synthesis team to find out what research has already been done and what gaps we can help fill in the future. We are seeking out suitable funding bids and are optimistic about the possibility of continuing our work. The collaborative relationships we have made are long-lasting and we hope to continue to maintain this strong sense of partnership between researchers and care home stakeholders as we move into the future – let’s keep exchanging!
Our qualitative study into the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on care home staff wellbeing has been submitted for publication. Read our study protocol for the project’s evaluation
A realist evaluation of a collaborative model to support research co-production in long-term care settings in England: the ExCHANGE protocolRead the publication
About the authors
Chloe works as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Exeter’s College of Medicine and Health, as part of the Exeter Care Homes and Knowledge (ExCHANGE) Collaboration. This exciting PenARC research project focuses on the wellbeing and happiness of older people living in care homes and is supported by funding from the Alzheimer’s Society and Dunhill Medical Trust.
She is also a registered Occupational Therapist with a background of working in older adults’ mental healthcare. Time spent living in Andalusia, Spain, sparked her interest in approaches to ageing, dementia and care in the Andalusian context. This led to her ESRC-funded doctoral research project, which she is currently completing at the University of Sussex, entitled ‘Looking After Abuelos: An Ethnography of Dementia Care in an Andalusian Town’. The project explores questions of personhood, kinship, community and spirituality in Andalusian dementia care.