An Organizational Guide to Building Health Services Research Capacity

Step 2: Fostering a Research Culture


In Step 1, you assessed your organization's current needs and capabilities. In Step 2, you will learn about fostering a culture of health services research by:

  • Obtaining departmental and institutional leadership support.
  • Establishing formal documents and policies in support of health services research.

A wide variety of indicators demonstrate improvements or shifts in organizational research culture. Organizational culture is defined by formal documents and policies, as well as informal traditions and attitudes. Examples of indicators we found in our research are shown in Figure 4.


Figure 4. Indicators of a shift in research culture

Types of Indicators
  • Changed performance evaluation system to recognize the importance of collaborative health services research
  • Increased institutional support of health services research through
  • Supervisor support
  • Release time
  • Incentives and rewards for research participation
  • Institutional funds to support a health services research center, program, or core office
  • Established internal partnerships to conduct health services research
  • Increased staff/faculty skills and involvement in health services research
  • Held regular meetings (for project and other interested faculty/staff/students) to discuss health services research topics
  • Established new educational curricula related to health services research
  • Established a central research oversight committee

Obtaining departmental and institutional leadership support for your capacity-building project and its activities will facilitate future initiatives. When seeking internal or external funding, inform the organizational leadership about your activities. For external funding, include a letter of support from an administrative leader to illustrate organizational commitment to your project. Keep administrators involved by providing updates on your progress and engaging them in the infrastructure-building process. This may facilitate support that is conducive to health services research. Support may include physical space, institutional funding of infrastructure, additional release time for conducting research, and changes to organizational policies and practices.

Creating a culture of research can be difficult and often takes time. One of the key approaches to creating a shift in culture is through policy and leadership. Significant policy changes that can affect culture include:

  • Formal documents such as mission statements and strategic plans at departmental or institutional levels to support health services research.
  • Committees or staff positions that explicitly support research (such as a staff research council or VP of research).
  • Policies and practices regarding release time for conducting and preparing proposals and completing research projects.
  • Recognition or reward for impact in the community (policy changes, improved health care delivery systems).
  • Performance evaluations and rewards (raises, promotions, and/or tenure) that place value on obtaining outside research funding, conducting research, and disseminating research in the community and through scientific journals.

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Maximizing Success

There are common challenges that arise when developing an organizational culture that encourages health services research. They include:

  • Lack of organizational knowledge — Provide an engaging summary of what was found in your assessment to organizational leadership.
  • Skepticism about health services research — Provide information to show how the department or organization's existing experiences can be used to leverage and build an interdisciplinary team in the field of health services research. Share current articles from prominent journals. A list of the leading health services research journals can be found in the sidebar.
  • Problems related to a teaching university becoming more research oriented — Examples of problems include needing to work out research release time issues and needing to educate senior administrators about the appropriate use of research funds. Use monies from research to leverage release time and share the budget and work plan with administrators. Set a schedule for research and non-research activities in advance and work hard to stick to it.

You should begin to think about how you can overcome these barriers in your own organization. One step you can take is to share articles from top health services research journals with leadership.

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Page last reviewed October 2014
Internet Citation: Step 2: Fostering a Research Culture. October 2014. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.