Why the trial researcher matters: Day-to-day work viewed through the lens of normalization process theory

Lindsay Dalgarno, Linda Birt, Christine Bond, Jeanette Blacklock, Annie Blyth, Jacqueline Inch, Frances Notman, Amrit Daffu-O’Reilly, Maureen Spargo, Laura Watts, David Wright, Fiona Poland

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Researchers working in the field, the places where research-relevant activity happens, are essential to recruitment and data collection in randomised controlled trials (RCTs). This study aimed to understand the nature of this often invisible work. Data were generated through an RCT of a pharmacist-led medication management service for older people in care homes. The study was conducted over three years and employed seven Research Associates (RA) working in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England. Weekly research team meetings and Programme Management Group meetings naturally generated 129 sets of minutes. This documentary data was supplemented with two end-of-study RA debriefing meetings. Data were coded to sort the work being done in the field, then deductively explored through the lens of Normalization Process Theory to enable a greater understanding of the depth, breadth and complexity of work carried out by these trial delivery RAs. Results indicate RAs helped stakeholders and participants make sense of the research, they built relationships with participants to support retention, operationalised complex data collection procedures and reflected on their own work contexts to reach agreement on changes to trial procedures. The debrief discussions enabled RAs to explore and reflect on experiences from the field which had affected their day-to-day work. The learning from the challenges faced in facilitating care home research may be useful to inform future research team preparation for complex interventions. Scrutinising these data sources through the lens of NPT enabled us to identify RAs as linchpins in the successful conduct of a complex RCT study.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100254
JournalSSM - Qualitative Research in Health
Early online date25 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023

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