Inspiring and influencing others

Fuse was established in 2008 as one of five public health research centres of excellence in the UK funded by the UK Clinical Research Centres collaboration. The Centre now works across six universities in North East England and North Cumbria. This is an innovative collaboration that enables the pooling of research expertise. A prime focus of the Centre is not just the production of excellent research, but also its translation into usable evidence, a dual focus that remains exceptional.

The innovative approach to knowledge exchanged developed by Fuse over the last 16 years is captured in our four-step model:

  1. awareness raising
  2. knowledge sharing
  3. making evidence fit for purpose; and
  4. supporting uptake and implementation of evidence

This has been influential in shaping other research infrastructures and programmes, both at a regional and national level, leaving a legacy for future translational research development. Our innovative methods and approaches to knowledge exchange, include novel communication methods such as an award winning blog and podcast  accessible research briefs for policy and practice partners, rapid response and evaluation service ‘AskFuse’, and embedded research in local public health teams.

Fuse expertise was instrumental in developing the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) in the North East and North Cumbria (NENC), the NIHR Policy Research Unit in Behavioural Science (PRU BC), and the NIHR Health Determinants Research Collaborations (HDRCs). The AskFuse service also provided a model for the NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR) Public Health Practice Evaluation Scheme (PHPES) and the NIHR Public Health Intervention Response Studies Team (PHIRST). Fuse leadership also enabled a UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP) Consortium to embed a research culture in local government.

More details on each of these examples provided below.

NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) in the North East and North Cumbria (NENC)

The ARC NENC was enabled by Fuse as a key network. It is a regional partnership between six universities and 58 health and social care, local authorities, voluntary and community sector organisations, businesses, members of the public and local communities to develop and implement new care models across the region and to build research capacity in applied research in our region. The successful ARC proposal (£9m) draws on the extensive experience of Fuse in translating research findings and existing evidence into practice and delivering impact, with various examples of Fuse research and activities described in the proposal. Moreover, Fuse members have taken up leading roles across various research themes (including Prevention (Ashley Adamson), Inequalities (Clare Bambra, Monique Lhussier), Knowledge Mobilisation (Peter van der Graaf) and Enabling Methodologies (Luke Vale) and within the Senior Management Team of the ARC NENC (Eileen Kaner), contributing their knowledge and expertise to the ongoing development of the collaboration.

NIHR Policy Research Unit (PRU) in Behavioural Science

At a national level, Fuse and AskFuse strongly influenced the design of the NIHR PRU Behavioural Science. The PRU, established in 2019, is a collaboration between Newcastle University, University College London, University of Warwick, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, to inform government policy on health, preventing ill-health and health systems by using behavioural science evidence, theory and methods to support decision-making. The PRU, which is led by Fuse Associate Falko Sniehotta, was built on the experiences of AskFuse. For example, engagement with policy-makers across government departments and Arm's-Length Bodies is modelled on AskFuse through the provision of a rapid response facility to ensure good fit with policy contexts, and the application of methods that haven proven successful in AskFuse.

NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR) Public Health Practice Evaluation Scheme (PHPES)

AskFuse inspired the NIHR SPHR to develop their own response funded evaluation programme: PHPES. The scheme enables public health professionals to work in partnership with School researchers to conduct rigorous evaluations of their interventions and was introduced in 2013 after the establishment of AskFuse. PHPES particularly focuses on local, rather than national, public health initiatives that have not been the subject of previous robust evaluations, but which have the potential to be applicable elsewhere and have secured operational funding for the research period. The scheme has been evaluated in comparison with AskFuse and AskFuse staff were involved in a recent evaluation of the scheme to inform and shape its redesign in preparation for the re-launch of PHPES in 2020. 

In its second phase of funding, the School employed a dedicated Knowledge Exchange Broker, modelled on the existing KEB role in Fuse, with Fuse core members supporting the design and recruitment of this post and informing the School’s Knowledge Exchange Strategy. The implementation of this strategy is a key part of this new role, which aims to work with SPHR members on knowledge exchange activities that support its strategic objectives.

NIHR Public Health Intervention Response Studies Team (PHIRST)

Fuse is also hosting one of the first four NIHR PHIRSTs (£1,500,000), in partnership with Queen's University Belfast, the University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow and the University of Sheffield. The team will pilot a new innovative national scheme developed by NIHR Public Health Research that will enable Local Authorities to rapidly evaluate work aiming to improve health and tackle inequalities in their areas. The team is led by Fuse Director Ashley Adamson and builds on the expertise and experience of the Fuse rapid response and evaluation service AskFuse, which is managed by Peter van der Graaf, Fuse Knowledge Exchange Broker, who is also on the team. The PHIRST North team will also draw on experience with the national Public Health Practice Evaluation Scheme (PHPES; see above). The team is complementing both schemes by building capacity in responsive research with researchers and knowledge brokers across jurisdictions that enables a rapid response to the research and evidence needs of local government.

UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP)

Fuse senior members led on a UKPRP Consortium Award proposal (£6,300,000), bringing together extensive experience of applied translational research in prevention from across the UK (four Centres of Excellence in Public Health) together with systems thinking expertise. The consortium aims to develop five demonstrator Local Authority Champions of Research across the UK (Newcastle, Bath and North Somerset, Belfast, Cardiff and Aberdeen City Councils) who will promote the routine application of existing evidence in local government and the co-creation of new evidence for addressing local public health challenges, using embedded researchers and knowledge brokers. The partnership was awarded a Consortium Development Grant (£50,000) by UKPRP to develop a Stage 2 full proposal for submission in December 2020.

The proposal followed proof of concept study, Local Authority Champions of Research (LACoR), funded by the Health Foundation (£50,000), in which a detailed logic model was developed for embedding a research culture in local government, based on a series of interactive workshops with Council staff in each site. The results of this study were published in The Lancet and Health Research, Policy and Systems, and presented orally at The Lancet’s prestigious Public Health Science Conference in November 2019. The findings were also presented at a Fuse Quarterly Research Meeting, with a dedicated Fuse brief, to inform the development of the full Stage 2 application.

Fuse Physical Activity Network

The Fuse Knowledge Exchange model continues to inform activities across the wider Fuse networks. For example, the Fuse Physical Activity Group organised two regional network meetings in 2019 to reflect on the network's past development, using the Fuse KE model to inform future steps for the network. Analysing workshop data from these meetings through the lens of the Fuse KE model identified local challenges and opportunities for implementing national physical activity policies, including the updated 2019 UK PA guidelines.

Methodological innovations

Embedded research

Fuse has gathered expertise in embedded research by working in collaboration with Local Authorities in North East England. With a seat alongside local authority partners, and a remit to help develop researchable questions, embedded researchers can introduce local research evidence at the point of decision-making helping to inform the shape and future of local public health provision. 

Embedded research’s potential lies in its ability to facilitate interactive contact, collaborative relationships between researchers and end users, the involvement of decision makers in research processes and timely access to research, all of which are factors associated with improved use of evidence in different settings. Fuse’s innovative experience of embedded research in Local Authorities has been published in a series of co-authored papers.

Mandy Cheetham, co-lead of the Fuse Translational Research programme, has gained substantial experience of embedded research in public health since 2015 working alongside colleagues in Gateshead Council (initially as a Fuse Postdoctoral Research Associate). She co-authored five papers in this role including on embedded research and most recently on the impact of Universal Credit.

Expertise in embedded research was central to the Local Authority Champions of Research (LACoR) project. Mandy continues to mentor an embedded research post in the Well Newcastle Gateshead initiative, and members of the LACoR research team have all actively contributed to the UKPRP ENABLE (ENABling Local authority Evidence-based decision-making across the UK) application. Researchers on the LACoR project also contributed to a NIHR study on embedded research in NHS settings led by Martin Marshall at University College London, contributing to a design framework for embedded research

Realist evaluations

Fuse researchers from Northumbria University have developed considerable expertise in Realist Methods and published impactful papers to advance this methodological field.

Last modified: Wed, 10 Jul 2024 11:00:20 BST