An idealised case study

An idealised example of an integrated research project.

A lot of the foundations for good integrated research are laid in the design and pre-design phases. These are the steps I ideally like to go through in doing an integrated research project.


The first thing I do is listen. For me, problem areas just sort of bubble up - through conversations with science and non-science colleagues, sometimes over long periods of time, their concerns come through and often similar themes start to emerge – this is my general problem area.

Suggested integrated technique

At this point I think about who is interested and influential in this problem area. I consider the current context – has there just been some important research on the topic, is there a new policy on the horizon, is there public interest, where might there be funding opportunities?

Ideally then I bring together those interested influential people to understand more fully what they each see as the main problems, thereby getting a much fuller picture of the issue and a better understanding of the complexities. This group is usually a mix of scientists and non-scientists.

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Then, especially if there is a funding opportunity, I try and get a bit more specific on the problem. This helps identify who you need in the team to help you design this research. It is likely to involve some from the interested influential people, but probably not all of them and may need new people too.

At this stage I try and be clear about what is on offer (designing research bid), and for those non-salaried people I try and find money to pay for their time. I also make clear the process that we will use to develop the bid, and how we will make decisions. I am also starting to think about what sort of research team structure is going to be most effective (e.g. all scientists, partnership model with both scientists and stakeholders, a broker model), and the people that seem like a good fit, not just in their areas of expertise, but the way they work and the diversity they bring. For me I especially like working with people who think differently from how I do.

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With the design team we then consider the goal of the project, what the relevant questions are (both the science and the real-world questions), and start thinking about what the outcomes desired by the project are (science and real-world outcomes). The questions and outcomes generally need a bit of negotiating within the team, as the potential funds don’t ever cover everything that everyone wants to do. I find it useful to come back to the project goal in deciding what to do.

In all of these activities in the design stage, there is iteration. I have never been in a project where you only discuss these things once. There is invariably a bit of pressure if there is a research bid deadline, but I try and leave as much room for this iteration as possible.

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Having agreed on what outcomes we want the project to achieve and the questions, we then work out how we are planning to get there. How do we think change will happen to achieve our outcomes and project goal, what sort of things can we do in a project and what are the things outside of our control? Having diverse perspectives at this point is so useful for testing the logic of the project activities and how they combine to deliver outcomes. As a group we need to think about who does the project need to connect and engage with and what is the best way to do that, and importantly what would those people get out of being involved. We also need to plan at this early stage how we will communicate the findings, to who and when.

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At this stage the researchers are also thinking about what research methods and approaches they might use, and where working with Māori researchers, having discussion about how to work across western science and matāuranga Māori approaches happens in these early stages.

Contextual concepts

Doing the research

What you actually do during the reseNKarch project depends on the topic but I generally pay attention to setting up the team, getting to know each other’s ways of working and different ways of thinking. I also pay attention to the ways that we are trying to bring different knowledges together, how we are managing uncertainty and unknowns and especially, an ongoing reflection with the team on how the team is working.

Contextual concepts


Through their Primary Innovation project, AgResearch developed 5 principles to help get more effective research. One of them is to ‘front up early with results’, and not keep everything behind closed doors until the end of the project. It is one of the reasons that I like having non-scientists as partners in the research team, and trying to connect the project with stakeholders in the doing phase – as it means that dissemination happens throughout. It is also good having more creative input into what are effective means of communication to different groups.

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