Guest blog

Blog – Building non-academic collaborations

Blog from Dr Clarissa Giebel

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Academia is all about collaboration. We are working with our colleagues together on projects and in research networks, and make sure that when we put together a grant application we have diverse and relevant expertise – not just in the topic area, but also the relevant methodological expertise. So for me as a mixed-methods social care researcher with a background in neuropsychology, that means that I work together with health economists, trial units, and perhaps those with expertise in realist evaluations or implementation science. But there is something substantial missing, isn’t there?

What about the (crucial) non-academic expertise? When we talk about public involvement in research, we often only refer to those with lived or caring experiences (so in our case people with dementia and their unpaid carers). That’s not the whole picture though. Professional and voluntary sector stakeholders are equally important to be part of a research team. This involves health care professionals (doctors, nurses, OTs, psychologists, etc), social care practitioners (home care staff, care home staff, managers, social workers, Dementia Care Navigators, and more), Third Sector representatives, as well as sometimes Local Authorities, depending on the focus of your research. Sounds great to have such a diverse pool of expertise and opinions involved, but how do we get there?

Building on existing networks can help you to start things off. Having come from a rather silo research working practice previously, having joined the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration North West Coast (ARC NWC), or rather its predecessor the CLAHRC NWC, I loved the diversity of stakeholders that were brought together on a regular basis. Going to these events, bit by bit, you get to know more non-academic stakeholders, including OTs, paramedics, carers, and many more. I got involved in projects and actively sought out those stakeholders with an interest in dementia, jointly discussing opportunities. INTERDEM has also been good as an academic platform that made me link up with the European Working Groups of People Living with Dementia and Carers. From these networks, the idea for the Liverpool Dementia & Ageing Research Forum developed, which set out in 2019 to bring together these diverse non-academic (and academic) stakeholders in dementia.

In a more and more digital world, especially since that virus came along in 2019, and it being much easier for us academics to move from one meeting to the next by clicking a few buttons, it is important to make time for face-to-face meetings. Approach your local support groups, day care centres, memory clinics, or other stakeholder groups and ask if you can perhaps come along to a session or meet them for a cup of tea and discuss their interest in dementia. Building those working relationships isn’t a one-way street, it’s reciprocal. We need to listen to what they need and want and try and help them to achieve this. For example, might they be interested in learning more about something in particular? Or have they noticed an issue that comes up repeatedly, such as difficult behaviours of people living with dementia, or not understanding what different subtypes of dementia are about? So when building your non-academic collaborations, make sure to come back with new ideas and concerns of the stakeholders you want to work with. I suppose that’s your first step of truly involving non-academics and embedding their professional experiences in the research that you do.

One way in which we are looking to build these academic- social care practice relationships even further is by launching for example our North West Coast Living Lab in Ageing and Dementia. This is based on the very successful Limburg model from the Netherlands, and will enable researchers to be linked up with specific care organisations. This way, we are hoping to build even stronger, more sustainable, and more academic-social care practice relationships. Anyone who would like to join us for the launch in March and hear from the Dutch developers is very welcome (Sign up on Eventbrite before 6th March 2024).

And lastly, you need time. As with everything, relationships can take time to build, and can often happen by chance at events and organically. So don’t stress when you’re just starting out if you only know one or two care providers. Over time, you can build up the trust with the stakeholders and work together.

Hopefully, this is helping you to approach non-academic collaborations. Because a room full of diverse, mixed opinions and experiences is so much better than a room full of academics who all know one another.

Dr Clarissa Giebel

Dr Clarissa Giebel


Dr Clarissa Giebel is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Liverpool and NIHR ARC North West Coast. Clarissa has been working in dementia care research for over 10 years focusing her research on helping people with dementia to live at home independently and well for longer, addressing inequalities that people with dementia and carers can face. Outside of her day work, Clarissa has also organised a local dementia network – the Liverpool Dementia & Ageing Research Forum, and has recently started her own podcast called the Ageing Scientist.


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