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CLAHRC West's health economist Myles Linton on his secondment to Second Step

26 February 2019

Dr Myles Linton, a health economist in NIHR CLAHRC West’s efficiency team, has been on secondment to mental health charity Second Step for one day a week since September 2018. The secondment was made possible by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) through the University of Bristol, which aims to link academics with industry as part of the UK Government’s industrial strategy.

My secondment with Second Step is about evaluating their high-support housing programme for service-users with complex needs. I’m developing evidence-informed recommendations on how to support both staff and service users in the pathway.

For me, a key aspect of my role as a researcher is about finding ways to inform practice, ultimately to improve public population health. I’m particularly interested in championing the importance and potential of social science in addressing real-world challenges.

In public health, the voluntary sector has consistently played an essential role in tailoring high quality support services to vulnerable people. I’ve been particularly interested in working with charities like Second Step because of their commitment to data-driven innovation and examining the impact of their services.

So far, the secondment has been both interesting and engaging. One of my main outputs has been a report detailing the social, physical, and mental health needs of service users within Second Step’s high support accommodation, and the training needs of staff members working in this setting. This report was informed by qualitative focus groups with frontline staff and managers. The analysis will feed directly into the selection of new resources, toolkits and skills development packages.

Being able to work in this reactive way, feeding back what I’m finding out as it emerges, is a completely different way of working from traditional academia. I’ve essentially been a researcher in residence for Second Step, and we’ve all benefitted from this cross-sector working, as Amie Dobinson, Senior Business Development Manager at Second Step, said of my placement:

“It’s becoming more important for the third sector to evidence impact; there’s a lot more charities can, and should, explore around long-term partnerships with universities and research institutions to show how outcomes are being achieved for service users.”

I’d recommend any researcher who’s keen to make a difference with their work to consider this kind of secondment. It’s important to be clear about the objectives of a placement like this, but, equally, have an open mind and be prepared to evolve these objectives as the placement goes along.
I’ve learned so much in such a short time. Seeing my findings being adopted and making a difference at the host organisation is incredibly rewarding.

Make a difference with a voluntary sector secondment

Here are Myles's top tips for researchers considering a secondment.

  • Funding: Search for grants or awards to fund your time work. This will help in securing and protecting the time required to work on your project.
  • Flexibility: Be prepared for your role and the project to evolve over time. It’s also useful to consider the pros and cons of a brief but intensive full-time secondment versus a more enduring but restrictive part-time secondment.
  • Focus: As the project evolves, continually remind yourself what the objective of the secondment is.
  • Findings: Think about how you will share knowledge, including the outcomes of your project and the lessons learned.
  • Future: Explore how you will nurture and sustain the relationship you have built, beyond the life course of the secondment. This could take the form of new projects, new funding applications or new processes for other researchers to contribute.
CLAHRC West's health economist Myles Linton on his secondment to Second Step
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