Aim. This paper reports an evaluation of nursing and midwifery research and development activity in Northern Ireland.
Background. Research and development is integral to the quality of patient care. Nurses and midwives have an important contribution to make and, whilst the professional landscape has changed significantly, with improved funding and productivity, there remains much room for improvement. To advance this agenda it is necessary to evaluate progress across the spectrum of research and development activity. The policy literature gives examples of the methods by which this can be achieved, but there is less evidence about evaluation criteria, or the methods by which research and development progress is assessed at organizational, national and international levels.
Method. A comprehensive analysis of the literature was undertaken to develop a ‘Research and Development Best Practice Framework’. This was then used as the basis for structured interviews with 32 organizational leads for three main stakeholder groups: health and care providers (n = 20), education providers (n = 7) and funders of research and development (n = 5). Data collection was from March to November 2004.
Findings. Despite general recognition of its value, only a minority of organizations had an up-to-date corporate strategy that included nursing and midwifery research and development. There was considerable variability in the systems, support structures, capacity and productivity of nurses and midwives throughout these organizations. In most, no-one had sole responsibility for leading the professional research and development agenda but, where such leadership was in place, improved outcomes were apparent. Building effective partnerships for research and development and forward planning through developing an organizational strategy were also key indicators of success.
Conclusion. Our findings confirm progress, but also reinforce the need to develop a clear vision, enhance leadership potential and forge effective partnerships to advance the research and development agenda in nursing and midwifery.