Research Capacity Development in a Nursing Education Context

Thursday, 27 July 2017: 4:30 PM

Nelouise Geyer, PhD, MCur, BCur
Nursing Education Association, Pretoria, South Africa
Gisela H. Van Rensburg, DLittetPhil, MACur, BACur (Hons), BACur
Department of Health Studies, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Susan Jennifer Armstrong, DCur
Department of Nursing Education, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa


Research capacity development is essential for quality, cost-effective care and well-prepared healthcare professionals. Although various institutions have invested in a number of projects to build the capacity of professionals, research capacity remains fragmented and to a large extent limited to postgraduate research activities. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) describes capacity building as being focused mainly on skills building that would enable the attainment of development goals through education (Edwards et al., 2016). Research capacity development varies in focus.

 Following an annual nursing education conference, the absence of presentations on research done by nurse educators from nursing education institutions (NEIs) not attached to universities was noted with concern. Taking into consideration that nursing programs are migrating to higher education, research and public presentation skills are essential for all nurse educators. To bridge this gap, the novice researcher program was developed. Under the supervision of the authors, the successful applicants undertake a small research project to expose them to the full research process. The research project is written up, presented at the annual nursing education conference and published as an article. The candidates undertake this work in a group thus strengthening their ability to work in a team over a period of nine to twelve months.

The purpose of the presentation is to assess the novice researcher program outcomes against Cooke’s integrated framework as described by Edwards et al. (2016).


An exploratory case study design was used (Crowe et al., 2011; Thomas, 2016) to gain insight into the contributions that a novice researcher program makes towards research capacity development. The case was formed from the annual reports, reflective activities and conference presentations. The ‘global’ nature of the case was then examined holistically, as described by Polit and Beck (2012). Trustworthiness was ensured by providing a dense description drawn from the case. Credibility was achieved through prolonged engagement over a six-year period. As the case study was constructed from various units of analysis submitted to the executive committee of the professional organization and a research ethics committee, it could be transferable to other contexts. Should the study be repeated, the evidence provided in the study would be similar in that the data analysis was based on a well-researched conceptual framework to evaluate research capacity building in healthcare. Confirmability was assured in the audit trail of the individual sub-units that were used to create the case. The researchers upheld scientific integrity in all phases of the research to prevent or minimize bias. Permission to use data from the novice researcher program was obtained from the Research Ethics Committee, the professional organization who is the custodian of the program as well as the participants. The names of the organization and its chapters are not mentioned to ensure confidentiality and anonymity.

The case was deductively analyzed using the literature on research capacity development as the point of departure. The Cooke’s integrated framework for research capacity building in healthcare was used to evaluate the development that took place.


The findings of the analysis are described and discussed according to the eight dimensions of the Cooke’s integrated framework indicating that this novice program fulfilled all the dimensions of the framework, namely skills and confidence; research applicability; linkages, partnerships and collaborations; dissemination and knowledge translation; continuity and sustainability; infrastructure; leadership; and empowerment.


The success of the program lies in the skills and confidence gained by the participants and the contribution they could make to address and resolve their education practice problems. In this process, they developed strong partnerships through sharing responsibilities in the execution of the project. Under the leadership of the program leaders, their work delivered results that could be implemented in their workplaces and were shared at conferences and in publications. Continuity and sustainability of the program remain a challenge and was partially promoted by using the premises of the professional organization or university participating in the project, devolving the program to chapter level and partnership with universities.

It could be argued that a Hawthorne effect is possible due to the small number of participants and the researchers reviewing their own program. The authors also recognize that the participants are so grateful for the opportunity to participate in the program that it could affect their views making them extremely positive in their reviews of the program. This was overcome through using different units of analysis, keeping the reflections anonymous and using a framework for analysis of data.

Selection and recruitment should be given careful attention. The confidence of the participants and cohesion of the group improves with interaction, therefore an ice breaker/introductory workshop could assist in getting to know each other and identifying where power differentials lie. Institutions where the research is conducted should be supported through knowledge translation to implement the recommendations of the completed projects. Involvement of more universities would assist sustainability and could serve as preparation for postgraduate studies as well as providing library access for program participants.

 Sustainability is further promoted through mentorship of the presenters of the project and fundraising initiatives. Dependent on funding, the program would ideally have a dedicated person to drive this program.