Funding for Practice–research Partnerships: It’s Elementary, My Dear Watson


While data are the cornerstone for any research endeavor, funding and resources are essential for collecting and analyzing that data. Practice organizations might use internal resources to support research, or they might apply for foundation- or government-sponsored grants. Applied research— research about or directly impacting day-to-day practice and life—benefits from practice–research partnerships. The value of a practice–research partnership is never-ending. These partnerships can lead to comprehensive, thoughtful approaches to research with data collection and analysis and proven outcome measures—all of which are critical elements of a strong case for funding.

Key Words:

data, funding, grants, infrastructure, practice–research partnership


“I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” —Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet

Our favorite fictional detective was not thinking about aging-related data and research when he offered this piece of wisdom, but it is evident that he placed value on data. For aging service providers or researchers addressing questions related to aging, data are the cornerstone of any research endeavor.

Whether data are driven by research or quality improvement—nursing home quality metrics, staffing ratios, satisfaction with services, level of staff knowledge—they inform whether our theories or assumptions are correct. Organizations can use data in myriad ways, including program planning, annual budgeting, and researching existing services. Even at the federal level there is a growing emphasis on “evidence-based policymaking,” which uses data and study results to make decisions on the impact and effectiveness of programs (Government Accountability Office, 2023).

Using the consistent and sound principles of research through study design, methods, data collection, and analysis provides impartiality that adds credibility and value to an organization or practice. Working with researchers to collect, analyze, and interpret data provides insightful and objective information, painting a detailed picture that otherwise would not be captured.

Partnering with researchers to adapt evidence-based programs for older adults will help to evaluate the effectiveness and relevancy of the programs, and researchers also can help adapt and evaluate these programs to be culturally relevant to diverse populations.

For example, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA, 2022) guide, Adapting Evidence-Based Practices for Under-Resourced Populations, outlines seven steps to adapt programs for underserved populations based upon the theoretical frameworks and research studies. This guide also stresses the importance of data and of developing an understanding of the community to be served, identifies processes that incorporate research methods, and includes citations and program adaptations, such as an example of pilot-testing a program for older Chinese adults.

Researchers have expertise with different techniques that can be applied to various scenarios to most accurately reflect subject matter from the perspectives of diverse populations, policies, and programs. Collecting data through a lens that examines diverse perspectives and reflects the unique attributes of a community leads to a more informed and relevant analysis. This data can then be used for a multitude of purposes such as measuring impact, informing stakeholders, meeting reporting requirements, strategic planning, and identifying future directions and funding.

“I must raise the money in some way, and if you will not let me have it, then I must try other means.” —from The Complete Sherlock Holmes

While it is not attributed to the distinguished detective, this quote still makes an important point. To conduct research with the necessary people, processes, and products, one needs money or related resources. Funding supports data collection, analysis, and planning for next steps. Grants through foundations and government entities can serve as initial, and ongoing, sources of funds to meet these needs. Some organizations might use these grant opportunities to partner with experts in research approaches or topics relevant to the project focus (i.e., subject matter experts).

These outside experts might be able to lead grant applications or they may help build staff capacity and understanding about data, data-collection processes, analysis, and interpretation. Alternatively, organizations might be better suited to lead grant applications and include experts to fill gaps in organizational knowledge and experience (e.g., the need to capture demographic characteristics of participants, the value in using existing administrative data).

Based upon experience and familiarity with funding and research, organizations newer to working with researchers may need to learn from and be mentored by others with experience. In some communities, a local community foundation or public library system may offer useful workshops or resources on topics such as identifying funding sources or grant writing.

Likewise, contains information and resources to learn about grants and federal funding sources, such as a Grants 101 page and a Grant Terminology page (e.g., what is the difference between a cooperative agreement and a contract). Joining a foundation’s e-newsletter or subscribing to a state or federal grants government listserv can help one become familiar with and identify potential funding sources.

Local or even national foundations can provide grants for initial studies of programs and services provided by community-based organizations. Philanthropy News Digest is one source for monitoring or searching for funding opportunities that cover a range of categories related to aging (e.g., health, human services). The federal government makes the public aware of funding opportunities through a few different mechanisms. For example, the main page of Grants.Gov connects people to a robust search feature where applicants can filter opportunities by criteria such as keywords or funding agency.

While Grants.Gov can point to funding opportunities for the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Administration for Community Living, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and more, some other national funders require a visit to their home pages.

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is an independent nonprofit that in 2010 was authorized by Congress. PCORI funds comparative clinical effectiveness research in an effort to make clinical research more patient-centered. Some advocacy organizations also fund research (e.g., AARP, Alzheimer’s Association, American Heart Association) in an effort to address topics critical to aging. If one digs a little bit, some corporate (for-profit) companies have philanthropic divisions that support research, programming, and direct services for specific topics or in specific communities. Cultivating connections in your local community or with local experts can help to identify possibilities.

Once a potential funder or funding opportunity is identified, there are a few steps to take before preparing a proposal. Thoroughly review the funder’s website and specific funding opportunities. This process may reinforce that it is a suitable opportunity or it may raise questions (e.g., organizational eligibility, funding levels, timelines). If the funder is offering a call to review the funding opportunity and answer questions, then prepare questions in advance and participate in those calls.

One also might seek out an organization that has obtained this funding previously to discuss their process for applying for the grant and working with researchers to gather ideas, as well as any best practices or helpful hints. This is also the time to consider whether your organization is prepared to manage a grant (e.g., Are there finance staff who can assist with grant budgets and reporting?). A grant from a smaller foundation might be a good first step for organizations new to research grants.

“You know my methods, Watson.” —Holmes in The Crooked Man

Much like Holmes and Watson, important learning between partners can benefit a practice–research partnership. Partnering with research experts can help legitimize a practice-based organization’s work to a potential funder. In addition, the introduction of researchers to a service delivery organization can lead to a range of other extensive benefits including a formalized method for measuring impact. Researchers often learn their trade while in school and by conducting studies in very specific and very controlled circumstances; whereas working with a practice-based organization, researchers learn to adapt to the pragmatic needs in a dynamic service environment.

Before beginning a practice–research partnership it is important to consider potential partners. Practice-based organizations might seek a researcher partner through a university or a research-specific organization; similarly, a researcher might seek partners through relationships with known practice-based organizations or through targeted outreach to relevant organizations. Next, potential partners should meet to assess how well they can work together. Key areas of consideration include: compatible missions, time and resource expectations, clarity on roles and timelines, communication styles, ownership of ideas and data, and respect (Ovretveit et al., 2014; Zuchowski et al., 2019).

There are more and more calls for “applied research” or “real world data” or “embedded trials,” which are all code phrases for research about or directly impacting day-to-day practice and life (Kunkel & Settersten, 2022). For example, a local service provider delivering a service unique to their agency wants to address the research question: is this service effective for a new client population? One way to answer this question is to deliver the service to the new population and track results for the original population and the new population. In this example, the establishment of a practice–research partnership has many benefits. In working with the practice organization, researchers can help with the application of theoretical models to guide the research (e.g., are there additional client characteristics the organization had not previously considered?), design methods that are suitable for the program and the staff (e.g., maybe existing administrative data is enough, or maybe short surveys of the clients are needed), and assist with translating the data and research results into an impactful story.

The value of a practice–research partnership is never-ending. Formalized practice–research partnerships have the power to inform decisions, educate, identify needs, enhance understanding of unique and diverse populations, assist in planning, instill the use of best-practice and evidence-based programming, and evaluate impact (Berman et al., 2022). The relationships can provide justification and rationale for initiatives, organizational efforts, funding, and programming. Collaborating with individuals and organizations with expertise and formalized training in research and evaluation will provide a more comprehensive approach and framework for achieving the vision, the mission, and the day-to day work within any entity.

“Data! Data! Data! ... I can't make bricks without clay.” —Holmes in The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.

A practice–research partnership is fundamental. This partnership allows a comprehensive, thoughtful approach to be developed and followed, data to be collected and analyzed, and proven outcomes measured—all of which are critical elements of a strong case for funding. Pairing research and practice is also applicable to a variety of funding mechanisms and to a diverse array of settings, from community needs assessments, adoption, and adaptation of programs to clinical care, policy development, and analysis. There are a multitude of benefits of a practice–research partnership—it provides a clear path for support. And, as Sherlock Holmes said in A Study in Scarlet, “There is nothing like first-hand evidence.”

Heather L. Menne, PhD, is an associate professor of gerontology and a Scripps Fellow at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Salli J. Bollin, MSW, LSW, is president & CEO of MemoryLane Care Services and the Ohio Council for Cognitive Health, in Toledo, Ohio.

Photo caption: Sherlock Holmes monument in Moscow, Russia, sculpted from the face of actor Vasily Livanov. 

Photo credit: Shutterstock/YuryKara



Berman, R. L. H., Abbott, K. M., Cohen, M. A., Yoshizaki-Gibbons, H. M., McGaffigan, E., Morhardt, D. J., Straker, J. K., & Eisenstein, A. R. (2022). A process evaluation of developing older adult research advisory boards in long-term care settings. Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action 16(3), 393–400.

Kunkel, S. R., & Settersten, Jr., R. A. (2022). Aging, society, and the life course (6th ed.). Springer Publishing.

Ovretveit, J., Hempel, S., Magnabosco, J. L., Mittman, B. S., Rubenstein, L. V., & Ganz, D. A. (2014). Guidance for research-practice partnerships (R-PPs) and collaborative research. Journal of Health Organization and Management, 8(1), 115–126.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2022). Adapting evidence-based practices for under-resourced populations. United States Department of Health and Human Services.

Government Accountability Office. (2023). Evidence-based policymaking: Practices to help manage and assess the results of federal efforts (GAO-23-105460).

Zuchowski, I., Miles, D., Gair, S. & Tsey, K. (2019). Social work research with industry: A systematic literature review of engagement and impact. British Journal of Social Work, 49(8), 2299–2324.