My First Year in Hatch

15 Mar 2024

I officially joined the Hatch team in February 2023 and what a year it has been. Here I share my experiences of some of the projects I’ve been involved in and reflections on my transition into the wonderful world of evaluation and policy research.

Prior to joining Hatch I’d worked in research funding for the National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR), helping to identify and prioritise research evidence gaps to support the delivery of health and social care services. Before that I’d spent much of my career working in a market research agency delivering mixed-method research projects primarily in the private sector on a range of fascinating (and sometimes bizarre) topics. I was (and still am) excited to get back into the world of contract research albeit with a different lens.

Upon joining I was able to get stuck straight in with a live project exploring the reach and influence of activity undertaken by a learned society. This involved a document review and interviewing their key stakeholders. I’d forgotten what a fortunate position it is to be able to have the opportunity to get a small insight into the work of others and the variety of expertise that people build.

It was then time to get stuck into bids, bios and budgets, helping the team respond to tenders. Developing the approach in collaboration with colleagues and other experts from across the University and beyond to get the most from the research and crucially within the time and resources available. This is a key differentiator from the more academic research I had been getting used to whilst working in the NIHR, but much more akin to my days in the market research industry.

Towards the end of March, we had a new project getting underway to conduct a piece of research exploring the impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and introduction of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement on cancer research and delivery of cancer care. Having not thought about the topic of “Brexit” for many months this work really hit home how much we are still adapting to and the full scale of changes following the UK’s withdrawal, particularly in the clinical science and research sector. It’s probably the first time I have worked on a project taking place in such an active and changing political landscape, with announcements such as the UK’s involvement in Horizon Europe coming in as we were still conducting fieldwork, we could see almost ‘live’ the reaction (and relief) in the way this changed the narrative of those in the cancer research community we were speaking to. I guess this was my “Welcome to policy research” moment. (This research is still ongoing, and we look forward to sharing more about this work in the future.)

In September we undertook some work with a local mental health charity, facilitating workshops to help them develop their new five-year strategy and identify where they could make changes to the delivery of one of their key programmes. Utilising a Theory of Change (ToC) approach and an After Action Review we were able to support the team to identify where change is needed and reflect on how the work they do supports wider change in the health of the local community in which it operates. It was lovely to work with a local charity and engage with a group providing such important services to the community.

Heading into autumn we were delighted to have successfully secured another bid. This project required us to develop a ToC for an organisations new Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) programme, which would be implemented across a large NHS hospital trust. Coming from a health psychology background, I’d spent a lot of time talking about change and how it happens within the research funder environment, setting out requirements for applicants to clearly articulate their pathway to impact. But this would be my first time delivering and supporting an organisation to develop their own ToC for how they plan to bring about change in their organisation to support greater equality, diversity, and inclusion amongst their employees. Fortunately, I was in safe hands with my colleagues Kay Lakin and Sarah Thomas who are both highly experienced at such things. It was fascinating to hear from the range of stakeholders who helped co-produce the ToC and was clear to see the passion and enthusiasm for work in this important area from those involved.

In November I attended the UK Evaluation Society (UKES) annual conference in London. This was a great opportunity to get a sense of the breadth of evaluation work that is undertaken and hear from such a variety of different expertise at the conference. Chatting to fellow attendees, it was for many of us our first face to face conference post-covid, and for myself since a period of maternity leave. We all felt a bit out of practice on the networking front and moving from room to room, but it was great to be back to an in-person event. I was comforted to hear the range of backgrounds that had led people into a career in evaluation, and with such a spread of knowledge it illustrates the diverse and agile skill sets of those working in this field. It was also great to support colleagues from Hatch presenting at the conference on the importance of ethics in research, not to mention battling the train strikes to make it from Southampton to London for their 9am slot!

By the end of the year several of our active projects were reaching the final stages, so it was a busy time for us. Writing reports and refining outputs was followed by a well-earned rest over the festive break.

The start of 2024 has seen us continue with analysis and reporting for projects already underway, as well as kick off the new year with two new projects. The first is a small-scale evaluation for some public engagement activity being undertaken by our fellow HEI colleagues Agora. The second is a research project to explore public and patient experiences of being part of research, which we received funding for from the University of Southampton, Public Engagement in Research unit (PERu).

It feels like the past year has flown by but looking back on the range of activity I’ve been fortunate to get involved in I also can’t quite believe I’ve only been here a year! Coming into this role I half considered myself as an ‘early career evaluator’ but on reflection, the work I’ve been involved in and the people I’ve met along the way I’ve come to realise that evaluation has many guises and has many synergies with my past experience and skills in research, facilitation and understanding human behaviour. This makes it a really varied and rewarding area to work in with lots of opportunity for cross-learning from other sectors. Evaluation is and needs to be multi-disciplinary to bring about the most meaningful evidence to effectively inform policy and practice.

Looking to the year ahead I plan to continue to develop my skills as an evaluator and I’m looking forward to working on more projects with a societal and health and wellbeing benefit, as well as supporting organisations to embed evidence-based decision making. Hatch is still new so 2024 will see us continue to grow the unit and our team. I’m looking forward to supporting my new colleagues on their evaluation and research journey as well.

Becky Scott
Enterprise Fellow/Evaluation Consultant

Learn more about Hatch

At Hatch we use our expertise and extensive network of researchers and partners to access the best minds and the latest thinking to drive meaningful change.