Published: 01 November 2023
Dr Rachel Faulkner-Gurstein, Head of NIHR Outcomes Framework, discusses NIHR’s new approach to evidencing how we are benefiting patients, the public and the economy.
Understanding NIHR’s contribution
The NIHR’s bold mission is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. The benefits, or outcomes, of health and social care research can be difficult to measure. This is because there is often a time lag between when research is conducted and when a tangible benefit from research reaches the public. And most innovations in health and social care rely on more than one piece of research. So it’s seldom a straightforward process to identify and track outcomes.
Also, we often work in collaboration with partners like charities, industry and the NHS to achieve outcomes we couldn’t deliver on our own. This collaboration is crucial to our success, but makes unpicking the NIHR’s contribution complicated.
But despite the complexity, we’re committed to this enterprise to learn what is working and where we might need to do things differently to help us achieve our objectives.
A new framework to evidence our progress
That’s where the NIHR Outcomes Framework comes in.
The NIHR Outcomes Framework defines what success looks like in key areas where we want to make a positive change for the people we serve. It indicates what we want to achieve and how we’re measuring progress towards these goals.
The Framework has 20 outcomes, split into four domains. The outcomes are how we define success. We developed these via extensive engagement with stakeholders across the NIHR and its close external partners including patients and the public. This means the outcomes we are tracking are meaningful to multiple communities.
Using data to evidence our cumulative effect
Each outcome has one or more indicators that we’ll use to measure our progress and learn from how we’ve done. The framework includes both qualitative and quantitative indicators. What distinguishes these indicators is our interest in moving beyond measurements of inputs and outputs. Instead we're developing indicators that reflect the outcomes or results of our activities and we’re making progress towards having a clearer picture than ever before of the outcomes of our investments and activities. The first domain report on Addressing Needs, for example, identified areas where NIHR research has been implemented to improve health, policy and practice, and showed that the number of policy documents that cite NIHR research has been increasing.
Of course indicators don’t tell us everything there is to know about an area of work but they can point to one aspect of a bigger, more complex picture and signal, like a weather vane, where a deeper evaluation may be necessary.
Fulfilling our promise to improve lives
The NIHR Outcomes Framework is more than a collection of metrics. It’s an expression of what we, along with our partners, are seeking to achieve.
The public makes a huge investment in the NIHR on the understanding that we are working to deliver benefits to patients and the economy. The NIHR Outcomes Framework will help us to better communicate our progress towards achieving these benefits, and enable us to better understand and learn from our current practices. This will help to make the NIHR more responsive as an organisation and help us fulfil our promise to support health and social care research that improves lives.