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NIHR Research on Research: The what, why, how and who



Research on Research? That sounds interesting, but what is it? Research on Research (RoR) can be described, interpreted and explained in many different ways. Some may be more familiar with terms like meta-research or meta-science. But in the broadest sense, RoR is about the study of research with the aim of investigating evidence-based improvements to ensure that research is robust, of high quality and credible. But this answer seems both inaccessible, what does that really mean? And insufficient -  RoR is so much more!. 

Team Aims

The RoR team is based at the NIHR’s Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating  Centre (NETSCC)*. Our primary aim is to investigate specific processes within the NIHR that are in line with strategic priorities, and to provide robust evidence in order to:

  • inform, improve and enhance the research commissioning , management, and delivery processes
  • build on areas of innovation, impact and value adding approaches to further improve the quality of research and knowledge mobilisation

All of our research focuses on addressing gaps in the evidence base - adding value by generating new evidence - and is of interest to NIHR but also other research funding organisations.

Supporting fairness and transparency 

RoR is in an optimal and coveted position to access, analyse and publish data from the NIHR, one of the largest UK health research funding organisations.  As funders of public money, it’s important that the NIHR funds the best research (according to assessment criteria) in a fair, transparent and efficient way.  By exploring, investigating and evaluating the research management and delivery processes of funding, we are able to build the evidence to support fairness, transparency and efficiency.

We are also interested in investigating these processes from all stakeholder perspectives, such as research applicant, experts, public contributors, and funding organisations, and not just from the perspective of NIHR as a funder. Thus, the RoR programme of work has wider benefit and realisation to multiple stakeholders.

Focussing on the future

Since its inception (2007), the RoR programme of work has gone through a number of strategic changes, going from strength to strength and aligning its priorities to the needs of the NIHR.  We are constantly evolving to ensure our research adds value and contributes to the wider discipline of meta-research.

We are currently focusing on a series of research projects that sit under two thematic activities.  The first theme centres on ‘Peer Review and Decision-Making in research funding’, and consists of coordinated and planned research activities exploring and investigating alternative approaches to peer review and decision-making in research funding. The second theme centres around current Post-award Management processes and researcher burden (watch this space for more updates about this theme).

This approach allows us to take a focussed and in-depth review, and evaluation of research that attempts to address key areas of uncertainty that are needed to be of benefit to wider audiences. It is also worthwhile noting that the research undertaken by RoR is conducted like any other research, striving to ensure good research practice by:

  • being in alignment with the Adding Value in Research (AViR) Framework
  • writing detailed research protocols (and where applicable publishing them in peer reviewed journals to ensure transparency and openness)
  • gaining ethical approval from the University of Southampton Faculty of Medicine Ethics Committee
  • re-using data that we already hold, such as secondary analysis, to make better use of existing data
  • involving stakeholders from study design conception to increase relevance
  • only collecting data that we need to answer the question to reduce research waste and participant burden
  • disseminating our findings widely and sharing anonymised datasets to ensure value
  • making recommendations for best practice and  enhancements to research management.

News on each of our themes and updates on progress through our work plans will be published as part of our dissemination activity.  If you would like to find out more about us and our research  please get in touch at or visit our website.

*RoR are a team of researchers based at Southampton University, working out of NETSCC.

Amanda and colleagues will be at the NHS Research and Development Forum on Monday and Tuesday, 13 and 14 May, 2019. If you would like to find out more about RoR come and visit them at their poster display.


The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR, NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care.