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Promoting equity in research funding: lessons from HSR2020


Sophie Durrans, Global Health Research Advisor at the Department of Health and Social Care, chaired a session at the 6th Global Symposium on Health Systems Research (HSR2020), held recently as a virtual conference. Here, she reflects on efforts to ‘level the playing field’ for LMIC researchers, and how we can learn from and work with partners to push this agenda forward in the New Year.

How can we promote equity in research funding? As funders, we have been grappling with this question for some time, and recently have begun testing out new models and initiatives through NIHR programmes and in collaboration with other funders through partnerships. 

At the recent Global Symposium on Health Systems Research (HSR2020), we ran a satellite session, ‘Promoting equity in research funding: a discussion between funders and the research community’. The panellists – including funders and researchers - presented their practical experiences of addressing equity in funding, and sought engagement across the research community. 

The event attracted more than 70 participants, including senior academics in health systems research from all over the world, who engaged our panel with challenging questions, from increasing awareness of research calls in low and middle income countries (LMICs), to the sustainability of our funding schemes. 

My key takeaways include that across the board, funders are looking for new ways to improve equity in processes. For example, through direct support for LMIC research institutions through providing grant guidance materials – an initiative known as ‘levelling the playing field’, piloted through the NIHR-Wellcome Global Health Research Partnership or by shifting the centre of gravity to enable LMIC based organisations to lead in agenda setting and decision-making for health research (including through the recently launched NIHR RIGHT Call 4).

The importance of equitable partnerships (including North-South and South-South collaborations) also emerged as vital for research funding and to enable long-term change. As a key principle for NIHR Global Health Research, we’ve developed new models of funding with aims to strengthen equitable partnership development. But to improve equitable partnerships and recognise strong existing collaborations, we need to better understand what makes a partnership equitable and explore the challenges around monitoring and evaluating equity in research partnerships. 

What’s next?

Building on the theme of equitable partnerships and health systems research, we are running a second event at the next phase of the conference, focusing on our Health Policy and Systems Research (HPSR) Development Award model, where researchers will reflect and share their experiences of developing partnerships and engaging stakeholders in the local context ahead of research funding calls. We look forward to continuing the conversation, gaining more ideas of how funders and researchers can continue to collaborate and innovate in this space.

Sophie Durrans, Global Health Research Advisor, Department of Health and Social Care

Join us on Wednesday, 13 January (14:30-17:00 GMT) at our session ‘To walk before you can run: ensuring global health systems research questions are informed by stakeholders in the context concerned’. The session is led by Dr Sarah Puddicombe, Assistant Director of NIHR Global Health Research, as part of HSR2020

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