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Research Inclusion Strategy: an update on our action and forward look


Published: 31 January 2024

Version: 1.0

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In 2022 we launched the NIHR’s first Research Inclusion Strategy, followed by our action plan. This update shows the progress we’ve made on those actions as well as a forward look at our journey to embed equality, diversity and inclusion in everything we do.

Engaging the talents and energy of diverse people in all areas of our work

We launched aspirational targets for the diversity of our professional committee and panel members in 2022. Since then, we’ve been working on improving the quality and quantity of data we collect. We’ve also developed resources to support inclusion on committees and panels. We’ve launched the resources across our funding programmes. We’ll continue to develop resources, test them and share learning, as well as measure impact.

We’ve undertaken a large engagement project to understand the barriers that disabled people face when engaging with the NIHR. The findings have informed the development of an NIHR Disability Framework. The framework will set out our commitment to disability inclusion, and initial actions. Our first areas of focus will be on reasonable adjustments and workforce learning and development. We’ll launch the NIHR Disability Framework in 2024.

We've part-funded a Melanin Medics Envision Med research project. The project aims to support Black African and Caribbean students hoping to go to university to study medicine. It gives students experience of university-style teaching and research. The project also provides mentorship and application advice.

We've introduced a number of initiatives to tackle the barriers which lead to groups of people being under-represented in research careers. These include a new pre-application support fund. The fund aims to help individuals who need more support in applying for NIHR career development awards. This fund has a focus on professions and groups under-represented within NIHR. It is hoped it will help increase the diversity of people applying for, and being awarded, an NIHR career development award.

We have grown our NIHR Incubator programme. The programme aims to encourage early career interest in target disciplines and groups to build identifiable communities through networking and provision of bespoke training and development support. This includes the Race Equity and Diversity in Careers Incubator.

The NIHR Academy mentoring programme will expand in 2024, opening it up to researchers earlier in their careers. We’ve been developing training for mentees and mentors on equality, diversity and inclusion at the NIHR. The training will be available from 2024. We'll measure the impact of the training on programme participants’ understanding from mid 2024.

We've reviewed and refreshed the core guidance for Global Health Research applicants. Principles of equality, diversity and inclusion are now embedded throughout.

We’ve been introducing a requirement for inclusion strategies from our funded research infrastructure. NIHR-funded Clinical Research Facilities, Biomedical Research Centres and Patient Safety Research Collaborations have already developed and published their strategies and supporting actions. We’re developing our monitoring approach to enable us to track the impact of these plans.

Fostering an inclusive environment

We’ve collaborated with funders as part of the Forum for Tackling Bullying and Harassment in Research and Innovation. Chaired by UK Research and Innovation, the forum has developed a set of shared principles focused on the prevention of bullying and harassment. We'll build on these foundations and develop our own implementation plan.

We’ve reviewed the inclusion training offer across the NIHR and created an inclusion training plan for our workforce. We'll begin commissioning resources to fill identified gaps over the next year.

We’ve worked with colleagues to pilot an approach to Equality Impact Assessment (EIA). This will help us to embed equality in our systems and processes. The approach will launch in 2024, accompanied by training, support and guidance. We’ll track the initiation of EIAs across the NIHR. We’re also developing an approach to track their impact more widely.

We’ve worked with the Five Nations Public Partnership Group to review and refresh the UK Standards for Public Involvement, to strengthen the commitment to inclusion in public and patient involvement. The wording of the 'Inclusive Opportunities' standard has been updated to move away from ‘offering opportunities’ towards encouraging genuine partnerships.

Improving the relevance and quality of our research

Through the MESSAGE project (Medical Science Sex and Gender Equity), we’ve contributed to a sex and gender policy framework. The policy framework is for the UK biomedical, health and care research sector. Educational and training materials will accompany the framework. These resources will support the implementation of the recommendations. To highlight our commitment we published our statement of intent, supported by a joint blog from Lucy Chappell and Gail Marzetti.

We’ve been working with the NHS Race and Health Observatory to develop an action plan to meet our joint aims. We want to develop the evidence base on factors that have led to the under-representation of ethnic minorities in research. We also want to explore ways to support researchers to take more inclusive approaches to research design and delivery. We'll share details of our plans in 2024.

We’ve continued the work of the NIHR’s Race Equality Public Action Group and Race Equality Framework (REF). The framework is a self assessment tool to help organisations promote race equality in public involvement in research. We’ve launched a community of practice for existing partners. We also continue to support new REF partner organisations. We’re currently arranging action learning for our new cohort and have trained 14 action learning facilitators from the community. 

Developing the evidence base for our diversity and inclusion approaches

Since the strategy launch, we’ve been working to improve NIHR’s diversity data collection. We’ve expanded our standard question set. It now includes all protected characteristics, as well as socioeconomic status. Intersectional analysis is also currently under way. This will mean in future years, we’re able to take more targeted action, as well as track impact more effectively.

We now collect diversity data from most of our applicants, award holders and committee members. This will be analysed and summarised for the first time in our next diversity data report in 2026.

We’ve undertaken a scoping review of the concepts of 'equality', 'diversity' and 'inclusion' in the Global Health literature. This has given us a good understanding of how the concepts are applied in low and middle income settings. This work will help inform the development of diversity data collection methods in Global Health Research.

We supported a pilot project looking at the diversity of public contributors. This was specifically in NIHR Local Clinical Research Networks. We're now working to understand the learnings from this work, and how we can improve on it in the future.

The future – 2024 and beyond

We’ll be holding our first NIHR Research Inclusion Forum in March 2024. The main aim of the forum is to bring about greater inclusion in health and care research. The intention is to run the forum on an annual basis, with a changing delegation depending on the topic.

The first forum will bring research funders and other global stakeholders together. We'll seek to unpick challenges in collecting ethnicity data in a global health research context. By collaborating, we’ll have greater impact and sustainability within the system.

We’ll be launching our first inclusion survey of the NIHR workforce in 2024. This will allow us to understand more about what’s going well, where we can improve, and how experiences differ for various groups. The survey results will also mean we can build an inclusion indicator. This will be reported in future as part of the NIHR Outcomes Framework.

Throughout 2024, we’ll refresh our strategy and programme. We’ll seek to incorporate our ambitions around under-served communities. We’ll continue to publish updates and actions as we make progress.