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Research Ready Communities Pilot evaluation 2021/22


Published: 10 October 2022

Version: 1

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The Research Ready Communities Programme

During 2021-2022, the NIHR piloted a community engagement model in 3 local areas across England. The aim of the programme was to understand how the Clinical Research Network could build better relationships with communities that are currently under-served by health and care research, and increase their access to health and care research opportunities.

A participatory-based learning Framework was designed and shared with three Local Clinical Research Networks (LCRNs) to use during a 12 month period. The Framework provided the tools to start engaging with a local under-served community, with a view to building meaningful, long term engagement that would extend beyond the pilot phase of the programme. The programme contained 4 main phases of activity:

  1. Building partnerships
  2. Community research
  3. Co-producing a plan
  4. Community activities

1. Building partnerships

The Clinical Research Network Coordinating Centre supported three LCRNs to pilot the programme in 1 of their local communities. The aim of the pilot was to understand if the programme could be delivered and how it might work differently in under-served communities with diverse populations.


Blackpool has been defined as “the most deprived Local Authority in England with one of the lowest life expectancies” (Chief Medical Officer’s annual report 2021: health in coastal communities). As part of their pilot, North West Coast CRN, chose to work with young people aged 16-21 in Blackpool.


Brixton has a diverse population that includes a large proportion of ethnic minorities who are under-served by health and care research. Up to 41% of the Brixton Hill ward population are people from non-white ethnic backgrounds. For their pilot, South London CRN chose to work in Brixton with a group of migrant women and residents of Angell Town estate and its surrounding areas.


Balby and Hexthorpe, 2 neighbouring areas of Doncaster have been ranked amongst the top 50 most deprived areas in England, based on the English Indices of Multiple Deprivation. Some of Yorkshire and Humber’s most under-served communities in health and care research are reported to live here, including a local a South Asian population Yorkshire and Humber CRN chose to work with residents in these 2 Doncaster neighbourhoods for their pilot.


2. Community research

The CRN Coordinating Centre provided free training to 9 Community Champions with two 1.5 hour online sessions, and one full day face-to-face training.

The training provided:

  • An introduction to health and care research, NIHR and the CRN
  • An overview of the Research Ready Communities programme and Community Champion role
  • Practical skills training based on participatory methods to support Community Champions to carry out activities in their local area


3. Co-producing a plan

The CRN Coordinating Centre organised a full day workshop for Community Champions and their LCRN programme leads, to reflect on their community research activities. These findings were then used to inform the co-production of activities in each local community.

Community research findings

  • Some people were not aware that health and care research was happening in their local area, or how to access studies
  • Overall, there was limited awareness about health research in local communities and about how participating in research can help to improve health outcomes and quality of life
  • Community members felt that research should be based on the particular needs of the local community
  • The need to build a higher level of trust between communities and researchers was important to community members

Feedback from community research activities showed

  • The community research activities helped Community Champions and LCRNs learn more about their local areas
  • Community Champions enjoyed interviewing local residents and felt that doing so gave a voice to members of the community
  • It was sometimes difficult to obtain detailed maps of the local area to support the activities
  • COVID-19 restrictions limited face to face activities. Community Champions conducted more interviews over the phone or virtually


4. Community activities


North West Coast CRN created a series of four work streams that a group of 16 young professionals could get involved in, with the aim to upskill them in different areas of research:

  • Marketing and Communications
  • Asset mapping
  • Co-production
  • Using disease data to inform research

They organised ‘Research Ready Days’ for each workstream at the North West Coast CRN office and Lancaster University, which involved completing a learning activity with support from a professional.


South London CRN attended 1 of Baytree Centre’s fortnightly wellbeing sessions for migrant women in Brixton and talked to the group about health and care research. The session was attended by 18 women from various ethnic backgrounds, with different first languages and limited English.

South London CRN was also invited by Marcus Lipton Community Enterprise to host an information stand at a community health and wellbeing event that enabled members of the team to speak to the local community about research in a trusted community setting.


Community Champions organised two research awareness raising events at Flourish Enterprise, Catherine House, including 1 in May to celebrate International Clinical Trials Day.

Attendees were able to talk and learn about research in a relaxed, community environment, and hang their wishes for research growth in the local area on their newly planted ‘research tree’, donated to Catherine House walled garden by Yorkshire and Humber CRN.


Programme impact

The pilot programme showed impact at several different levels:

Community Champions

  • Gained knowledge about their local communities
  • Increased their knowledge about health and care research
  • Developed transferable skills and confidence

The wider community

  • Increased awareness and changed perceptions about health and care research
  • Built trust and created environments for communities to talk about health and care research that did not exist before


  • Provided an effective pathway for LCRNs to engage with under-served communities in their region
  • Increased LCRN knowledge and understanding of local communities
  • Helped to align LCRN research to local health inequalities

The wider regional research infrastructure

Built networks and relationships between the community, NIHR and the wider research infrastructure (e.g NHS Trusts, NIHR Centres, local government).


Beyond the pilot: Lessons learned

The pilot has provided important lessons and recommendations to ensure that the programme (and our community engagement work more broadly as an organisation) can continue beyond the pilot phase and be implemented successfully across the country.

We must work in partnership with other organisations in the region to promote sustainable, long-term relationship building and engagement (for example, local councils, NHS trusts, other NIHR centres, higher education institutions).

We must continue to support Community Champions and develop a more comprehensive training programme; establish agreed ways of working in each local area; provide more opportunities for peer support; and define clear aims for the programme with our community partners from the outset.

The programme model should be used as a broad framework that is adapted and implemented in a flexible way locally. This allows for ownership and decision making power to remain with the people and communities who are best placed to advise about the ‘when, where and how’ of delivering the programme successfully in their area.

Community engagement is most effective in a face-to-face context, and should have clear communication pathways to ensure that local feedback and impact can reach the people and communities who have been involved and engaged.

Successful implementation of the programme on a national scale requires an ongoing commitment to ensuring communities have sufficient and appropriate resourcing and support.

We also need to consider how we can develop a ‘community ready’ research workforce, to provide researchers and professionals with the necessary training and community engagement skills for creating meaningful and lasting relationships with communities that will enable more accessible research opportunities in under-served communities.


To read the full evaluation report of the Research Ready Communities pilot programme, and for any questions, please contact the CRN PPIE team


“I would say that NIHR doesn't need to come into communities feeling like they have to have everything figured out. You have to be really comfortable with shaping and co-producing this with people. The outcomes are so much better for everybody.” Community Champion



We would like to thank all the Community Champions, community partner organisations and community members who were involved in the Research Ready Communities programme pilot and for their honest and useful feedback.

We thank North West Coast, Yorkshire and Humber, and South London Clinical Research Networks for their work in leading the pilots, and for their continued collaboration to help shape and improve the programme.

A special thanks also to Laurie Oliva, Mohammed Shaikh and Danielle Neal for their expertise and skill in creating and delivering the pilot.