Case study: enabling a strategic approach to working together across the health research, community and voluntary sectors in Greater Manchester

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Topic:

  • Involvement good practice
  • Working with communities

Resource type:

  • Case study

Authors:

  • Vocal, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust & NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre & NIHR Manchester Clinical Research Facility

Date added to Learning for Involvement:

  • 21st June 2023

The complexity, richness and diversity of our health and social care research and Community and Voluntary Sector ecosystems requires a strategic and joined up approach to working together. This project aimed to bring together Greater Manchester NIHR research infrastructure covering the breadth and depth of the discovery and implementation pipeline (from biomedical science, through to clinical and applied health and social care research) with the Community and Voluntary sector.

What’s the issue?

With its devolved health and social care system, Greater Manchester (GM) provides an exciting landscape and opportunity for collaboration across health and social care research, in partnership with people, patients and communities. The complexity, richness and diversity of our health and social care research and Community and Voluntary Sector (CVS) ecosystems requires a strategic and joined-up approach to working together.

Although connections existed between the health and social care system, the 9 NIHR infrastructure organisations based in GM, and the CVS sector, these were not always joined up and strategic, meaning that some communities had multiple links with research and others had no connection. Furthermore, in the absence of a coordinated approach, communities and patients report often very different experience of being involved in research. Our proposal was to bring together GM NIHR research infrastructure* covering the breadth and depth of the discovery and implementation pipeline (from biomedical science, through to clinical and applied health and social care research) with the CVS sector. Our proposal was developed with members of the GM VCSE leadership group, with the Caribbean and African Health Network (CAHN) as a first point of contact. We will also work with important strategic CVS partners, such as GMCVO and Healthwatch.

What did you do?

Our aims were:

  • To strengthen strategic and operational relationships for patient and public involvement, engagement and participation (PPIEP) in health and social care research between the GM CVS sector and GM based research infrastructure, building on existing connections
  • To co-create, with the GM VCSE leadership team, other GM CVS infrastructure, and GM NIHR infrastructure, ways of working together in health and social care research
  • To stimulate a programme of partnership approaches based on the needs of GM communities, to maximise collaborations in health and social care research.

We:

  • Held regular meetings bringing together the PPIEP leads of the 9 NIHR infrastructure organisations in GM, to map existing practice, relationships and networks, share learning, discuss synergies and potential joint areas of interest and activity (including engagement events), identify common challenges and find solutions. We also completed SWOT analyses of our partnership work. 
  • Held regular meetings between the PPIEP leads and the VCSE leadership group and sub-groups to discuss emerging priorities for collaborative health research
  • Galvanised action across NIHR research and CVS infrastructure in GM to work collaboratively as part of Manchester’s pilot of the NIHR’s Race Equality Framework. A workshop focused on the Race Equality Framework, and a CVS leader was part of the Framework implementation group. 

What happened?

The key benefits of this work:

  • We gained a better understanding of the breadth and depth of connections between the CVS and health research sectors in GM
  • Collectively, we developed a better understanding of where there are gaps in partnerships and where we needed to work more strategically towards common aims and objectives. 
  • Areas of challenge for partnership working were highlighted, with clear direction from the CVS sector about what needed to change within the research system to demonstrate trustworthiness 
  • The practicalities of working together across the 9 NIHR infrastructure in GM and the VCSE leadership group, on a day-to-day basis, became embedded in our practice 
  • Our regional strengthening enabled a more comprehensive approach to Manchester’s pilot of the NIHR Race Equality Framework.
  • Our collaborative approach strengthened CVS input to the development of a major research programme (the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC)).
  • The initiative ensured a more coherent and comprehensive representation of PPIEP at senior and strategic levels within the GM research ecosystem – through membership of the GM Research & Innovation NIHR Oversight Board.
  • Through our shared learning as part of this initiative, the approach to monitoring the diversity of public partners in research has been taking up by other local organisations. 

What could other people take from this?

  • Small, practical things can have a big impact on working relationships. This initiative kick-started regular meetings between PPIEP leads of the 9 NIHR infrastructure in GM and with the VCSE leadership group. These continue and have become an invaluable forum for being joined up, and shared learning. They are crucial for working collaboratively and sustainably within our local landscape. Personnel within NIHR and CVS infrastructure are now more personally identifiable and have developed stronger relationships.
  • Better understanding gained through habitual dialogue. We gained a better understanding of the breadth and depth of connections between the CVS and health research sectors in GM, including understanding where there are gaps in partnerships and where we needed to work towards common aims and objectives. Areas of challenge for partnership working were highlighted, with clear direction from the CVS sector about what needed to change within the research system to demonstrate trustworthiness (eg. Better payment systems, avoiding extractive practice, the potential of a ‘charter for involvement’ across the GM research system). Some of these calls to action were further developed after the regional strengthening award (see below). 
  • Strategic serendipity. Working in a more joined up and strategic way across our NIHR and CVS infrastructure in GM enabled us to strengthen how we worked together on other key strategic initiatives. For example, the regional strengthening enabled more comprehensive input into Manchester’s pilot of the NIHR Race Equality Framework. Although this was not part of the original proposal for regional strengthening, both strands of work were happening at the same time, and it was an ideal opportunity to strengthen dialogue and input to the pilot’s actions for change. Also, the initiative enabled greater input into a major research programme (the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre) from the CVS sector: for example, CVS leaders acted as mock interviewers for BRC leadership in preparation for NIHR committee interview. In so doing, they were able to constructively challenge BRC leadership around their approach to partnership working and equality, diversity and inclusion. (For clarity, PPIEP was already a key component of the BRC’s application development – this initiative complemented what had been done already and enabled greater reach with CVS leaders specifically). 
  • Talking PPIEP at the ‘top table’. The initiative ensured a more coherent and comprehensive representation of PPIEP at senior and strategic levels within the GM research ecosystem – this happened through membership of PPIEP leads at the GM Research & Innovation NIHR Oversight Board during the time of this work, with PPIEP as a regular standing item on the agenda. This ensures that partnership working, including with the CVS sector, has a strong presence within the leadership of the health research community in GM.
  • Shared learning. Through our shared learning as part of this initiative, the approach to monitoring the diversity of public partners in research to ensure better inclusion in PPIEP (an approach developed by Vocal) has been taking up by other local organisations (including the ARC-GM and the GM CRN).
  • Challenging timelines, need for flexibility. It was not possible to deliver everything within short timelines. Although we did not fully deliver the ‘map’ planned in our original outputs, this has now been completed.

What’s next?

  • Our regular meetings between GM NIHR infrastructure PPIEP leads and the CVS leaders continue.
  • Continued presence/influence of PPIEP at the GM Research and Innovation NIHR Oversight Board
  • The partnership established through the regional strengthening initiative was critical to the successful award of an ICS Research Engagement Network, which ran from November 2022-March 2023 and further developed the work carried out as part of this initiative. A summary is available here.  

If you feel any of the information on this page needs amending or would like to request the deletion of this page, please contact us at publicpartnerships@nihr.ac.uk

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