A programme of work led by the Health Foundation is helping to define the long-term research priorities needed to support the UK’s recovery from COVID-19 and improve its ongoing resilience to future health shocks. The collaborative project will engage many stakeholders and include strategic advice from Wellcome and The Nuffield Foundation.  

The programme aims to create a shared vision for the long-term research agenda which will support funders, researchers and policymakers in their work.  

Including a broad range of voices 

Ipsos MORI, working with partners RAND Europe and The Strategy Unit, are supporting the programme to engage with stakeholders and draw out the key research themes and questions emerging from the pandemic.  

This will involve bringing experts from across disciplines, including funding, policy and practice, together with the public through a range of different engagement approaches, including: 

  • a series of funder and health systems expert scoping interviews
  • a pilot workshop with the Health Foundation’s inclusion panel
  • four workshops with organisations representing diverse and underrepresented groups (such as people with disabilities, older people, younger people, and ethnic minorities)
  • 34 Delphi interviews with research and policy experts (aiming to begin building consensus)
  • three online deliberative summits, bringing together a mix of stakeholder groups to explore research priorities and the potential for consensus on a research agenda
  • a roundtable event and consultation survey. 

‘This could never be a comprehensive consultation of everyone who has experienced something during the pandemic or delivered part of the pandemic response’, says Usha Boolaky, Assistant Director of Research at the Health Foundation. ‘But through the methods that Ipsos MORI are using, we aim to get breadth and depth. Our intention is to convene groups of people who don't usually come together to really talk through the key actions we can collectively take.’ 

Mike Lawrie, Director at Ipsos MORI says there’s a simple principle behind the project’s approach. ‘Wide and diverse engagement tends to lead to better decision-making. The pandemic has affected everyone, so there is a universality to it, but it’s affected every single person in a deeply individual way. That means getting a diversity of different views is important. There’s also the importance of avoiding groupthink – if you have different people around the table, you minimise the risk of people coalescing around an idea and it not being tested or challenged.’ 

Framing the big picture 

Usha says the need for the long-term research agenda programme became evident fairly early on in the pandemic.  

‘Given the scale of the challenge, we felt there was a real need to bring in different perspectives to the research debate, particularly when you think about the huge impact of the pandemic on inequalities. What research do we need to make sure that these inequalities aren't exacerbated from this pandemic, or compounded by future health shocks? That's hugely important to understand’, she explains.  

‘The pandemic also highlighted the need to create interdisciplinary research opportunities to really understand the social factors influencing our response to the pandemic and how we recover from it and become more resilient.’ 

The programme seeks to build on components of the United Nation’s research roadmap for COVID-19 recovery by considering the impact of the pandemic on inequalities and how research can support a more resilient recovery by engaging communities and individuals who are often underrepresented in the research process. It will also draw on the findings of our COVID-19 impact inquiry

Usha explains, ‘Mike and the team are being really thoughtful about bringing together those broad perspectives. It's important to us to have that breadth to the voices exploring issues around health inequalities and to think about it from the perspective of lived experience.’ 

Mike says the wide-reaching impact of the pandemic, and the resulting wide scope of the research needed, is one of the first things the team have had to grapple with.  

‘When you talk about resilience, everything is on the table; all the wider determinants of health’, he says. ‘The scope is so broad that our first job has been to narrow it down and develop a conceptual framework for the work. We’ve also developed a taxonomy for the types of knowledge that might be useful and we've unpacked the key terms, trying to understand what we mean by resilience.’ 

Influencing the research agenda 

The knowledge and evidence required for a successful recovery will be significant. The programme focuses on the long-term social, political, economic and public health research agenda in relation to health and care outcomes, the structure and delivery of health and social care systems, public health systems, and policymaking to plan for key threats to health in the future. 

Usha says, ‘we want to support greater debate around things that might be missing from the research agenda now that could help with recovery from COVID-19. For example, we might find that the link between social isolation and mental health needs more exploring, or that we need to talk about how to fund longitudinal studies to understand the impacts of the pandemic on social and economic outcomes.’ 

The programme will report towards the end of 2021 with a clear idea of the key areas and associated research questions that UK-wide research funding programmes and research activity can helpfully focus on to bring about future resilience. 

Get involved 

The deliberative summits will begin in late autumn, followed by a roundtable event and an open entry consultation survey on the topics. We are still finalising plans for how samples will be collected, but if you would like to contribute to this part of the programme, please express your interest.

This content originally featured in our email newsletter, which explores perspectives and expert opinion on a different health or health care topic each month.

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