NHS R&D North West is one of those NHS teams that has been surprisingly randdresilient and entrepreneurial in recent years. Faced with the closure of the North West Strategic Health Authority in 2013, the R&D team were reborn as a devolved hosted function with amazing opportunities to continue to create aspirational and innovative environments to enable health and social care communities to grow, thrive and deliver high-quality research.

Based in the heart of Manchester, NHS R&D North West bring together an array of organisations and personnel in the region who have an interest or an involvement in social and health care research; such as Health Education North West (HENW), Health Education England (HEE), the North West Coast and Greater Manchester Academic Health Science Networks (NWC AHSN and GM AHSN) the Alzheimer’s Society and a range of NHS Trusts and academic institutions.

NHS R&D provides strategic and practical support to build research, development and innovation capacity throughout the full range of NHS organisations in the region.

Our approach is based on four themes, which collectively help to optimise NHS Research and Development in terms of personnel, processes, communication and impact.

1. Communities
It is important to the team to continually push the boundaries of how health and social care professionals think about research and support the delivery of research outputs and the communities that support them.

This year our thinking has been enhanced by a series of master classes from three amazing people leading the way in social leadership and communities of practice.

In May we spent time with Julian Stodd, founder and captain of Sea Salt Learning, taking us through the mindset and skills required to be an effective leader in the social age. His NET model of leadership is built around three dimensions: Narrative, Engagement, and Technology and recognises that power and authority are founded more on what you share and how you build your reputation than simple positional authority.

In June, we spent the day with the amazing Meg Whealtey, an American writer and management consultant who studies organisational behavior. Her approach includes systems thinking, theories of change, chaos theory, leadership and the learning organization. We reflected on being islands of sanity in a sea of insanity and how to sustain yourself and your community as you walk on the edge of ‘the system’. The first part of this master class can be viewed on our YouTube channel.

Lastly in September we spent the day with Etienne Wenger an independent thinker, researcher, consultant, author, and speaker. Etienne is mostly known for his work on communities of practice, though he considers himself a social learning theorist more generally. We were privileged to discuss and apply Etienne’s new learning model, not yet published, that allows planning, vision and evaluation.

We are now using all that we have learned from Julian, Meg and Etienne to inform how we grow, develop and support our communities of health researchers across the region. With extra funding from Health Education North West, we are excited to be working specifically with health education researchers exploring the evidence base for educating the health care professionals of the future. All details of events and our work on communities of practice are on our website.

2. Capacity
The NHS Constitution is explicit in its commitment to ‘innovation and the promotion, conduct and use of research to improve the current and future health and care of the population’.

NHS R&D NW delivers on this commitment, linking directly to improved patient outcomes and quality of care, greater efficiency and resource utilization. It is predicated on a workforce equipped with the requisite skills working within a culture actively engaged with research and innovation.

NHS R&D NW helps health researchers at every stage of their research journey. Whether just contemplating a research career and needing some advice and support or a completed research project needing to be publicised in an effective, influential way. We also aim to fuel the passions for research and help researchers to connect with like-minded people who are enthused by research.

Our dedicated Releasing Potential programme encompasses all activities that support people in developing their research career and comprises two work streams:

1. Supporting the development and career progression of early career researchers located within NHS Trusts in the North West.
2. Supporting the development of skills and expertise in clinical team leads and service managers with regard to developing cultures of research and innovation in clinical teams.

There is a growing community of NHS-based early career researchers undertaking research and Masters, Doctoral and Post-Doctoral levels. Through a comprehensive programme of work, the Releasing Potential programme also aims to support the development of this community. A dedicated section on our website contains a range of information about resources, networks and events.

The Catalyst philosophy was born out of complexity theory- a theory based on the simple observation that chaos can breed brilliance.

Natural systems including human organisations are most creative when they are highly networked, dynamic and self- organising. This, in a nutshell means that where initial conditions are right and a system is on the edge of chaos, the tiniest of inputs can cause vastly large outputs.


The NHS R&D North West Catalyst Programme was established in recognition of the vast clinical and academic expertise in health research in the North West -but a lack of effective networking among those with that expertise including clinicians, people from the wider public sector, Local Authorities, industry, the voluntary sector, patients, the public and academic partners.

Frequently people do not know that others with similar or complementary interests exist. Often people are not even aware of work being undertaken by colleagues in the same university, building or corridor!

By connecting people from a wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines, who have a shared interest, improvements in health research, health outcomes and healthcare services can be realised. A Catalyst event sets up space for initiating new conversations using Open Space facilitation. As the catalyst process is iterative and dynamic, this allows for unexpected results to emerge within a facilitated environment. This encourages the emerging conversations to thrive long after the Catalyst event through new dynamic self-organising groups of research alliances, which are formed across artificial divides created by place and space. New ways of doing and encouraging research can emerge and this supports the development of a vibrant health research community.

These diverse perspectives on health issues often take conversations off in totally new and unexpected tangents. For example, when we introduced people from the construction industry to a group of microbiologists, the latter group’s focus on producing improved drugs to reduce infection was challenged by the concept that you could design buildings to ensure the risk of transmitting infection was minimised. This view was challenged further by the clinicians working on transforming the delivery of healthcare services who questioned what infection control would look like in 30 years’ time with the increase in hospitals delivering specialist care and the majority of care taking place in the community closer to home.

The Catalyst Process also facilitates the creation of novel collaborations to develop innovative bids for research funding from the EU, the National Institute for Health Research and other sources of funding. It recognises that the right team is at the heart of a successful funding bid.

The Catalyst Process works because the people involved share ideas and a passion to improve health research and to put those ideas into practice. To promote and explain Catalyst and Open Space in more detail, two animated events were commissioned and disseminated to a wide range of stakeholders.

Following the success of ‘Let’s Talk Research 2014’, the 2015 conference was held over 2 days giving healthcare professionals even more opportunities to hear and discuss research, learn new tools and techniques and engage with fellow researchers.

There was an evident energy and buzz throughout the 2 days – a common occurrence when researchers come together! The energy levels heightened at certain points. in particular, following the Plenary by Helen Bevan on day 1 when she discussed ‘The Change Agents of the Future: curating knowledge and making connections”. A presentation that stimulated, inspired, thought-provoked and rebelled!!

With over 24 workshops delivered by leading researchers, academics and clinicians, the delegates were able to experience a whole range of research topics. This was supported by a schedule of workshops focusing on improving the ‘softer skills’ and more real-life aspects of research – The Art of Procrastination (Dr Will Medd), Strategic Networking (L Goodacre) and Influence and Impact (Dominic Rickhards, Vox Coaching).

All presentations from the conference can be found in NHS R&D NW Slideshare or Storify.

To Conclude:-
The NHS R&D NW team is constantly curious about the world of R&D and how we can promote, support, engage, communicate, develop and enhance the culture in health research. We walk on the edge of the system looking out to discover the unknown and experiment with ideas that we can then share with our wider community and hopefully contribute in our own small way to the advancement of health research.

DR Stuart Eglin and Gillian Southgate