Picture of Annalisa Montesanti

Dr A. Montesanti,           Fennell Photography 2014

Annalisa Montesanti is a Programme Manager at Ireland’s Health Research Board


Health research, and its knowledge application and translation towards more tangible impacts, requires the talent, expertise and ingenuity of a wide range of people. The challenge for a health research funding organisation is how to efficiently build research capacity in a collaborative manner across clinicians and other health professionals, scientists, social scientists, epidemiologists, health economists, statisticians, engineers, policy-makers, decision-makers, patient groups, public groups, and others. The Health Research Board (HRB) has identified the training, career development and support of exceptional researchers, talent and leadership as one of the key enablers to deliver the main objectives of the HRB strategy. We have recently developed a framework for the health research careers, which describe how we will promote the training, career development and other support measures to create a skilled workforce of 21st century engaged in patient-oriented, health services and population health research in Ireland.

The HRB is a statutory agency in the Republic of Ireland under the aegis of the Department of Health and responsible for supporting and funding health research, information and evidence. As described in the Strategy 2016-2020 – Research. Evidence. Action. – we are motivated and inspired by our vision of “healthy people through excellence research and applied knowledge”. We will lead and support excellent research and generate relevant knowledge and promote its application in policy and practice. We are determined to see the research that we fund translated into real benefits for people. We aim to achieve significant transformation in the system of healthcare delivery and to see economic returns arising from healthcare innovation and economic development.

The framework underpins the value the HRB places in building capacity of health-related researchers, professionals and innovators as collaborative experts. They will generate ideas and undertake research, drive the integration of research and evidence into policy and practice, thus improving decision-making and, ultimately, health outcomes and creating a wider impact in society. The main guiding principles that the HRB will use to enable the development of cross-disciplinary research teams and partnerships are:

  1. Actionable knowledge aimed at enhancing the capacity among researchers, professionals and innovators to apply and translate research findings in order to have a real benefit and impact on individuals and patients, populations and society as a whole.
  2. Collaborations, integration and cross-disciplinarity aimed at being inclusive of the wide range of disciplines and sectors – academic researchers, healthcare professionals, individuals from the education sector, researchers from industry, policy-makers and decision-makers, as well as individuals from charities and hospital groups – that are necessary to lead to impactful advances in health research and complex health challenges.
  3. Flexibility and diversity which reflects the wide range of individuals who are key in health research and have diverse needs of training and support.
  4. Open knowledge expected to lead to more transparency, integrity, openness, inclusiveness and networking in health research.
  5. Professional development and skills which emphasises the training needs to upskill individual’s engaged in health research
  6. Researcher’s knowledge contribution, metrics and impact which acknowledges alternative metrics and indicators to assess the researcher’s contribution to research, and ultimately their overall impact on knowledge.
  7. Commitment which highlights how critical is to have broad commitment, structured collaborations, participatory leadership, openness and flexibility with and from other key players and stakeholders in the system in order to build health research capacity by training, developing and supporting talented health-related researchers, innovators and professionals, it will be critical

The HRB has a good track record In Ireland in training and supporting clinicians and healthcare professionals as we believe they are at the heart of the workforce in the health research landscape. By 2020, the HRB plans to support excellent 4-year PhD training through more structured, team-based and mentored projects as well as by potentially supporting a PhD programmes(s) for clinicians in Ireland, if recommended for funding, though the partnership with the Wellcome Trust in UK; we will provide opportunities for career development for mid-stage researchers through interdisciplinary and team-based awards; we will invest in new talented emerging investigators, with also flexible arrangement for research protected time for clinicians and healthcare professionals, who are ready to become independent and self-directed researchers; we will offer a suit of investigator-led projects as well as opportunities to lead definitive interventions; and through collaborations with higher education institutions, hospital groups and the Health Service Executive we will identify, develop and support leaders in health research.

The HRB ultimately plans to achieve a strategic and coordinated approach to the production of a highly skilled of collaborative experts in health knowledge creation, translation and implementation, to ensure that research and evidence are ultimately integrated into policy and practice. At the same time, the HRB also values the importance of providing research training to more people currently working in a healthcare setting, with the ultimate goal of enhancing the quality of care and outcomes, and facilitating a more attractive work environment.

Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a series of 8 blogs about international collaboration in strengthening primary care research, ahead of the #SAPCASM2016 conference in Dublin, Ireland