Building ‘research active’ communities for a healthier population: a clear mission for CLAHRCs, AHSNs, LCRNs

I am in Alberta, Canada.  I have been invited over to share the UK’s experiences in developing public involvement in research.  As ever, it is the similarities and not the differences between our two experiences that strike you on a visit like this. More about those another time.

My good friend, Derek Stewart, yesterday wrote an excellent blog with his thoughts on what we are trying to achieve through public involvement. He is right. Public involvement, participation, engagement, these are all a means to an end.

I wonder whether our real aspiration should be the development of ‘research active’ communities that lead to a healthier population.  On the 50 minute plane trip from Edmonton to Calgary yesterday I tried to draw/visualise what would define that ‘research active’ community with ‘healthier populations’ in the centre circle:

research active communities

Well, it is a rough sketch and I’m no Tony Hart.  This is what was flying by the window by the way:

Edmonton to Calgary

I very much believe that by community we could just as well be talking about an organisation as a neighbourhood or a patient population.  The term embraces all its citizens as well whether they be patients, carers, the public, researchers, clinicians, etc. etc.  Anyway, in a ‘research active’ community the following features would seem to me to be in the ascendant (this is what I wrote in the smaller, outer circles):

  • Research is visible to its members
  • Research priorities are defined collectively
  • Citizens help shape research design
  • There is learning through the communities’ experience of health and wellbeing
  • Citizens have clear opportunities to participate in research and are encouraged to do so
  • Research is central to the provision of health and social care
  • Its members are working in an equal and respectful partnership
  • Citizens can access and use research evidence as part of their care and treatment
  • Citizens share in the governance of research

Alberta is going through a process of rapid restructuring and re-organisation of research across the province.   It is not dissimilar to what is happening across the 15 local geographies in England where we are seeing Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs), Collaborations for Applied Health and Research and Care (CLAHRCs), and Local Clinical Research Networks (LCRNS) occupy the same patch.


Their collective mission is to work with their local NHS and other partners to build research and innovation into the way we deliver health and social care of patient benefit.  So, what happens between these new organisations will be more important than what happens within them.  Partnership, integration, connectivity will be the name of the game.

Similarly for public involvement a process of re-purposing within these areas must happen in my view.  We still have much to do to ensure public involvement is improved in research prioritisation, design and delivery.  But we must not become too introvert.  It will be important that we look out of our windows, work with patients, the public and our public involvement colleagues across the way, and build the connections that will grow communities that are active in research and healthier for it.

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