You may never have heard of the Wessex Institute – or if you have you might not know what we do. In this blog I want to tell you a little bit about us and one of the ways we are currently, quietly changing the world from our home offices, dining room tables and bedrooms.

You will know all too well that health-related research requires funding – often a lot! That money usually comes from external research funding agencies. 

The Wessex Institute is an enterprise unit in the Faculty of Medicine and in part we are a research funding agency. We manage £1billion of public research funding on behalf of the NIHR, Health and Care Research Wales, NICE, NHS England and HS2.

When health-related research funding agencies, like the Wessex Institute, choose to fund research, they make ethical and scientific considerations, allocate money from the public purse or citizens purses via charity donations, make difficult choices between comparably important opportunities, keep occupied the research community who could focus on other priorities, and above all, rely on the involvement and participation of patients and the public. All of these tangible and intangible ‘costs’ are drawn from finite resources. We, therefore, have a responsibility and necessity to consider what we do well and what could be improved.

To improve the art and science of being a research funder, the Wessex Institute was a founding member and now runs the Ensuring Value in Research Funders’ Forum (EViR). EViR is an international cross-funder initiative involving over fifty health-related public or philanthropic research funders from across the world. We share a common goal of raising the probability of benefits to society from health-related research by advancing the practices of research and research funding.

A key output of the forum was to agree on a framework and 10 guiding principles that are the markers of a high-value research funding agency. These principles are directly leading to changes in research funding policies and practice around the globe. 

This is a growing and exciting group. We had a particularly energising event recently. Over the last couple of weeks, we met virtually for a mini-conference and series of round table discussions to share experience and learn from each other. This was our first online conference and yet reached into a large number of funding agencies around the world. We had 175 attendees from 59 different organisations from 21 different countries. How we are all dealing with COVID-19 was, of course, a common topic but we discussed a wide range of issues including preclinical research, data sharing, research culture, what funders can do to support early and mid-career researchers and many others.

This work, led by Cristina Barroso and Alison Hannah, is not only making a difference to research around the world but is also establishing the Faculty of Medicine as global thought leaders in this space. 

“The Wessex Institute – Improving the art and science of research funding around the world” by Matt Westmore

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