What difference is public involvement making to the HRA’s work?

Last updated on 2 Oct 2023

Making decisions about what we do next year

Every year the Health Research Authority (HRA) creates a business plan. This document describes the activities we will do in the next financial year and how we will measure progress.

This year, we invited members of the public to contribute to this process for April 2023 - March 2024. We asked people to:

  • check that our plans were true to our strategy
  • identify areas of work that would benefit from further involvement from service users, patients, carers, and other members of the public

Peter Hart, a member of the public involved in health and social care research, and Catherine McCarthy, Head of Corporate Portfolio Office at the HRA, reflect on the process.

How has public involvement informed and influenced this work?

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Public involvement has been a key part of our business planning process this year. This involved a hybrid (online and in person) event in January 2023 where members of the public, as well as Research Ethics Committee (REC) members and Staff Voices members, joined HRA staff to review the proposed plans for the next year. Our directors presented draft plans for their strategic objectives and breakout groups discussed the proposals and captured feedback. The feedback was used by directors in the final stages of the planning process. Directors also provided feedback to attendees on how it was used to update the plans.

Catherine McCarthy
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As a member of the public involved in the HRA’s work I was invited to attend the business planning meeting at the London office in Stratford on 31 January 2023.

There were four presentations on each of the strategic objectives namely:

  • include
  • accelerate
  • improve
  • digital

There were breakout groups after each presentation where meaningful discussion and constructive feedback was captured.

Public involvement had certainly helped shape the first two objectives. Members of the public, myself included, were involved in the drafting and launch of the new HRA strategy.

I regularly observe the public session of the HRA Board meeting and found the ‘Improve’ objective useful.

Peter Hart

What’s gone well, and what hasn’t gone well?

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The meeting was inclusive. It brought together the senior management group and other managers involved in developing plans for the financial year April 2023 to March 2024. In addition, REC members, a Confidentiality Advisory Group (CAG) member and Staff Voices members were present.

The rich discussions and interactions throughout the day made the meeting extremely worthwhile.

There were short online briefings before and after the meeting. These were helpful. I was sent detailed presentations and reviewed them in advance which helped me to ask relevant questions to the directors.

It’s really helpful to listen to ideas and perspectives from committee members, other people involved in the HRA’s work as well as staff members from the five offices.

The ‘Digital’ objective is clearly innovative. Artificial intelligence is increasingly used in health research. I found the diagram difficult to comprehend. I appreciate digital is the way forward.

Peter Hart
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A highlight for me personally was the really positive response to the event. There was lots of feedback on how well it had been organised and how much the attendees had enjoyed it. Another aspect that was identified as a strength was the group working. Groups were arranged with a mix of staff, senior managers, REC members and public involvement contributors. Hearing the mix of views was appreciated and I know the directors found it helpful to incorporate this into the later stages of planning.

Catherine McCarthy

What have you learnt?

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I've learnt that it’s important to plan the involvement of the public early to give people the opportunity to get involved. I've also learnt that when you work for an organisation you naturally focus on internal perspectives, so it is refreshing to get the views of external participants. This was highlighted by the feedback comments from a number of staff members who said it was so much better doing it this way. It took a long time to organise. But it was worth it to get a breadth of views to improve the business plans that were taken forward. It’s also important to provide feedback so contributors know that their views have been listened to.

Catherine McCarthy
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The presentations highlighted what has been achieved in 2022 and the plans (so far) for 2023.

It was great to gain clarity on the four central objectives.

I learnt about some of the challenges that the RECs experience.

The ‘Accelerate’ presentation gave a graphic example of how limited research capacity restricts the number of clinical trials in the UK.

Overall, I gained perspective. I applaud the HRA for being such a welcoming and inclusive organisation.

Peter Hart

HRA business plan

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