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In early 2012, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) leadership programme was re-commissioned for a further three years following an evaluation by RAND Europe. During this new phase of the programme, we conducted a real-time evaluation, the aim of which was to allow for reflection on and adjustment of the programme on an on-going basis as events unfold. This approach also allowed for participants on the programme to contribute to and positively engage in the evaluation. The study aimed to understand the outputs and impacts from the programme, and to test the underlying assumptions behind the NIHR Leadership Programme as a science policy intervention. Evidence on outputs and impacts of the programme were collected around the motivations and expectations of participants, programme design and individual-, institutional and system-level impacts.

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