Analysing the Efforts of the NIHR Leadership Programme

Mentoring doctors


Successful delivery of high-quality health research requires not only an effective research base, but also a system of leadership supporting it. However, research leaders are not often given the opportunity, nor do they have the time, to attend formal leadership or management training programmes. This is unfortunate because research has shown that leadership training can have a hugely beneficial effect on an organisation.

The English Department of Health therefore identified a real opportunity to develop the skills and capabilities of National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) leaders and enable them to make a real difference to the health research environments in which they work. It commissioned the NIHR Leadership Programme in January 2009 against a backdrop of an increasing emphasis on high quality clinical research in the NHS in the wake of Best Research for Best Health and the Cooksey Report, and a need to deliver high quality research within the NHS. In this context, the programme itself can be thought of as a 'science policy intervention'.

The leadership programme is delivered by the Ashridge Business School and the initial phase ended in March 2012. The second phase of the programme will commence in April 2012.


RAND Europe recently completed an evaluation of the first phase of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leadership Programme in an effort to help the English Department of Health consider the extent to which the programme has helped to foster NIHR's aims, extract lessons for the future, and develop plans for the next phase of the leadership programme. The findings were published today in a Technical Report.

The main purpose of the evaluation was to evaluate the leadership programme against its three core objectives:

  1. developing individuals as research leaders
  2. building research team leadership capability, and
  3. fostering leadership in the wider research community.

Overall, we found that the leadership programme is well received by participants and fills an important gap in academic and clinical researchers’ professional development. To this end, the leadership programme has met the first objective and for many participants the programme had either a ‘major’ or ‘significant’ impact on their personal approach to leadership.

The second objective of building research team leadership is also being met, but there are some gaps in linking research team leadership to institutional leadership and improved research performance.

The third objective is not yet being met to the extent that it could be, although progress has been made towards this and we would expect this to continue into the future if the programme is strengthened according to our recommendations.

Finally, we conclude that there is an opportunity to consider the role of the programme as a science policy intervention to improve health research and, ultimately, patient outcomes in the NHS. In this light, there is no ‘end’ to leadership and we propose that leadership should sit at the core of NIHR science policy.


RAND Europe: Science Policy and Research Evaluation Read More About the NIHR Leadership Programme (