Mechanisms and pathways to impact in public health research: a preliminary analysis of research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)

Harriet Boulding, Adam Kamenetzky, Ioana Ghiga, Becky Ioppolo, Facundo Herrera, Sarah Parks, Catriona Manville, Susan Guthrie, Saba Hinrichs-Krapels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: The mechanisms and pathways to impacts from public health research in the UK have not been widely studied. Through the lens of one funder (NIHR), our aims are to map the diversity of public health research, in terms of funding mechanisms, disciplinary contributions, and public health impacts, identify examples of impacts, and pathways to impact that existing reporting mechanisms may not otherwise have captured, and provide illustrations of how public health researchers perceive the generation of non-academic impact from their work.

METHODS: A total of 1386 projects were identified as 'public health research' by the NIHR and listed in the NIHR Public Health Overview database (2000-2016). From these, a subset of 857 projects were matched as potentially having begun reporting impacts via an external data-gathering platform (Researchfish). Data on the 857 projects were analyzed quantitatively, and nine projects were selected to investigate further through semi-structured interviews with principal investigators. Two workshops took place to validate emerging and final findings and facilitate analysis.

RESULTS: In addition to the NIHR School for Public Health Research and the NIHR Public Health Research Programme, 89% of projects contained in the NIHR Public Health Overview portfolio as 'public health research' are funded via other NIHR research programmes, suggesting significant diversity in disciplines contributing to public health research and outcomes. The pathways to impact observed in our in-depth case studies include contributing to debates on what constitutes appropriate evidence for national policy change, acknowledging local 'unintended' impacts, building trusted relationships with stakeholders across health and non-health sectors and actors, collaborating with local authorities, and using non-academic dissemination channels.

CONCLUSIONS: Public health as a discipline contributes substantially to impact beyond academia. To support the diversity of these impacts, we need to recognise localized smaller-scale impacts, and the difference in types of evidence required for community and local authority-based impacts. This will also require building capacity and resources to enable impact to take place from public health research. Finally, support is required for engagement with local authorities and working with non-health sectors that contribute to health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34
Number of pages1
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Feb 2020


  • Evidence-Based Medicine/methods
  • Humans
  • Public Health/methods
  • Research/economics
  • Research Personnel/statistics & numerical data
  • Research Support as Topic/economics
  • State Medicine/organization & administration
  • Translational Research, Biomedical/methods
  • United Kingdom


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