Guiding Principles

The following principles have been agreed by members as a guide to help health-related research funders increase the value of their research. The journey towards full realisation of the principles will be different for every organisation, follow the links to see how each one could be applied.

Our work is underpinned by our internationally recognised and award winning approach that maximises the probability of impact for a given cost by ensuring research asks questions that are relevant to expressed needs of research users, adds to what is already known, is designed to reduce bias, is delivered in a risk proportionate way, is published in accessible, usable and unbiased ways and is effectively disseminated to end users.

Justifiable research priorities

Principle 1
Health-related research agendas and priorities should be set with the meaningful involvement of those who will use and be affected by health-related research.

This is important because if the research, questions and outcomes are not relevant to the intended users (e.g. the next researchers in the translational pathway, patients, clinicians, public health policy makers) research cannot have impact. Involvement of patients and the public in priority setting is also important for accountability and democracy, particularly when it is government funded research.

View principle 1 in action

Robust research design, conduct and analysis

Principle 2
Research should only be funded if set in the context of one or more existing systematic reviews of what is already known or an otherwise robust demonstration of a research gap.

This is important because new research not set in the context of what is already known leads to unnecessary duplication, studies that cannot change decision making (e.g. will not change the meta analysis), or inappropriate design (e.g. inappropriate outcome measures, incorrect prevalence assumptions, failure to learn from past previous studies).

View principle 2 in action

Principle 3
Funders should take into account advances in research methodology and fund new research only if adequate steps have been taken to reduce bias.

This is important because evidence based advances in methodology can lead to more efficient study delivery or lower the risk of biased results. Poorly designed studies can lead to mistrust in the results (and can discredit the value of the research). Biased studies can lead to incorrect results that may produce harm if implemented in evidence-based decision making. This has major implications for policy but also the public.

View principle 3 in action

Regulation and management of research conduct proportionate to risks

Principle 4
Selection and conduct of research should be actively managed in a risk proportionate way, consistent with applicable human subjects research laws, regulations, and ethical guidance.

This is important because failure to actively manage research delivery can lead to incomplete, delayed or low GRADE quality studies. Over-management and over-regulation can lead to bureaucracy and inefficiencies.

View principle 2 in action

All information on research methods and findings accessible and all reports are complete and usable

Principle 5
Studies should be registered in an appropriate, design-relevant publicly accessible registry at study inception whenever possible.

Registration is important to prevent unintentional duplication and provide an audit trail for future accountability (e.g. to identify non-publication, no results published,  intended and actual outcomes do not match). Funders are able to influence by requiring registration as a condition of funding and to impose consequences if researchers do not comply.

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Principle 6
Research questions, methods, materials, analysis plans or sequence of analytical choices for all studies should be made available as early as possible and preferably near or before the start of the study or analysis. Any deviation from the original plans should be documented.

This is important because publicly releasing full analytical methods and plans allows for their re-use in other studies, in designing complementary studies and for preserving the experimental method (e.g. prevent outcome measure swapping, fishing expeditions during data analysis etc).  The transparency and accountability of publicly documenting protocol and statistical plans safeguards against intentional or unintentional influences due to conflicts of interest that can distort scientific integrity.

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Principle 7
All studies should report methods and findings in full, following credible and justifiable reporting guidelines. This applies irrespective of the nature of the findings and whether the study completed as planned.

This is important because making all methods and all findings publicly available allows results to be acted upon and fully understood. This in turn prevents publication bias affecting systematic reviews. It is also a matter of public accountability; those that pay for research through taxes or philanthropic donation have the right to know what that money has been spent on.  Learning from studies that failed to complete is also important so that future funds are not wasted on the same research. Increasingly there is an emphasis on timely reporting of summary results, at least, to accomplish these important aims.

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Principle 8
When appropriate and when it will add value to evidence users, replication, reanalysis, and reuse of data from studies should be supported and facilitated.

This is important because re-use of data increases the impact resulting from the initial financial, research infrastructure, and research participants’ investments needed to collect data. Re-analysis increases independence and confidence in results. Replication of studies reduces bias.

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Principle 9
New evidence should be placed in the context of existing knowledge to inform appropriate interpretation and use of findings. When appropriate and when it will add value to evidence users, systematic reviews should be updated following primary research.

This is important because decisions, whether or not they are to further research or affect health or public health policy, they should be made on reviews of bodies of evidence, and not on a single study results. This helps to reduce bias and spin.

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Principle 10
Research knowledge that can lead to benefit should be effectively disseminated to end users. Where appropriate, the usage of new knowledge should be supported and facilitated.

This is important because research findings can only be acted on if appropriately and effectively disseminated. This has to be targeted at the intended user of the evidence – often this will not be the academic community. Despite best efforts, not every new research study adds enough substance to the body of evidence to warrant active dissemination and implementation support.

View principle 10 in action