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Press Release

Press release

HRB publishes expert review of strategy

27 January 2015

A panel of international experts has conducted an in-depth review of the Health Research Board (HRB) strategic business plan 2010-2014. Their role was to determine how well the organisation performed against its’ objectives over the five years of the strategy, and to provide expert advice to help shape the next strategy.

Panel Chair, Nicholas Canny, Member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council, Professor Emeritus of History at NUI, Galway and a past President of the Royal Irish Academy says,

'What most impressed me during the course of the external review was the obvious  respect in which the HRB and its staff are held by each of the 69 stakeholders, from very diverse organisations, who came before the international panel for interview. It was also evident that a very dedicated staff have delivered on most of their objectives over the past five years, despite having had to operate in an environment of declining financial and human resources'.

Dr Graham Love, Chief Executive at the HRB says,

'We’re doing a lot of things right, but there is also great scope and good guidance in this report to do new things, or do some things differently. We will use it to guide our thinking in developing the HRB's next strategic plan. This review will help us to enhance our own performance, but more importantly to deliver more for people’s health through research'.

The key recommendations from the report are listed below. A full copy of the report, Appraisal by the International Panel – A review of the HRBs strategy 2010-2014, is available in the 'Publications' section of the HRB website.


For more information contact:

Gillian Markey, Communication Manager, Health Research Board
m +353 87 2288514, e

Key recommendations
1.       Develop ‘one HRB’

It was the view of the Panel that the staff of the HRB were highly skilled, professional and well qualified in their designated areas of expertise. The commitment and enthusiasm of staff was commended by the Panel. However, the Panel recognised that skill gaps existed within the HRB and that the Directorates of the HRB were inclined to focus solely on their own specialised areas of work. It was believed that this had led to a ‘siloed’ working culture amongst the HRB’s Directorates. The Panel recommends that an objective of the next strategy should be to develop an integrated working culture, by developing “One HRB” that is cohesive across all of the Directorates, and that proactively encourages cross-functional operations. The Panel suggests that the HRB invests in the capability of its staff, and that it explores the use of associates to cover key skill gaps. The Panel recommends the expansion of services such as the evidence synthesis service, which the HRB could partner with the Department of Health to develop. The evidence synthesis service was an exceptional facility which could deliver important assessments to the Department of Health and the HSE if used appropriately.

2.       Develop a performance management framework

The Panel concluded that HRB’s strategy was ambitious given the operating environment in which it was developed. There was common agreement amongst the Panel that as a result, the goals and strategic objectives of the 2010- 2014 strategy were appropriate but lacked specific KPIs. This made it difficult for the Board of the HRB to measure the success of the strategy. It was therefore agreed that the HRB needs to implement a Performance Management Framework to assess and evaluate progress against defined KPIs, which should be set out in the next strategy.

3.       Target the research capacity of the HRB

The Panel agreed that the HRB should channel its limited resources in targeted areas. The Panel sees the development of a central role for the HRB in providing the funding and associated support mechanisms for clinical research, health services research and population health research in Ireland. The Panel would advise the HRB to develop its capability in implementation research, an area, which, in the future, could foster and strengthen a strategic partnership with the HSE. 

4.       Promote national discussion on the funding of basic biomedical research

The Panel recognise that the HRB, as a leader and influencer in health research, had an obligation to advocate on behalf of the research community for the Irish government, industry, and other funding bodies to continue supporting basic biomedical research with appropriate levels of funding. The Panel endorses the view that basic biomedical research should not be funded from the HRB’s current resources which are already challenged.

5.       Develop strategic research partnerships

The Panel sees strong potential for the HRB to develop strategic research partnerships with its existing stakeholders in the Irish health system to establish mechanisms to further encourage cooperation and support for health research projects. It was noted that the HRB should establish formal high level mechanisms for communication and cooperation on funding with other stakeholders, notably, the Department of Health (Department of Health), the Health Services Executive (HSE) and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) to ensure a cohesive approach to supporting and delivering research throughout the Irish health system.

6.       Develop a more flexible financial strategy

The Panel recommends to the HRB that it should develop strategies to ensure that the HRB can continue to maintain its current obligations to its partners and stakeholders. The HRB could consider adjusting its level of funding to some programmes, after consultation with stakeholders, to ensure that it can provide adequate resourcing for new research programmes into the future on a consistent and sustainable basis.

7.       Ensure appropriate skills and demographic balance of the Board

The Panel recognises the essential role that the Board plays in the development of the HRB. The Panel suggests that the Board, insofar as possible, should pursue a policy of ensuring the appointment of  Members to the Board who have the appropriate balance of skills and relevant experience necessary to ensuring that the HRB Board can function as a decision making body. Furthermore the panel recommends that all responsible should ensure that there is an appropriate demographic balance among the Board Members.

8.       Establish a scientific advisory group to the CEO

It was the view of the Panel that the HRB executive team would benefit from a Scientific Advisory Group which would be able to inform and identify areas of research which the HRB could pursue, from time to time. The Panel suggests that the Scientific Advisory Group should be endorsed by the Board of the HRB, but would be appointed by and report to the CEO and the executive team.

9.       Develop and enhance existing research databases

The Panel acknowledges that the positioning of the national health information systems within the HRB is a policy issue which goes above HRB’s remit. The Panel recommends that in the short term, the HRB should enhance and develop the existing research databases to meet current needs, exploiting the opportunity of the IT upgrade, and should establish formal structured linkages with the providers and users of the health information systems, particularly in the context of the projected IT platform upgrade and opportunities for co-investment. In the longer term, the Panel believes that the existing data bases should be positioned within an emerging Department of Health or public sector data base strategy within a trusted data base agency.  

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