How international research consortia can strengthen organisations' research systems and promote a conducive environment and culture

Justin Pulford, Taghreed El Hajj, Tara Tancred, Yan Ding, Susie Crossman, Lorelei Silvester, Martina Savio, Natasha Bevan, Nadia Tagoe, Imelda Bates

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research systems and cultures have been criticised for their detrimental effect on members' mental health and well-being. Many international research programmes operate through research consortia that have the resources to make a substantial contribution to improving the research environment in their member organisations. This paper collates real-life examples from several large international consortia-based research programmes about how they strengthened organisations' research capacity. The consortia primarily involved academic partners from the UK and/or sub-Saharan Africa and covered research topics including health, natural sciences, conservation agriculture and vector control. They were partly or wholly funded by UK agencies including the Wellcome, Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office, UK Research and Innovation Fund, and the Medical Research Council and they operated for 2-10 years between 2012 and 2022.Consortia's size and ability to access and share resources among their member organisations according to need meant they were uniquely placed to target actions to address weaknesses in member organisations' research capacity, to widen networks and collaborations, and to build in sustainability of capacity gains. Consortia's actions covered: (a) individuals' knowledge and skills; (b) capacity strengthening ethos; (c) organisations' visibility and prestige; and (d) inclusive and responsive management practices. Evidence about these actions formed the basis of recommendations for funders and leaders of consortium-based programmes about how they could make more effective use of consortia's resources to enhance organisations' research systems, environments and cultures.Key lessons were that training should cover management and research leadership and should be offered beyond consortium members, including to research support staff such as technicians and managers. Consortia often tackle complex problems requiring multidisciplinary inputs, but overcoming disciplinary boundaries-and making everyone feel valued and respected-takes time and skill on the part of consortium leaders. Consortia need clear guidance from funders about their commitment to strengthening research capacity. Without this, consortia leaders may continue to prioritise research outputs over creating and embedding sustainable improvements in their organisations' research systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere011419
Number of pages11
JournalBMJ Global health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2023

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© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2023.


  • Humans
  • Africa South of the Sahara
  • Mental Health

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