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Our strategy

Strategy introduction from our Director, Mary Dixon-Woods

Five years on from the initial award of funding in 2017, THIS Institute (The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute) represents a distinctive asset for research and healthcare in the UK.

THIS is building a highly credible evidence base for improvement through innovative, participatory research. We are creating capacity for the study of improvement across the UK through our research fellowship programme. We are changing the conversation by engaging and advocating for evidence at every level. And Thiscovery, our pioneering large-scale participation platform, is re-imagining how research, engagement, co-design and evaluation are done, while enabling new forms of inclusion and co-creation.

The consistent excellence of our outputs and the achievements of our communications, engagement and impact activities have established the institute’s profile as a unique source of credible insights into how to improve care. As our reputation has grown, we are playing a growing leadership role, securing increasing influence on policy and practice. Our success lies in our highly collaborative, participatory approach, which enables co-creation of evidence with NHS patients, staff, and wider stakeholders. We are exceptionally fortunate in our partnership with the Health Foundation, which is crucial to our achievements.

In the next five years, we will further consolidate our distinctive capabilities and assets, advance our mission and vision, and secure sustainability for the long-term. This strategy explains how we will build on the achievements of THIS Institute while also bringing fresh ideas to life.

Our vision

Our vision is that THIS Institute (The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute) will be at the forefront of a movement to mainstream the understanding that improvement activity in healthcare should be based on evidence and should generate evidence.

Our mission

Our mission is to enable better healthcare through better evidence about how to improve. We will co-create a highly credible and actionable evidence base for improving quality and safety in healthcare, working collaboratively with patients, staff and wider stakeholders.

Our plans

Build a rigorous and highly valued evidence base for improving quality and safety in healthcare

Our engaged and highly participatory approach to developing evidence is defined by working throughout the research lifecycle with those whose expertise is rooted in lived experience – especially NHS staff and patients. Our findings are valued both in specific clinical areas and for extending and deepening the evidence base for improvement more generally.

We will continue to draw on novel combinations of theories, methods and approaches to generate vital assets that can be used many times across diverse areas and for multiple purposes.

Over the next five years, we will organise our research around three thematic priorities:

  • Characterisation of improvement challenges
  • Development of possible solutions and interventions using co-design
  • Evaluation

Co-create evidence with patients, carers, the public, NHS staff and wider stakeholders

We will continue to deliver our research mission in close partnership with all of those who have a stake in the effective functioning of the NHS. Working in this way not only reflects our values, it also contributes to impact by encouraging ownership and engagement from the very outset of every project.

Thiscovery, our highly participatory online platform, will facilitate much of this work. It will be will be a key asset in a novel infrastructure we’re building to co-create the evidence – THIS improvement research communities. These online communities will mobilise the contributions of patients and healthcare staff at scale, helping to build evidence faster and more rigorously.

Strengthen collaborations and build new ones

Relationships across multiple sectors are at the heart of what we do. Our extensive and diverse collaborations, ranging from specialist charities and patient advocacy groups through to national bodies, enable valuable access to existing networks, infrastructures, expertise and lived experience.

We will maintain and nurture existing collaborations and develop new collaborations, building on the trust and mutual benefit already achieved to provide the basis for future research.

Build capacity in improvement research in multiple ways

Through our fellowship programme, we have helped to expand of the portfolio of healthcare improvement studies, widened access to the discipline and extended our reach and influence. We will continue to recruit themed fellows relevant to practice and policy needs and priorities until 2025.

We will continue to invest in attracting high-quality candidates. We will seek to increase diversity in terms of applicants’ sociodemographic characteristics and disciplinary background. And we will actively cultivate the vibrant community we have created.

To augment and sustain our capability-building, we will scope the development of a new education and training programme.

Throughout 2022 and 2023, we will publish the Cambridge Handbook of Improving Quality and Safety in Healthcare: THIS Institute’s Guide to the Evidence – the first comprehensive survey of the evidence behind improvement techniques commonly used in healthcare and a vital and authoritative resource for academics, practitioners and sector leaders.

Change the thinking around the need for evidence in healthcare improvement

In order to increase the visibility of healthcare improvement research, we will strengthen our public affairs and NHS partnership activities over the next five years through a campaign targeting policy, practice, and public audiences.

Achieving our mission requires sustained engagement with NHS patients, staff and other stakeholders not only to co-design and participate in our research, but also to disseminate, amplify and act on our findings. So we will continue to use high-quality communications and engagement to increase awareness, participation, diversity and inclusion throughout the research lifecycle.


All our work is underpinned by our values.

Scientific excellence

We draw on established scientific traditions and develop systematic studies using high quality methods and theories.


We work in partnership in good faith, with trust sustained by genuinely cooperative behaviour.


We work for the public good, including the effective and efficient use of the public funds allocated to healthcare.


We are committed to studying what’s important to NHS patients and staff.


Based at the University of Cambridge and funded by the Health Foundation, we enjoy full scientific independence.


We are respectful in all our interactions with everyone we come into contact with.

Achieving and curating impact

From the outset, we have sought to ensure that the evidence, methods, theories and concepts we produce are seen as trustworthy and actionable assets that can be relied upon to form the basis of decisions and actions that can make a real difference in improving the quality and safety of healthcare.

Already we can point to considerable progress towards that aim – evidenced for example by the influence of studies we conducted during the pandemic. Drawing attention to the experiences of patients, carers and staff, this research generated new evidence about the role of remote care, and made vivid the neglected problem of moral injury for staff working in mental health services. This work has already been widely cited, including in policy documents.

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