Fundamentals of Inclusive Research

Presenter(s): Cherish Boxall, Heidi Green, Frances Sherratt, Shaun Treweek

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This guide provides four approaches to making research more inclusive.

Groups of people, such as those from minoritised/racialised ethnicities, impaired capacity, and those experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage, generally experience poorer health outcomes than groups of people with more societal privilege. In parallel, these groups have been historically underserved in health research. This situation means that the findings of health research might not be transferable to the people who stand to benefit most, potentially allowing health inequalities to continue and most definitely not contributing to solving the problem of inequity.

There are many historical and current reasons for under-representation in research. The most common reasons include a lack of trust and ease of access (e.g., small visit windows, cover for dependants). Although different groups might face unique barriers, this practical resource will provide a starting place to help research be more inclusive through a broad suite of approaches.

The four pillars of the fundamentals of inclusive research are access, relevance, trust and recognition. 

> Download the workbook PDF with a check guide to get started on inclusive practice and community engagement. Download greyscale PDF for easy print.


Optimising access involves not only broadening the avenues through which individuals can participate but also actively identifying and mitigating barriers to entry. This could entail offering alternative formats for participation (online and in-person) and audio or visual materials for those with different learning preferences. Collaborating with community organizations and leaders to co-design recruitment strategies can help ensure that research opportunities reach underserved populations. Moreover, providing logistical support, such as transportation assistance or childcare services, can further enhance access for those facing practical obstacles.

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Relevance can be enhanced by actively involving stakeholders in the research process from inception to completion and helps ensure that research questions are informed by the real-world experiences and perspectives of those in your target population. Relevance in particular can be enhanced by focus groups, community meetings, or workshops to gather insights and co-create research agendas collaboratively. 

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Trust is built on a foundation of transparency, respect, and ethical conduct. Researchers must prioritise clear and open communication with participants, providing detailed information about the research objectives, activities involved, and potential risks and benefits. Establishing and communicating mechanisms for ensuring confidentiality and data security is also crucial for building trust. Building trust takes time and requires ongoing engagement and accountability from researchers to maintain integrity and credibility.

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Recognition involves acknowledging the contributions of research participants in meaningful ways that go beyond mere tokenism. This could involve co-authorship opportunities for community members, where appropriate, or involving participants in the dissemination of research findings through presentations or community forums. Additionally, researchers should advocate for policies and practices that recognize the value of diverse perspectives and contributions in academia and beyond. By centring the voices and experiences of marginalized communities and actively working to address power imbalances, researchers can promote a more equitable and inclusive research environment that fosters collaboration and mutual respect.

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This is just the start...

In the dynamic landscape of research, the ethos of inclusivity is undergoing an evolution. With a purposeful commitment to making our research findings applicable to different strata of the population, researchers are delving deeper into discovering the most effective methods for inclusive research practice. 

The journey relies on meaningful interactions with people from varied backgrounds and experiences. There exists no one-size-fits-all formula; no simple A, B, C plan can guarantee success in this endeavour, but there are some fundamental methods you can follow to enhance your practice.

Aspiring researchers keen on embracing inclusivity are encouraged to allocate sufficient budgeting for both time and financial aspects, recognizing that the dividends of such investments extend far beyond conventional boundaries, enriching the fabric of research and society alike.

About the author

Cherish Boxall has worked in health and care research for 9 years and is currently a NIHR-funded Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of Southampton and a Qualitative Researcher at Southampton Clinical Trials Unit. Cherish is dedicated to optimising research accessibility and enjoyment for all participants, with a focus on equity and ease of participation.

Dr. Heidi Green is the Director of Health Research Equity at COUCH Health, a global patient engagement agency that aims to make research more diverse, inclusive, and accessible. Heidi specialises in trial methodology, using mixed-methods research to improve the acceptability, applicability, and accessibility of trials for underserved and marginalized populations. 

Dr. Frances Sherratt is a Research Associate at the University of Liverpool with almost 10 years of experience conducting qualitative research to make clinical trials more efficient and patient centred. Most recently Frances has led several projects focused on making trials more accessible to underserved groups.

Prof Shaun Treweek is a health services researcher with over 18 years of experience in efficient trial design, particularly around recruitment and retention and the effective presentation of research evidence. He leads an initiative called Trial Forge that aims to be more systematic about how we identify, generate and use research evidence in making trial design, conduct, analysis, and reporting decisions. 

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