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The Plymouth Health Determinants Research Collaboration (PHDRC)


The Health Determinants Research Collaboration (HRDC) supports Council teams to find, use and develop evidence to support commissioning decisions.

How the HRDC team can help

Contact the team to discover how our researchers in residence can help you use research to enhance your commissioning decision making.

The team can help you:

  • become a research champion and learn how to support your team in sourcing and interpreting existing research
  • access bespoke training including; research methods, tools and techniques to identify and use the most relevant existing research
  • access funds available for secondment of staff to undertake research projects
  • engage with the voluntary and community sector to embed their voices in your decision making
  • get support in applying for additional funding streams for research

Find out more

Contact Anita O’Connor, the HDRC Project Officer. Email anita.o’

Meet the team

Health determinants

We want to understand how issues in the following areas affect the health of communities in Plymouth:

  • education
  • poverty
  • housing
  • planning
  • transport
  • employment

Our aim is to improve these areas in Plymouth through research which provides good evidence to help us support decisions around commissioning of services.

Opportunities to undertake research, ask the challenging questions and understand how issues such as education, poverty, housing, planning, transport and employment for example influence the health of the communities we serve.

Our ambition is to encourage the use of good evidence to help us understand how we might need to alter our approaches to commissioning services, and how wider determinants of health and wellbeing might be improved by doing things differently.

About the initiative

A new initiative to support Council teams to find, use and develop the evidence to support commissioning decisions.

In late 2022 the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) awarded Plymouth City Council and its partners £4.7 million of investment over five years to tackle the determinants of health inequalities. These include non-medical factors that impact peoples’ health and can explain differences in health outcomes between groups such as education, employment, housing, and community safety and well-being to name but a few.

The Plymouth Health Determinants Research Collaboration (PHDRC) is one of 10 pioneering HDRCs awarded funding to embed a culture of evidence-based decision-making within local government. This will help commissioners understand how research can influence and inform their decision making and also provide the opportunities and capacity for teams and individuals to ask the questions and take a leading role in research and evaluation.

The new partnerships, spanning the length and breadth of the UK, follow a major drive for enabling research to address wider determinants of population health and health inequalities, explicitly responding to the needs of local underserved groups and areas, especially where new service models or new thinking is needed.

The programme has a twofold ambition, to offer options for high quality research, and also a drive to support council commissioners and teams to undertake and use research and evidence to inform decision making and the spending of council funds, in ways which lead to better take up and improved quality of life.

The lead organisation is the Public Health Department of Plymouth City Council, working closely in partnership and benefitting from the skills of University of Plymouth researchers and academics as well as colleagues at Plymouth Octopus, the wider voluntary and community sector, the NHS, business, and other academic groups.

What the programme looks to achieve


  • develop the culture and skills to ensure a learning approach informs decision making
  • produce knowledge for use locally and of value nationally, especially for similar coastal communities


  • support changes aimed at addressing the wider determinants of health through a cultural change in relation to the use of evidence and evaluation
  • carry out specific prioritised research projects related to The Plymouth Plan’s innovations to address the wider determinants of health
  • successfully bid for external research funding
  • build collaborations for sharing knowledge and carrying out research with other HDRCs and similar coastal communities

How it will work

We have set up a joint Plymouth City Council and University of Plymouth (UoP) research team embedded within the Council. The team will work alongside those delivering changes designed to address the wider determinants of health and collaborate with specialist university researchers. Public partnership will be developed though links to existing organisations and the engagement of individuals during specific projects.

The project is funding research which supports the delivery of the Plymouth Plan and help us understand better the way in which services need to be delivered to have a real and lasting impact on the wider determinants of health. Research will be funded by offering the skills and capacity from experts to work alongside council teams, with funding for the backfill of posts for team members.

Initial work will focus on culture change and wider skills development. We will focus on helping people understand the shift from commissioning based on monitoring delivery to decision making based on understanding complex interactions. Specific research projects likely to have the most impact locally and nationally will be developed.

Informed by a Human Learning Systems philosophy and building on the existing use of Appreciative Inquiry (AI), the team will use a range of methods suited to understanding complex dynamic systems: evidence synthesis, quantitative analysis of routine data, realist informed observation and interviews and health economics.

A variety of training opportunities will also be made available to support individual members of staff to better understand and engage with research and evaluation.

Current research

During the start up phase we have identified work which is already relevant to the objectives of the programme, but will soon be working with teams to consider the research questions  which are important to them and their areas of commissioning.

Title University of Plymouth Lead  Plymouth City Council Lead 
Is Food All We Need? Assessing the collective impact of food-focused initiatives in Plymouth.  Rebecca Carter Dillon  Rachel Silcock 
Using a series of ‘cradle-to-grave’ health and wellbeing indicators to measure the impacts of regeneration initiatives in Plymouth, UK:  A comparative study of selected neighbourhoods.  Stephen Essex  Robert Nelder 
Income maximisation for low-income families: how best to engage parents/carers, and what is the potential for improving parenting skills and child health and well-being?  Nick Axford  Rachel Silcock 
Transition to school  Rebecca Carter Dillon  Charlotte Merrill 

Programme leads

The programme is being led by

  • Dr Ruth Harrell - Director of Public Health, Plymouth City Council
  • Professor Sheena Asthana – Director, Centre for Health Technologies, University of Plymouth
  • Gary Wallace - Public Health Specialist Plymouth Public Health Team, Plymouth City Council

Find out more about the collaboration. Email:

Collage of logos, Plymouth City Council, POP, University of Plymouth, NIHR