Embedding diversity in research design – MRC

The Medical Research Council (MRC) is committed to funding the best quality medical research, which is relevant to and benefits the whole of society.

MRC policy on diversity and inclusion in research design

Video credit: MRC
Video transcript and on-screen captions are available by watching on YouTube.

For research outputs to benefit everyone in society, research must include diverse groups within the study design. MRC requires the researchers we fund to embed diversity and inclusion into the design of any research involving humans (including samples and data) and animals (including cells and tissues).

This means that researchers designing studies involving human participants should consider participant characteristics, such as:

  • sex
  • gender
  • age
  • ethnicity
  • socio-economic position

Studies involving animals, cells or tissues, should consider sex and other relevant characteristics, as outlined in the sex in experimental design requirement.

MRC’s policy on embedding diversity in research design will apply to applications involving human participants, samples or data, submitted to opportunity deadlines after 1 September 2023. This will not apply to existing awards.

See guidance for applicants for additional details.

Designing proposals, recruiting participants and conducting research

MRC requires the researchers we fund to embed diversity and inclusion into the design of any research involving humans (including their samples and data) and animals. Diversity and inclusion should also be considered when developing public involvement and engagement (PIE) activities to support research.

These requirements will be considered by peer reviewers and MRC committee members when reviewing research proposals.

Applications for MRC funding are expected to identify the characteristics of any groups in the population who should benefit from the research being proposed. You should describe how the approach that you have been taking to designing your study will promote inclusion of these groups.

Researchers are expected to record and report relevant information about the diversity characteristics of research participants even if these characteristics are not used in the analyses.

Researchers, peer reviewers and committee members are expected to take advantage of available training and resources to support best practice in inclusive research.

Research involving animals, and human and animal cells and tissues

Since September 2022, MRC guidance for applicants requires that both sexes are used in experiments involving animals, and animal and human tissues or cells, by default. If conducting a single sex experiment, a strong justification must be provided, and the appropriateness of this choice, including limitations of the study as a result, must be explained.

MRC has provided guidance on sex in experimental design of research involving animals. Use the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research’s Experimental Design Assistant to help you plan your experiments using both sexes. A new online tool called the Sex Inclusive Research Framework is available to help researchers evaluate whether an experimental design appropriately takes account of sex.

How we developed the policy requirement

The changes are based on the recommendations of a working group of experts in health and biomedical research, statistics and experimental design. The recommendations were informed by evidence from a review of international funder activities, a survey of the research community (August 2021), and an analysis of research grant proposals submitted to MRC.

UKRI policies and guidance

MRC’s Regulatory Support Centre provides guidance on using data about people in research, such as principles, access and regulations.

Principles and guidance on research in a global setting covers research and innovation activities outside the UK, highlighting the need to recognise and address the possible impact of contextual, societal and cultural differences on the ethical conduct of those activities.

UKRI’s blog post on making health research more inclusive highlights a new course on improving the inclusion of underserved groups in research developed by the NIHR INCLUDE project.

UKRI commissioned the equality, diversity and inclusion in research and innovation UK review, to review equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) challenges and interventions in the research and innovation (R&I) sector.

UKRI has a gender equality plan which sets out how UKRI and its centres, institutes and units meet the mandatory requirements for Horizon Europe, and outlines specific actions to be taken between 2022 and 2026 to support gender equality.

Additional resources

We have prepared a list of relevant community resources and toolkits.

Contact us about the new policy

Email: diversityinresearch@mrc.ukri.org

Last updated: 6 February 2024

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