By Eva Woelbert, Portfolio Manager, MQ

Published: Wednesday 3 April

Last month MQ launched their ‘UK Mental Health Research Funding 2014-17’, which sets out the latest data on exactly how much money has been invested in mental health research – and where it’s been spent. Eva Woelbert, Portfolio Manager at MQ, reveals the work involved in developing the report.

Gauging interest

Back in 2015 MQ published a snapshot analysis of mental health research funding in the UK and we were blown away by the interest it received – both from professionals and the general public. It made us realise that there is a real need for this data and so we wanted to create a robust and sustainable process for analysing grant funding.

Collecting and analysing the data

In 2017 the Dimensions database was launched, containing searchable grants details (title, abstract, researchers, and funding amount) from over 200 major funders worldwide.

We thought this was a great tool and jumped right in by developing search queries for all the different research categories we wanted to capture. This worked well for some specific categories, but turned out to be very hard and time-consuming for less, well-defined concepts such as “general mental health”. But even for the disorder-specific categories such as “depression” or “eating disorders” we realised we needed precise rules about what would and would not be included – in research classification the devil is in the detail!

When we started to write out definitions and look closely at how usable our definitions were for people, it all came together nicely. We should have done that first, but in a way definition finding is probably always an iterative process.

Putting the data into context

Visual representation of data is at the heart of our report – it’s just a lot more accessible. We developed infographics with our designer to bring the key messages to life. We also thought long and hard about how to show data in graphics rather than tables. For example, for the ‘Spotting the gaps’ section we use a bubble chart instead of a 2-way table, which can be understood at a glance but still contains a lot of information.

Research funding data always begs the question “how much is enough” – and so some kind of context is needed. We chose some really simple metrics such as “pound per person affected” because we felt these are the most intuitive, and we also compared these to other, better funded conditions. The comparisons are striking.

The methodology

We chose to publish our methodology in a separate paper alongside our report to give people who wanted more detail an opportunity to understand what is and is not included, how to interpret the numbers and appreciate limitations, and also to learn from our experience.

We were really excited that The Lancet Psychiatry agreed to publish this paper on our experiences with defining mental health research and building queries on Dimensions. We also published the methodology of our 2015 report – at the time we just put it on our website - but we are pleased that this has now found a home on the AMRC Open Research Platform so people can refer back to it when needed.

Next steps?

This report is another step towards a world where mental health research funders have access to better data and insights to guide them in their funding decisions.

We are convinced that the key to better data lies in collaboration, so we’re working with other mental health research funders in the UK to find out what information systems the sector needs and how we can make these a reality.