By Chris Middleton, CEO, Futures Coaching

Published: 24 October 2017

Faced with massive and accelerating change over the last five years, medical research charities have not been slow to get on the front foot. That is the wholly positive conclusion coming from extensive research involving interviews with almost 30 leading lights from the sector.

Now, in a comprehensive report commissioned by the AMRC with the support of members , many  charities open up in a spirit of shared interests and expose for the first time the ideas and the initiatives they are undertaking to get ahead of the curve.

What is overwhelmingly clear from the interviews is that we are witnessing the emergence of a new breed of medical research charity. These emerging ‘Next Generation Charities’ show a root and branch recasting of what a medical research charity is all about. In summary, they are more ambitious, more focused on real patient needs and more networked than in the past. And they are willing to stand up and be counted. As one CEO stated:

“We realised that nothing was going to change unless we changed it.”

The resulting “On The Front Foot” report is a blueprint for change in the sector. It can be used as an important leadership tool by CEOs and their trustees to reflect on their organisation’s strategy and assess if it is ‘future ready’.

Drawing off the fresh thinking and new approaches already being implemented by emerging Next Generation Charities, the report details 5 strategic insights:

1. Trends And Drivers that map the changing terrain for the sector.

2. Case Studies that provide inspirational leadership in the face of some significant challenges facing the sector.

3. Leadership Questions flag up the key issues that will reveal any charity’s readiness to intercept the future and any gaps in its strategy.

4. Deep Dives point to a couple of areas (i.e. Data Science and Translational Drug Research) where the sector itself is coming up short on answers and provides insights from experts from outside of the medical research charity sector.

5. Nine Success Factors looks transversally at the common structural and cultural traits exhibited by these ‘Next Generation Charities’, characteristics that have allowed them to adapt to a shifting world and prepare to meet future challenges.

Taken together the Nine Success Factors show what great looks like in the sector today and, whilst no charity is ahead on every dimension, some are definitely leading the charge:

1. Patient Centric Mission: Clarifying that the core mission is to be patient focused in order to deliver radical improvements in patient outcomes.

2. Modern Leadership: Recruiting new, visionary leaders with energy and drive.

3. Owning The Vision: Having the Management Board set and own the charity’s long-term strategic vision.

4. Moonshot Ambition: Setting ambitious objectives for scientific discovery and translational research.

5. Embracing Complexity: Taking a longer term, bigger perspective and understanding the world more holistically.

6. Realistic And Specific: Being very aware of systemic limitations and not over-promising.

7. Open Culture: Opening up the charity and operating in collaborative networks.

8. Constantly Changing: Adopting a never settle mentality and stirring up optimism about the future.

9. Bringing Everyone Along: Uplifting communication to get buy in and full alignment with the vision.

These ‘Nine Success Factors’ are particularly important as a way of auditing how far any charity is towards being a Next Generation Charity. Formatted as a  Scorecard, some charity’s CEOs have already started to use this as a tool with their Trustees. In facilitated workshop sessions, it has been possible to identify strengths and weaknesses and prioritise future initiatives.  One or two CEOs have also administered the Scorecard amongst employees to understand whether the same opportunity areas are identified by colleagues and the senior management team. A presentation deck summarising the report is also available for leaders to use with their organisations. Please contact AMRC for a copy.

“The future is already here, it’s just not well distributed” is a well-worn phrase, but it is absolutely fitting of the medical research charity sector. There are pockets of knowledge and leading edge initiatives a plenty and the collaborative sharing of these responses, in the “On The Front Foot” Report will help distribute the future more evenly. In this way, organisations will be able to continue to offer hope and change to the patients they represent and serve.

There was nothing more uplifting than to hear the following hungry ambition from a charity already in the vanguard:

"We have a long way to go; we have barely started!"

By reading, circulating, workshopping and implementing the “On the Front Foot” blueprint, every organisation can learn from each other and the whole sector can take a step up.

Chris Middleton, CEO Futures Coaching, Author of  “On The Front Foot”

Email: [email protected]