Six lessons for newly-forming large research consortia

By Daniel Black and Geoff Bates

1. Daniel Black (biography)
2. Geoff Bates (biography)

What are some key tips for establishing new, large consortia to tackle complex global challenges? What are the best ways to coordinate large groups of researchers, practitioners and publics towards a shared goal?

Describing this type of research is cumbersome. As a shorthand we have started to use the terms ‘LMITs’ (pronounced ‘limits’) and ‘New LMITs’ to denote similarly characterised projects and teams that are: ‘Newly forming’, ‘Large-scale’, ‘Mission-orientated’, and ‘Inter- and Trans-disciplinary’.

Drawing on our own experience over the past three years of establishing a New LMIT, we suggest six primary inter-related recommendations for other New LMITs, and for those who fund or support such research groups:

1. Factor in (far) more time than you might expect
2. Seek out funders who understand
3. Build confidence in working with uncertainties and unknowns
4. Invest substantially in coordination and communications
5. Ensure a ‘psychologically safe’ environment
6. Engage in rigorous and (constructive) critical reflection.

1. Factor in (far) more time than you might expect
Many processes during operationalisation are likely to require additional time and consideration not simply due to the number of people involved, but the need to coordinate toward a common goal and arrive at shared understandings across the group. This includes researcher recruitment, identification of stakeholders, developing shared understandings and uniting world views, programme coordination, and communications. Building in additional time for these processes from the outset is critical.

2. Seek out funders who understand
Support from funders is critical for teams to be able to build in contingency and dedicate resources for developing team cohesion and shared understandings. Resource use, outputs, and impacts are likely to be different from traditional research projects and challenge disciplinary norms. Teams must work with funders to establish expectations and understandings of productivity and deliverables.

3. Build confidence in working with uncertainties and unknowns
Dedicating time for team building, developing shared understandings, and communications will help deal with uncertainties and unknowns, but will inevitably be incomplete. Learning and trust come through experience. Addressing uncertainties and setting expectations about programme direction and impacts up front and giving confidence in working with tensions, taking risks and new approaches is essential.

4. Invest substantially in coordination and communications
LMITs, and especially New LMITs, require significant coordination, sophisticated project management, and clear, high-quality communications. Integrating large-scale projects and engaging with a wide range of stakeholders are likely to challenge normal management and communications practices. The figure below illustrates how lines of communication increase as research teams grow in size, which leads to both management and team process challenges.

Increasing lines of communication as research teams grow in size (Source: Evanish, no date)

5. Ensure a ‘psychologically safe’ environment
A psychologically safe environment enables open and constructive communication, supporting team resilience. It does not mean the absence of tension. Indeed, it should encourage and enable the resolution of tension, leading to progress. Large teams are made up of many different personalities, with differing needs and expectations. Time is often very limited, especially in academia, with many researchers under considerable stress. Flexibility is critical and should be factored into recruitment criteria. Having funders and senior research leaders champion this and invest in the necessary work on team building is important.

6. Engage in rigorous and (constructive) critical reflection
Team learning is stimulated by collective critical reflection, leading to improvements in processes during operationalisation. Writing up these experiences helps to provide clarity and comprehensiveness of reflection and learnings, and can be an important output. Seeking peer review forces those reflecting to engage with relevant literature, thus increasing rigour. Where teams make their reflections publicly available this facilitates the shared learning that is crucial to establish new ways of working.

We would love to hear from you

We have learned so much from this experience and would love to hear from others interested in this space, or who have experiences to share. What have been your biggest lessons? What are the 3 main things you wish you had done differently, or would prioritise next time?


This work was supported by the UK Prevention Research Partnership, an initiative funded by UK Research and Innovation Councils, the Department of Health and Social Care (England) and the UK devolved administrations, and leading health research charities.

To find out more:

Black, D., Bates, G., Ayres S, Bondy, K., Callway, R., Carhart, N., Coggon, J., Gibson, A., Hunt, A. and Rosenberg, G. (2023). Operationalising a large research programme tackling complex urban and planetary health problems: A case study approach to critical reflection. Sustainability Science. (Online – open access) (DOI):


Evanish, J. (no date). Developing leaders: 6 critical things you must do when your team grows too big. Lighthouse Blog. (Online):

Biography: Daniel Black is an independent research director with 20 years professional experience in a wide range of knowledge domains in urban design and development, corporate governance and planetary health. He is currently co-leading with academic leads a 5-year research consortium from within University of Bristol Medical School (UK), which aims to ‘Tackle the Root causes Upstream of Unhealthy Urban Development’ (TRUUD). He is also a Visiting Fellow at the University of Reading, Henley Business School (Real Estate and Planning) and Advisor at the Centre for Thriving Places.

Biography: Geoff Bates PhD is a Research Fellow at the University of Bath’s Institute for Policy Research (UK). Within the fields of public health and public policy, his research interests include the use of health evidence to influence policy and practice, intervention design and evaluation, and understanding decision-making and behaviour in complex environments. His research includes a focus on how large interdisciplinary teams can collaborate to tackle pressing public and planetary health challenges.

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