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What is Thrive?

Thrive is a two-year project funded through the Research England Development Fund. The project is led by the University of Liverpool and is being run in partnership with AHRC and Advance HE.

Dedicated to redefining how research teams operate, with a special focus on encouraging greater diversity and inclusivity, the project aims to co-develop a new model of team-based working, and pilot this through a live funding call with AHRC.  

One of the core aims of the project is to provide an alternative to the traditional Principal Investigator (PI)-led model and to identify the steps that need to be taken to increase the diversity of leadership voices in research.  

This includes technical and professional services colleagues, early and mid-career academics and under-represented groups, with a view to exploring how the combination of whole team expertise might lead to better research, while fostering a more positive research culture.  

Since Autumn 2023, the project team has carried out a series of workshops and events to gain insights and feedback, engaging a range of stakeholders across the sector on the challenges and opportunities presented by team-led working, in order to better understand what changes may be needed to existing systems and processes to support this approach. 

These findings have helped to shape a team-convening approach that enables a shift in emphasis away from the traditional PI-led model of research to a more inclusive, teams-led approach.  

The team convening approach is underpinned by five key principles:  

Principles graphic

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1. Identify Appropriate Expertise      

Project teams should comprise team members who collectively have the appropriate capabilities to deliver the project – including the necessary knowledge, skills and ability to manage other elements of a large project. The definition of expertise here is broad and includes expertise beyond the academic. Teams should be able to demonstrate their team’s capability to co-develop and co-deliver the project in the round, carefully considering team composition and domain-leadership opportunities for a diverse range of team members.    

2. Establish a Collective Leadership structure      

No individual should lead every aspect of a project. Instead, expertise should be recognised, and leadership roles allocated to reflect this. Leadership should be undertaken as matrix leadership (i.e. shared and distributed across multiple people). Leaders should be empowered to lead decision-making in their domain and to contribute to decision-making across the team as appropriate. Teams should be able to set out and explain their project’s leadership structure and describe how it utilises diverse team members’ experience and expertise, whilst delivering maximum benefit to the project.

3. Design Inclusive Governance  

The organisational structure of the project should facilitate inclusive and transparent decision-making. Project teams should ensure accountability within a matrix leadership. Teams should determine a decision-making structure and processes that will enable the right team members to feel empowered to make decisions relevant to their area(s) of expertise. Teams should be able to demonstrate how their decision-making structure will work to facilitate effective and inclusive ways of working in day-to-day practice across the project.     

4. Identify ways to embed Development for All     

Team development should be an intrinsic part of the delivery of the project. All members of the applicant team, irrespective of role or career stage, should identify at least one individual development goal which can be realised via the delivery of the project itself (for instance through peer development mechanisms such as collective learning, role-sharing, mentoring and secondments/internships). Teams should also be able to set out their collective development ambitions, explaining how these will benefit the project as a whole. Time should be built into project plans for individual and collective goals to be realised, bringing about shared commitment to development and making intentional space for it to take place.    

5. Engage in Reflexive Practice     

Project teams should embed reflexive practice and encourage continuous learning. Teams should regularly consider evolving their ways of working, adapting their approach where necessary. This should enable challenges to be identified early and afford opportunities for adjustments to be made throughout the research project. Teams should be able to demonstrate how they have built reflexive practice into their planned activities, work packages and timelines.   


The findings from the Thrive project and the pilot will result in the development of ways of working in research teams which:   

  • promote a positive, inclusive and respectful research culture   
  • share the opportunities and responsibilities of research leadership   
  • capitalise on the individual talents of all team members   

One of the projects leads, Professor Georgina Endfield, APVC for the Research Environment at University of Liverpool, said: “This is an exciting project as it offers us the opportunity to consider how we can bring into relief different leadership voices and how this in turn might help to enhance team performance and develop a more positive and rewarding culture in research.”