About Research

What is research?

Research can be defined as "activities designed to develop or contribute to generalisable knowledge." (M. Porta, A Dictionary of Epidemiology)

Why do research?

Health research is obviously very important for the health of the public as it helps us find what we can do to keep healthy, and what is most likely to help us get back to health when we are ill. Research is integral to the work of Departments of Public Health including the following ways:

  • Use of research - we read relevant research to develop best practice in our own work
  • Governance of research - some Departments are very involved in Research Ethics Committees which aim to ensure health research in Ireland is carried out ethically
  • Carrying out research - in some important health areas, the research from other countries is not necessarily relevant to Ireland, and so local research is essential, for example, we may need to know the number of people who have a particular disease, so that we can look for preventable causes and provide appropriate services for them. Very importantly we may need to research the views of the public so we can provide better health services.

Types of research

There are many different types of research study - each type is designed to answer different types of questions we have about health, and each type has its strengths and weaknesses. Studies used in public health include:

  • Systematic reviews - the researcher looks at all previous relevant research on a subject, some of which may have contradictory results, in a systematic way, with the aim of coming to a clearer conclusion
  • Qualitative studies - the researcher explores the views of individual people or groups towards enlightenment on the subject
  • Longitudinal study - the researcher follows-up the participants over time to measure the rate of illness and /or mortality
  • Ecological study - the researcher looks at the relationship between possible influences on health, and the rate of illness and/ or mortality at a population level

Departments of Public Health and research

Departments of Public Health contribute to health and health services research in many ways including descriptive and analytical epidemiology, health status assessment, public health risk assessment, service improvement, policy development, audit, monitoring and evaluation.

In some instances Public Health research can contribute to knowledge and in other instances it involves ongoing systematic data collection activities and dissemination of data to those who need to know in the prevention and control of the public’s health. The scope of Public Health is broad and the type of research conducted can be quite diverse. See figure below* with just some examples of public health research under the three core functions of public health and its ten essential services.

Research domains          

* Adapted from Institute of Medicines 1988 report, The Future of Public Health.

Research Ethics Committees

In the conduct of public health research involving participants, service users and staff, the regional Departments of Public Health strive to follow the highest ethical standards in research best practice and many are members of Research Ethics Committees.

For more information on Research and Development in the HSE, please see https://hseresearch.ie/

For specific information on research ethics and Research Ethics Committees, please see https://hseresearch.ie/research-ethics/ and/or contact the HSE R&D team on HSE.REC@hse.ie.

Further information