Needs Led, Science Added

The ‘needs-led, science-added’ approach is a set of principles used by NETS to ensure that our research is of the highest possible value to decision-makers.

  • Needs-led: Ensuring that research reflects the key information needs of decision-makers.
  • Science-added: Ensuring that research generates high-quality evidence.

The needs-led, science-added approach means more important, higher quality and less avoidable waste in research. Through our approach, our programmes are expected to achieve significantly less research waste and we will refine our approach to reduce it further. A complimentary stream of work is Adding Value in Research. Please see the Adding Value in Research webpage for more information.

1. Needs-led

The research we fund is ‘needs-led’ – it addresses the issues that matter to the NHS and public health. We aim to identify gaps in knowledge, and fund research that provides high-quality evidence to fill such gaps.

To achieve this we undertake many activities to identify key needs, working closely with users of research evidence – those responsible for establishing policy, commissioning services and delivering care.

Identifying needs: We work with a wide range of stakeholders, such as NICE and the National Screening Committee (NSC), to identify gaps in knowledge. Systematic reviews also reveal areas where good evidence is lacking. This topic identification process generates many possible ideas for research.

Specifying the question: Having identified gaps in knowledge, we develop ‘commissioning briefs’ to guide research proposals. These briefs are generally developed and reviewed with external experts.

Prioritising topics and proposals: Possible topics for research are reviewed by advisory groups of external experts and public members to assess the need for the proposed research. Research proposals that have come in through researcher-led workstreams and in response to themed calls go through a similar prioritisation process.

2. Science-added

Our ‘science-added’ approach brings exceptional rigour to our work, ensuring high-quality evidence is generated to support decision-making.

Reviewing proposals: Peer review is the cornerstone of the science-added approach. Proposals are reviewed by a range of experts. Peer review is also used at other stages, for example during prioritisation and publication. See our professional reviewers page for more information.

Scrutinising proposals: Funding recommendations are made by expert panels and boards, drawing on reviewers’ comments. The panels and boards consider the scientific quality of applications and value for money. Deliverability is a critical factor so proposals are carefully assessed to ensure that the research teams’ plans are achievable. Many applications are returned for revision before final funding is agreed.

Monitoring projects: We maintain regular contact with projects that are funded, so we can offer support if they run into difficulties, for example with recruitment. This ensures they deliver meaningful and timely results. Thanks to active monitoring, nearly all our projects complete successfully.

Publishing results: We promote active dissemination of results in the scientific literature. We also publish comprehensive reports of projects in the NIHR Journals library.

3. Associated activities

Our quality standards framework for public and patient involvement ensures that patients or members of the public are involved at all stages of the research management process.  Applicants for funding must show real commitment to public and patient involvement in the design and conduct of their studies.

Research on Research (RoR): We carry out our own research, to generate evidence about research management processes. This can help us improve our processes, and also provides valuable information for other research funders. Please visit the RoR webpages for more information.