20/07 Mobile data for public health
Please note: The Public Health Research (PHR) Programme would like to draw researchers’ attention to the commissioning brief below, which was first advertised in January 2020. This is a brief that we have previously advertised as a commissioned funding opportunity. We are still interested in receiving applications in this research area, as it remains a priority in our portfolio. However, please note that the commissioning brief, along with the underpinning literature searches, has not been updated since originally written.
How can mobile data be useful in public health?
The ubiquitous use of mobile technologies has potentially made available an unprecedented amount of human behavioural and environmental data at both individual and aggregated levels. This information source has a wide variety of uses in different fields such as urban and transport planning and economic development. Over the past decade or so, big data analytics has been shown to be important to the future of healthcare and it is argued that its advancement and further development will bring a demonstrable benefit for public health (e.g. tracking the spread of disease, physical activity levels and transport use).
The PHR Programme is interested in receiving applications using a range of potentially innovative designs and methods to evaluate whether, how and at what cost, existing publicly available non-health mobile digital technologies can be harnessed to improve population health in the UK.
Research areas of interest may include (but are not limited to):
• The comparative use, validity and accuracy of data from geolocation software in devices and applications such as Google Earth, Strava, Fitbit, social media, smart phones and watches
• Interventions that track behaviour through the use of mathematical models or those that use mobile digital data without formal modelling (e.g. movement, sleep)
• The use of mobile digital data from either a nationwide cohort or a geographical location cohort or both
• The ethics, legality and public acceptability of organisations collecting and using mobile digital data
• The accessibility and the costs of access of mobile digital data
• The generalisability of mobile data in research to a range of public health problems
Researchers will need to identify and justify the most suitable methodological approach and will need to specify how short, medium and long term impacts will be evaluated.
Researchers should be aware of and draw upon other relevant NIHR and Public Health England funded research.
Relevant populations or sub-groups may be studied, based on factors such as ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or other social markers. Researchers should specify and justify their choice of digital technology to evaluate, the relevance to the population being studied and the outcomes being measured. Researchers should demonstrate the relevance of their proposed research to policy makers and other evidence-users. Researchers are encouraged to consider wider economic impacts across whole systems. Researchers are encouraged to involve relevant subject-matter experts in their research, including as fully funded members of the research team. Commercial partners may be considered, along with necessary safeguards for intellectual property and conflicts of interest.
Study teams will need to give careful thought to ethical and legal considerations and limitations and this should form part of the study design. The Programme would expect ethical and legal experts to be represented on study teams as appropriate.
Studies should generate evidence to inform the implementation of single or multi-component interventions. Studies may include evidence syntheses, studies evaluating interventions, including trials, quasi- and natural experimental evaluations, and feasibility and pilot studies for these. We welcome applications for linked studies (e.g. pilot + main evaluation). Secondary analyses of existing epidemiological data and/or impact modelling studies may also be funded. We encourage the adoption of a systems perspective where appropriate to the study context. In all cases a strong justification for the chosen design and methods must be made.
The primary outcome measure of the research, if not necessarily the intervention itself, must be health-related. The positive or negative impacts of the intervention, including inequitable outcomes should be considered. Researchers are asked to indicate how long-term impacts will be assessed. All applications should identify underlying theory and include a logic model (or equivalent) to help explain underlying context, theory and mechanisms. Proposals should ensure adequate public involvement in the research.
The impacts of public health interventions are often complex and wide-reaching. Studies should acknowledge this by adopting a broad perspective, taking account of costs and benefits to all relevant sectors of society. An appropriate health economic analysis to inform cost effectiveness, affordability or return on investment should be included where appropriate. Sustainability - health, economic and environmental - are also of interest.
For all proposals, applicants should clearly state the public health utility of the outcomes and the mechanisms by which they will inform future public health policy and practice. Details about the potential pathway to impact and scalability of interventions, if shown to have an effect, should be provided, including an indication of which organisation(s) might fund the relevant intervention(s) if widely implemented.
Representatives of policy or practice communities relevant to the project should be directly engaged or involved with the development and delivery of PHR research because this produces research that is more closely grounded in, and reflective of, their concerns and makes the subsequent uptake and application of research findings more likely. By policy or practice, we mean any organisation that is involved in shaping policy or delivering public health services relevant to the research, whether at local or national levels. This might include local authorities, charities, voluntary organisations, professional bodies, commercial organisations, governmental and arms-length bodies.
We welcome proposals in which appropriate professionals (e.g. a director of public health or chief executive of a charity) are formally part of the project team as a co-applicant, and in which they play a defined role in the project. Their contribution may be to facilitate or enable research access to organisations, to be directly involved in research fieldwork, to contribute to interpretation of emerging findings, and to be involved in dissemination activity. The time of policy or practice representatives as co-applicants can be costed into the proposal, as part of the Research Costs. As with all members of a project team, an individual's equipoise should be considered before they are proposed as co-applicant of a research project. Their involvement and associated costs should be fully justified, in the same way as for academic applicants.
There are other ways in which policy or practice representative support for the proposed research can be demonstrated, such as co-opting on to a project advisory or steering group, or the inclusion of a letter or statement of support from a senior policy or practice partner from relevant organisations.
Remit of call
All proposals submitted under this call must fall within the remit of the PHR Programme. For the evaluation of time sensitive, policy driven, interventions applicants may wish to consider the fast-track work stream which is also described on the programme webpage.
The PHR Programme funds research to generate evidence to inform the delivery of non-NHS interventions intended to improve the health of the public and reduce inequalities in health. Our scope is multi-disciplinary and broad, covering a wide range of interventions that improve public health.
The primary aim of the programme is the evaluation of practical interventions. We will fund both primary research (mainly evaluative, but also some preparatory research) and secondary research (evidence synthesis); precise methods will need to be appropriate to the question being asked and the feasibility of the research.
Our research serves a variety of key stakeholders including: decision-makers in local government; primary care organisations and other local public services; third sector organisations; relevant national agencies (e.g. NICE) concerned with improving public health and reducing health inequalities; researchers; public health practitioners and the public.
Applicants should consider how their findings will impact upon decision making in public health practice, whether results are generalisable to other populations and affordable, setting out a clear pathway to impact. The PHR programme recognises that there is a need for an evidence base for disinvestment and that the removal of an intervention from a population can be worthy of evaluation.
The affordability of the intervention, and at least an indication of the stakeholder(s) willing to fund the intervention, should be referenced within the stage 1 application. At the stage 2 application point, statements of support confirming stakeholder commitments to funding will be required. Applicants should be aware that the PHR Programme is unable to fund intervention costs.
The PHR Programme is open to the joint funding of research projects with other organisations such as those in the third sector. If you would like to explore the potential for joint funding, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with details of your proposal and the other funder prior to submission.
All of our funded projects are eligible for publication in the NIHR Journals Library. This open access resource is freely available online, and provides a full and permanent record of NIHR-funded research.
Notes to applicants
The PHR Programme is funded by the NIHR, with contributions from the CSO in Scotland, Health and Care Research Wales, and HSC R&D, Public Health Agency, Northern Ireland. Researchers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are eligible to apply for funding under this programme.
Applicants are recommended to seek advice from suitable methodological support services, at an early stage in the development of their research idea and application. The NIHR Research Design Service can advise on appropriate NIHR programme choice, and developing and designing high quality research grant applications.
The NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) supports health and social care research taking place in NHS and non-NHS settings. The CRN provides expert advice and support to plan, set up and deliver research efficiently.
Clinical Trials Units are regarded as an important component of many trial applications however, they are not essential for all types of studies to the PHR programme. The CTUs can advise and participate throughout the process from initial idea development through to project delivery and reporting. NIHR CTU Support Funding provides information on units receiving funding from the NIHR to collaborate on research applications to NIHR programmes and funded projects. In addition, the UKCRC CTU Network provides a searchable information resource on all registered units in the UK, and lists key interest areas and contact information.
In line with the government’s transparency agenda, any contract resulting from this tender may be published in its entirety to the general public. For information about contracts worth over £10,000 with the government and its agencies use the UK government's contracts finder.