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20/114 Unlocking data to inform public health policy and practice



Please note that the closing date for this funding opportunity has been extended from 7 January 2021, to 15 January 2021.


  • We would like to highlight that this funding call is open to the Devolved Administrations and is not limited to England only. For the purposes of this call, the term local authority is used to include all equivalent structures across the UK
  • Please ensure the work proposed is deliverable in the time-frame and budget available.
  • The involvement of end users within the application and study design is encouraged in order to ensure that the outcomes are relevant and appropriate to public health decision making.


The NIHR Public Health Research (PHR) programme is seeking proposals to better understand the availability and potential of routinely collected administrative and service activity data [1] to support decision making in local authorities to improve the health within their local populations, or across multiple local authorities, and reduce inequalities in health. Specifically, we are keen to explore what are the organisational and technical barriers to increased data utilisation, how to overcome them and facilitate the building of regional and national partnerships that make optimum use of data for policy and decision making.

This is part of ongoing work to realise NIHR’s ambition of enabling more local authorities to become research-active and complements other NIHR initiatives including the NIHR Public Health Intervention Responsive Studies Teams (PHIRST) and the NIHR PHR local authority research system call. It recognises the potential of data linkage and better use of routinely collected data from a range of organisations to answer important public health questions and inform service commissioning and provision, particularly through linkage of exposure and activity data to health outcomes. The NIHR wants to understand how current, or new, systems could be developed to support a step change in data availability and use to support those who plan, commission and deliver care and services aimed at improving health outcomes and reducing health inequalities in the UK.

This opportunity will complement and add value to ongoing work in this area across the UK, specifically the work of Administrative Data Research (ADR) UK, managed by the ESRC. Applicants should note that NIHR and ESRC are working closely to ensure that any new commissioned research addresses clear evidence gaps and facilitates maximum learning and value across the wider health research system.

Scope of the Call

We anticipate that a range of projects in size and scope will be commissioned (between £50K - £250K) with the intention of exploring how data linkage and availability could be improved and identify sustainable solutions and organisational models that will enable local authorities to improve how research using administrative data can drive policy and practice. The outputs will need to be delivered by December 2021.

The PHR programme recognizes that the current situation with respect to opportunities for data usage may vary across local authorities. Therefore applications would be expected to involve more than one local authority and/or region with a view to generating generalizable outcomes that could inform decision making elsewhere.

The expectation is that this work leads to the development of practical, real-world solutions based on best practice, which could also include the utilization of case studies to expose issues and support ‘learning by doing’; networking or research activities alone will not be supported as part of this call.

Activities supported under this call may include (but are not limited to):

  • Development of guidance on the legal frameworks to link data for research and practice
  • Identifying the key organisational, technical, legal and resource barriers which need to be overcome to foster positive change and what is required to overcome such barriers, in particular understanding the barriers to sharing and linkage locally and what are the determinants of successful projects in this area
  • Exploring the challenges and opportunities to building regional and national data networks and the potential value in making national datasets more widely available to enable comparisons at both a local and national level. NIHR is keen to identify and share learning from comparisons across the four UK countries, understanding variations in factors such as data infrastructure and record linkage and how these then relate to improving health outcomes and reducing inequalities
  • Fostering networks and partnership activities between academic research and public health practice with a focus on supporting training and capacity building
  • Exploring how to maximise the use of data to facilitate cross-sector working across local authorities and associated bodies such as NHS commissioners and trusts, police and education to gain a greater understanding of health needs and health inequalities
  • Exploring whether data would be available at an ecological (group) level or at an individual level and the barriers and potential solutions to linking data at an individual level across organisations (within and outside the health care sector)
  • Understanding public perception of the use of routinely collected data to support decision making in local authorities
  • To consider how the Covid-19 pandemic may have been a catalyst for change, identifying lessons learned from the management of the pandemic and how to harness and build on positive change in the longer term. However, please note that applications specifically focused on Covid-19 are out of remit for this particular call.


The expected outputs from these awards would be a report describing the findings that will be used by NIHR and DHSC to inform ongoing discussions in this area, specifically what actions at both a national and local level need to be taken to facilitate a step change in the utilization of administrative and activity data by local authorities, working with their key partners. The output will include both a written report of no more than 5,000 words and a PowerPoint presentation of no more than 20 slides. It should include an outline of the necessary activities and associated resource requirements needed to implement changes at different levels of the system - categorized as short, medium and longer term actions. Innovative presentation of findings is encouraged, including the use of infographics and short videos where appropriate.

The outputs will need to be delivered by December 2021.

Who can apply?

Applications are welcomed from throughout the UK and may be from an individual or group.

Applications should be co-produced with the relevant local authorities and include individuals from those local authorities within the research team in order to provide evidence and actionable findings of immediate utility to decision makers.

In addition, applicants need to be able to:

  • contract with NIHR via a host institution or other organisation. Lead applicants may be based in any appropriate host institution or organisation within the UK e.g. Local Authorities, NHS or voluntary organisations, Universities and HEIs.
  • demonstrate that they have the support of the local Director of Public Health, or equivalent, in the geography proposed to undertake this work.
  • demonstrate that they have the skills and time to undertake the work in the time-frame stipulated.

Deadline for proposals

The deadline for Stage 2 applications is 15 January 2021.
General questions about the call and further guidance may be obtained by sending a short summary (max 1 A4 page) of the proposal to the following address:

N.B. The ‘PHR Supporting Information’ should be referred to when developing an application as it provides programme specific hints and tips to aid success.


[1] For the purposes of this call, service activity data could include data from social services, education, leisure services, housing etc. Activity data could include assessment for services, uptake of services with outcome measures including - but not limited to -health status, wellbeing, quality of life or satisfaction.