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20/118 Methodological development in Public Health



Deadline for submission: 15 January 2021, 1pm

Evidence underpinning public health interventions is often generated by methods that were developed to answer questions about the effectiveness of clinical interventions, and tends to be built on linear models of cause and effect. Public health interventions span a broad range from simple, small-scale actions to highly complex multi-component programmes.  In some contexts evaluations of these interventions are amenable to randomisation, with clear control groups, but in many situations this is not possible. A number of alternative methodological approaches for assessing causation in these contexts already exist. However, there remains a need for methodological development to increase capacity for generating robust evidence of effectiveness and efficacy of actions within complex systems including impact on inequalities.

The Public Health Research (PHR) Programme is interested in evaluating the effectiveness of interventions. For this call PHR would like to commission research on methodological development to support public health intervention research across all sectors and disciplines. Research areas of interest may include (but are by no means limited to):

  • What are the kinds of problems where existing methods are either absent or inadequate, and what sort of methodological development is required to fill the gaps?
  • How to usefully map the territory of complex public health challenges and to outline possible methodological approaches to address the research questions they raise.
  • How to generate, describe and communicate meaningful knowledge on the effects of public health actions within complex systems where context is important.
  • How to review, judge, summarise and communicate research evidence for use in complex decision making.
  • How to co-create research questions, interventions, and study designs as effectively as possible, with input from a range of policy-makers, researchers, the public, and frontline staff?
  • Identifying policy-levers that need novel knowledge to help make future decisions and enable successful implementation.
  • How do we most effectively develop research approaches and structures to address long-term challenges?
  • What is required to drive effective action to improve health within and across systems?
  • What are the kinds of public health challenges, and research questions, for which novel methods are needed?
  • Where are the important opportunities to apply existing methods in novel ways?
  • How can systems based approaches contribute to shaping public health research questions?
  • What are the implications of a complex systems perspective for the strategic commissioning of research?
  • What is the role of modelling / microsimulation in population level system research?

Applicants should detail how their proposal responds effectively to the methodological challenges arising in a changing, interdisciplinary research environment. 

Dissemination, Outputs and anticipated Impact  - The expected outputs from these awards would be a report describing the rational for the choice of methodological development, the relevance to the challenges being addressed and proposed solutions, with reasoning and explanation of their development. The PHR programme recognizes the challenges with respect to evaluating public health problems that emerge within complex systems and therefore, the expectation is that this work leads to the development of practical solutions and not just a description of the problem.  Specifically the methodological development needs to be able to increase capacity for generating robust evidence of effectiveness and efficacy of actions within complex systems including impact on inequalities.

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. The outputs will need to be delivered by December 2021.

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.