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20/30 Local Authority Research System call commissioning brief



Exploring how to support local government health research


The Government’s Green Paper on prevention, the Academy of Medical Sciences 2040 report and resulting SCHOPR goals all signal the importance of taking a population level, non-clinical and transdisciplinary approach to public health interventions and research. This strengthens the National Institute for Health Research’s (NIHR) ambition to fund research on real-world initiatives, in timescales that are relevant to local government, with the aim of informing future policy decisions. NIHR recognises that local authorities differ in their health research activity and wishes to continue exploring how it can enable more local authorities to become more research active. NIHR already provides the NHS with significant research infrastructure to enable it to be research active. The NIHR is now looking to explore how it can strengthen its support to research in the local government environment.

NIHR has been undertaking public health research, in many forms, over the last decade, through the Public Health Research (PHR) programme, the Schools for Public Health Research and other funding streams. Innovative schemes including the PHPES and PHIRST specifically aim to strengthen support to local government. Prof Whitty, CMO, has been visiting local authorities in England to hear about the challenges they face and how research could help.  NIHR recognises that innovation is happening in some local authorities and wants to explore how current, or new, systems could be developed, at a local level, to support sustainable and influential research activity.

Scope of the call

This call provides specific funding (up to £50,000 per site) for up to 10 sites across the UK. This first round of funding will be available between June and September 2020 and is to fund the exploration of how a local authority might form the basis of a research system that will enable that authority to become research active. There will be a second round for this call launched in Summer 2020.

While aimed at the geography of a single local authority, the PHR will consider applications that consider other geographies where there is a strong argument that this is a natural policy community. Applications that cover more than one local authority will need to demonstrate how this community is driven by politics and/or policy, rather than being driven by academia. The aim is to explore how to create systems that would identify and evaluate how a local authority’s initiatives impact on health and health inequalities and how to use evidence already in existence. This would be to benefit local decision making and inform decision making elsewhere.

Elements of exploration could include:

  • Relationships between a local authority and a local university.
  • A greater understanding of how local NIHR infrastructure (such as the Local Clinical Research Network, the Research Design Service, an Applied Research Collaboration, the Dissemination Centre, the NIHR Academy and the Journals Library) could contribute to a local authority research system.
  • The expertise in the local authority in research methods and usage
  • The understanding of, and enthusiasm within, officers and elected members across the local authority about becoming research active.
  • What types of people would be needed, in the local authority and elsewhere, to enable the authority to access research funding and successfully undertake high quality research.
  • The resource needs to create a range of different sustainable models with sufficient influence to bring about change.
  • How could outputs be insightful, timely and relevant to the local populations/geographical areas affected by the initiatives researched whilst adding generalisable, whole population-level data to the public health evidence base.
  • How can this research maximise the effectiveness and efficiency of decision making by Local Authorities through shared learning, knowledge mobilisation and the better use of research evidence.
  • How activity in Public Health research might interact with, or enable, Social Care research.

This award is specifically focussing on the work undertaken by local government, rather than health services. NIHR is aware that different arrangements for public health delivery, and for NIHR research infrastructure, exist in the different countries of the UK. The intention of this award is to explore how better to support research into the wider determinants of health that are influenced by local government such as urban planning, local transport, economic growth, housing, education, environmental health and leisure facilities.


The expected output from this award would be a report describing the findings that will be used by NIHR and DHSC to inform ongoing discussions in this area. 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 how a research system would best be structured in the locality, how far the system already exists and what additional resources would be needed to make it fully operational. This report will be delivered by 1st October 2020 to inform the Comprehensive Spending Review. If the CSR should be delayed there may be more time for the work to be delivered.

It is hoped that additional benefit might be gained by a locality becoming more aware of the relevant resources already offered by the NIHR and of stakeholders with interests in public health research in the locality.

Who can apply?

Applications are welcomed from throughout the UK and may be from an individual or group. Applicants need to be able to:

  • contract with NIHR via a host institution or other organisation.
  • 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 timeframe stipulated.

Deadline for proposals:

The deadline for applications is Friday 22 May 2020, at 1pm.

The selection process will be via our Prioritisation Committee in May/June, successful applicants will be expected to start work and contracting rapidly to deliver by 1st October 2020.

There will be a second round for this call launched in Summer 2020.

General questions about the call and further guidance may be emailing: