Internet Explorer is no longer supported by Microsoft. To browse the NIHR site please use a modern, secure browser like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.

22/14 PHIRST local government expressions of interest


Published: 11 October 2022

Version: 1.0

Print this document

To: Directors of Public Health in UK local government and Chief Executives of UK local government

We invite local government organisations in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland to submit an expression of interest to the NIHR Public Health Intervention Responsive Studies Teams (PHIRST) programme.

Submitting an expression of interest means putting forward for evaluation an existing intervention that has the potential to impact on health. If the intervention is selected, a fully-funded PHIRST academic team would work in partnership with you to produce a robust and timely evaluation.

The closing date for this call is 31 January 2023, 1pm.

Key information

The purpose of this call is to find and select local government initiatives that have the potential to impact on health and which are in need of robust evaluation.

This opportunity is likely to be highly competitive. When this call closes, NIHR will prioritise for evaluation those local authority initiatives:

  • that are likely to have important impacts on population health and health inequalities
  • that have the potential to be widely generalisable
  • for which there is an identified need
  • that are readily evaluable
  • for which funding has been identified and preferably secured
  • for which evaluative research will provide timely evidence to inform practice or policy in local government.

Initiatives selected for evaluation will be allocated to one of six PHIRST teams, who are ready to work with local government colleagues to co-produce the evaluation.

The evaluation (but not the initiative itself) will be fully funded through the PHIRST programme. If your intervention is selected for evaluation, your assigned PHIRST team will still need to ensure that your intervention is evaluable before work can proceed.

Expressions of interest can be submitted via the form: submit an expression of interest. Before doing so, please read the information provided below.

The aim of the PHIRST programme and of this call

The aim of the PHIRST programme is to enable evaluative research to take place into real-world interventions. Evaluations will be conducted with academic rigour, but in timescales that are relevant to local government. In this way, the PHIRST programme seeks to grow the evidence base for local-government decision-making.

We are particularly interested in population-level, non-clinical, public health transdisciplinary interventions that impact upon the health of the public and on health inequalities.

Initiatives suitable for evaluation through PHIRST can include initiatives commissioned or undertaken through any function of, and by any tier of, local government.

Examples of evaluations conducted through the PHIRST scheme can be found on the PHIRST website.


The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is the largest funder of health and care research in the UK. It is a strategic aim of the NIHR to build capacity in preventive and public health research, and to make the UK a world leader in this area. The PHIRST scheme is key to these ambitions, and forms part of the NIHR’s Public Health Research Programme. The PHIRST scheme has recently launched a dedicated website.

Co-producing research with practitioners, decision makers, and the public, will help to ensure that the research we fund answers the most important questions facing services at local and national levels. Local government organisations play a vital role in their local communities, with an ability to influence public health, but to date have not always been able to benefit from the research and evaluation support they might have wanted.

Local government organisations are delivering important and often innovative interventions. The PHIRST programme seeks to provide an opportunity to learn from these interventions, and in doing so generate an evidence base on which future local government decision making can be based. Read more in this short blog from 2020. PHIRST evaluations will therefore help to inform the commissioning and implementation of local government activity as it relates to health – leading to demonstrable health benefits and reductions in health inequalities.

This call complements the scope and work of the NIHR School for Public Health Research, Public Health Practice Evaluation Scheme (PHPES). We seek to minimise overlap and maximise complementarity of the PHIRST and PHPES schemes. The PHIRST programme also complements a new NIHR initiative, Health Determinants Research Collaborations (HDRCs), which aim to enable local authorities to become more research-active.

Eligibility and remit

To be eligible for evaluation through PHIRST, initiatives need to involve local government organisations in England, Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland. Any level of local government is suitable – this includes local authorities and local councils that operate at regional, county, district, borough, unitary, town, parish, or any other, level.

PHIRST is designed to evaluate local government initiatives that are currently being delivered or are planned for the near future. Initiatives submitted would most likely be prioritised in March 2023 and therefore, the initiative needs to be active/ongoing as of that date.

The primary purpose of the intervention submitted need not necessarily be to generate health or public health impacts. Any initiative that is expected to have an impact (positive or negative) on the health of the local population would be within scope. For example, initiatives relating to road infrastructure or urban planning may be suitable for evaluation. The initiative should be in need of research to strengthen its evidence base as it relates to health. The focus of the PHIRST evaluation would be on the initiative’s impact on health.

Social care interventions are not in remit for this call.

The PHIRST scheme is not designed to support initial development or co-production of initiatives themselves – but rather to facilitate their evaluation.

Initiatives may be run in partnership with other organisations (for example with the third sector, or other public sector). Interventions can relate to one local government organisation, or be delivered across multiple local governments or UK countries.

We welcome joint expressions of interest from local governments with similarly-focused initiatives who would like to collaborate with regard to their involvement in PHIRST. The rationale here is that evaluative research that can compare approaches across more than one locality may yield more generalisable findings.

It is acknowledged that non-clinical (non-NHS) initiatives impacting population health are commissioned/delivered by differing bodies within the devolved administrations of the UK. If you are unsure regarding eligibility, please contact us on the email address below, providing a brief description of the initiative.

Further information

Local government submitting an expression of interest must be willing to commit some time and human resource to working in partnership with the PHIRST team to co-produce the evaluation. Ensuring that time can be dedicated to discussions and workshops, and enabling access to relevant local government colleagues – and wider stakeholders – is essential to the success of the research and its ability to meet the needs of all groups.

If an intervention is prioritised for evaluation following closure of this call, the assigned PHIRST team will still need to ensure that the intervention is suitable for evaluation, before work can proceed. The PHIRST team will therefore conduct an ‘evaluability assessment’ in partnership with the local government team. This involves discussions and fact-finding.

The purpose of this exercise is to ensure, for example, that:

  • the intervention has an adequate degree of clarity (in its delivery activities and preferably in its aims)
  • the intervention is currently running and will continue to run for a length of time that means it can be meaningfully evaluated
  • there exist research questions that can be articulated and that are answerable
  • data (be they qualitative or quantitative) are available or can be generated, and so on.

The aim of the evaluability assessment is to ensure that a robust evaluation will be possible, and if this determination is positive, then the evaluation is given the ‘green light’ to proceed. The evaluability assessment process also helps to develop a protocol for the evaluation. To date, most evaluability assessments undertaken have determined that evaluations can proceed, but this is not guaranteed and occasionally a decision has to be made by the PHIRST team not to proceed with an evaluation.

Local government teams whose initiatives are not prioritised are welcome to submit again in future rounds. Similarly, initiatives that do not pass an evaluability assessment can be resubmitted in the future.

What is the benefit to my local government organisation?

If your intervention is selected, one of our six PHIRST teams will be allocated to work with you. On the assumption that the evaluability assessment confirms an evaluation can proceed, your local government team(s) will receive expert academic input from the PHIRST team to co-create and undertake a robust evaluation of the initiative.

The PHIRST scheme will fund all evaluation costs by virtue of the fact that the PHIRST teams are fully-funded by the NIHR. The cost of delivering the initiative is not covered by PHIRST.

It is hoped that joint working and collaboration between local government and PHIRST teams will result in mutual sharing of knowledge, learning and development of new skills, and joint academic/service-oriented publications. But most importantly, it is intended that evaluation findings will inform future decision making across local government.

How to submit an expression of interest

Please submit an expression of interest (EoI) online using the NIHR’s ‘MIS’ system. The deadline for receiving EoIs for this round is 31 January 2023, 1pm. To avoid last-minute issues, we advise submitting EoIs in good time prior to the deadline.

Please ensure that your organisation appears on the MIS system in advance of completing the EoI form. Please contact us via the email address below if your organisation is not listed, and we will arrange for it to be added.

Expressions of interest need to have sign-off from the relevant local senior decision-maker/ accountable officer. For example in England this would be the local Director of Public Health for a local authority, and in devolved administrations the CEO of the relevant local government organisation, as applicable.

Submitting an EoI is not intended to be an onerous task for local government teams. The form is designed to capture only essential information to enable an informed decision about which initiatives to prioritise. The form should take relatively little time to complete.

The EoI form will ask for the following information:

  • Name of the local government organisation(s)
  • Contact details of the:
    • Lead officer for the initiative
    • Lead officer for the EoI (if different)
    • Supporting Director of Public Health or equivalent
  • Name of the initiative
  • Description of the initiative, including background, rationale, and key aims
  • Geographical location(s) of the initiative
  • Timescales: the start date, and other key dates for delivery of the initiative
  • How the initiative is funded, the amount of funding allocated, duration of funding, and whether there any existing evaluation resources allocated
  • The anticipated impacts on population health, on health inequalities, and any wider impacts
  • What, if any, public involvement and engagement work has taken place related to the initiative, or whether any is planned
  • Relevant weblinks
  • Any further key information of which the PHIRST programme should be aware.

Please aim to provide succinct, concrete information when completing the form, describing your initiative clearly, and responding directly to each of the questions. Please direct any queries to

What happens after submitting an expression of interest and call closure?

EoIs will be reviewed and prioritised by representatives from the Prioritisation Committee of the NIHR’s Public Health Research Programme. We will aim to communicate a decision by the end of March 2023.

Each PHIRST team has an existing portfolio of projects. Start and end dates for initiatives will therefore be considered as part of the prioritisation process, and evaluation start times will also need to be tailored to available PHIRST team capacity.

It is important that the PHIRST scheme maintains a balanced portfolio of research in relation to both geographical spread across the UK and range of health topics. These factors are therefore taken into consideration when making final decisions about which interventions to select, in addition to the criteria specified at the top of this page under ‘Key information’. Please note that local government organisations that have an intervention currently being evaluated through PHIRST are unlikely to be selected for a second time, unless there are exceptional circumstances or the current evaluation is nearing completion.

Once initiatives have been selected and assigned a PHIRST team, we will put local government teams in direct contact with the PHIRST team. Local government teams are expected to engage in an initial discussion with the PHIRST team within three weeks of allocation. This assists in reviewing timings, funding, and delivery of initiatives, should these have evolved since the expression of interest was submitted. These initial discussions will form part of the evaluability assessment process.

Evaluations are typically conducted over a timeframe of 12 to 18 months, and will likely involve mixed-methods approaches.

In the event your initiative is not successful in being prioritised, we can advertise your initiative through our phinder Twitter account. We seek your consent to do this at the point of EoI submission.