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23/142 HSDR National Service Evaluation Teams - general guidance for applicants


Published: 20 October 2023

Version: 1.0 - October 2023

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Please note that this is general guidance, and not all the sections will apply to the specific call.

Applicants must show that the proposed research:

We do not prescribe or prohibit particular approaches to research, but we encourage applicants to take account of this guidance in their project proposals and point out that the HSDR Funding Committee will take account of this guidance when it assesses proposals.

Research team makeup and expertise

Projects should have a research team with the right skills to undertake the research. It is important that the team has the necessary expertise but is not so large that project management will be difficult. Projects are likely to use a team with significant input from diverse disciplines appropriate to the content and methods of the project. All applicants need to show that they will commit appropriate time and effort to the project, and the use of large teams of applicants with little time commitment to the project is discouraged. Full proposals should make it clear what responsibilities and roles will be fulfilled by each team member.

The chief investigator or principal applicant should generally be the person who has contributed most to the intellectual and practical development of the proposal, and who will take lead responsibility for its implementation. This is not necessarily the most senior investigator in the research team. Where the principal applicant has a limited track record in holding grants, we will look for evidence that they will be supported and mentored by more experienced co-applicants.

Health and care service management engagement

Wherever appropriate, service managers should be directly engaged or involved with HSDR research projects because this will produce research that is more closely grounded in and reflective of their concerns and makes the subsequent uptake and application of research findings more likely.

We particularly welcome project proposals in which a service manager is formally part of the project team perhaps as a co-applicant or on a study oversight committee, and in which they (and/or other service managers) play a significant part in the project. Their contribution may be to facilitate or enable research access to organisations, to be directly involved in research fieldwork, to comment on and contribute to emerging findings, and to be involved in dissemination activity. The time of manager(s) as co-applicants can be costed into the proposal, as part of the Research Costs.

Gains for the service

Not all research will individually result in potential savings or direct gains for the service. Where it is appropriate, studies should include a cost component with a view to helping managers and service providers make decisions and identify potential for savings. Researchers should look to demonstrate potential savings and gains for the service, where appropriate. This includes setting out in broad terms the likely impact of this work for the wider service at the first stage.

Research methods

Proposals must show that the research is appropriately designed, will be well conducted, and will add to knowledge in the area. It is not our intention to specify particular research methods, but to highlight areas where we have found common weaknesses in the past.

Proposals need to make proper use of relevant theory and of the findings in the existing literature to frame their research questions. Although at outline stage, comprehensive referencing is not required, illustrative sources and indication of the grounding in a body of literature should be given. Theoretical, descriptive evaluations, proposals which appear not to be informed by the existing literature and projects which appear to replicate rather than add to existing research are unlikely to be funded. Research questions need to be very clearly stated and framed – in terms which are sufficiently detailed and specific. This includes a clear description of the intervention which is being assessed (where relevant) and articulating the objectives and aims of the research.

The research methods proposed must be appropriate to the nature of the research questions and to the theoretical framework for the project. It is important that the proposal makes a clear link between the research questions and the intended empirical approach and fieldwork, showing what data will be gathered and how it will be used. The approach to data analysis must be clearly explained. The proposal needs to show that the research team has considered and addressed the logistics and practical realities of undertaking the research, such as:

  • gaining ethical and research governance approval
  • securing access
  • recruitment
  • data collection and management

Studies should be realistically costed to take account of these activities. Where trial methodology is proposed, researchers are advised to have got input from their local clinical trials unit or officer.

Researchers should be mindful of the need for generalisability of results and the relevance of the outputs for the service as a whole. This may affect the study design – for instance, single case studies are likely to be supported only exceptionally.

The plan of investigation should be set out; it should include a Gantt chart or project timetable that clearly shows the planned dates of different project phases and of project outputs.

Public involvement

It is a core concern of the HSDR Programme that all projects should pay attention to the needs and experiences of all relevant stakeholders (including diverse local communities, individual members of the public, users of services, carers and minority ethnic communities as well as healthcare practitioners and managers) during the design, execution and communication of the research. The NIHR actively supports and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in research and applicants to the HSDR Programme are expected to consider EDI in planning and delivering their research. Proposed projects should describe their arrangements for public and patient involvement and in communicating how the proposed work could lead to enhanced public and community engagement. The application includes a section for the non-expert (Summary – in Plain English) and care should be given to ‘pitching’ the proposal at a public audience, avoiding jargon and explaining clearly the expected benefits of the research.

Research governance

Applicants should show that they understand and that their proposal complies with the Research Governance Framework for the NHS. Successful applicants will be required to provide proof of research ethics committee approval for their project, if it is required, before funding commences. The project plan should take realistic account of the time required to secure ethics and governance approval.

Costs and value for money

Project costs will be carefully scrutinised and must always be well justified and demonstrate value for money. NIHR programmes currently fund Higher Education Institutions (HEI) at a maximum of 80% of Full Economic Cost (except for equipment over £50,000 – 100%). For non-HEI institutions, we may fund 100% of costs. However, the HSDR Programme reserves the right to award a grant for less than this maximum and for less than the amount sought by applicants.

Clinical Trials Toolkit

Researchers designing or undertaking clinical trials are encouraged to consult the Clinical Trials Toolkit. This resource is an innovative website designed to help researchers navigate through the complex landscape of setting up and managing clinical trials in line with regulatory requirements. Although primarily aimed at those involved in publicly funded Clinical Trials of Investigational Medicinal Products (CTIMPs), the Toolkit will also benefit researchers and R&D staff working on trials in other areas, who will find useful information and guidance of relevance to the wider trials environment.

Research output dissemination

Our key concern is to ensure that projects funded by the HSDR Programme are designed from the outset to produce useful, timely and relevant research findings which are then used. Experience suggests that this is most likely if researchers collaborate with NHS managers throughout the life of a project, and aim to produce a variety of research outputs – not just a final report and one or more papers for academic peer reviewed journals.

All full proposals submitted to the HSDR Programme must include a detailed section on research outputs in the full plan of investigation (Detailed Project Description) which is attached to the proposal when it is submitted. Applicants need to show that sufficient resources have been allocated within the project budget to undertake these activities. In general terms, all projects which are longer than 12 months are expected to produce some interim outputs during the life of the project as well as those at the end of the project.

The outputs and dissemination activities in the project proposal are likely to include some or all of the following:

  • A final and full research report detailing all the work undertaken and supporting technical appendices (up to a maximum of 50,000 words), an abstract and an executive summary (up to 2000 words). This is a required output. The executive summary must be focused on results/findings and suitable for use separately from the report as a briefing for NHS and/or social care managers. Care should be given to using appropriate language and tone, so that results are compelling and clear. This is a required output from all projects. Outputs from each evaluation will be published primarily in the NIHR Journals Library.
  • Journal papers for appropriate academic peer reviewed journals, designed to ensure the research forms part of the scientific literature and is available to other researchers.
  • Articles for professional journals which are read by the health and social care management community and which will be helpful in raising wider awareness of the research findings.
  • Seminars, workshops, conferences or other interactive events at which the research team will present and discuss the research and its findings with NHS and/or social care managers (as relevant).
  • Guidelines, toolkits, measurement instruments or other practical methods or systems designed to enable health and social care managers to use the research findings in practice. We are looking for practical, innovative ideas – such as questions arising from the research that non-executive directors could raise at Board meetings or similar.

This list is illustrative rather than comprehensive, and we will welcome project proposals that include other forms of output dissemination activities.