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Advanced Local Authority Fellowship Scheme Round 1 Chair's Report


Published: 02 April 2024

Version: 1.0 - April 2024

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The Advanced Local Authority Fellowship (ALAF) Scheme supports its awardees to undertake post-doctoral research, undertake academic training and develop professionally, all on their existing employment contracts and salaries.

This report describes the proceedings of the first (2023/24) ALAF application assessment process, and details those observations made by the Funding Committee that have been selected for highlighting to prospective ALAF applicants by the committee Chair, Professor Ashley Adamson.

The Scheme

The ALAF Scheme constitutes the post-doctoral tier of the NIHR Local Authority Academic Fellowship (LAAF) Programme, and exists to support practitioners to conduct post-doctoral research whilst concurrently undertaking personal development and enhanced practice, all with a view to their development as future embedded leaders of applied research.

This scheme is open to all employees (excluding medically and dentally qualified individuals) of local authorities and local authority supporting services.

ALAF supports the award holder to enhance existing and further develop their research skills and their professional skill sets in parallel; the former through undertaking an advanced research project, including managing a researcher employed funded through the Fellowship, and academic training and the latter through dedicated time for practice and other activities that support their development as a practitioner and as future practice academic leader.

The provision of such opportunities is particularly important to this sector, which can be very fragmented and where there may be less of an existing research culture or tradition than, for example, in parts of the NHS.

Competition Summary

The first annual call for ALAF applications was made on 29th March 2023 , and resulted in four submissions. All four applicants were deemed eligible for consideration. This being the first call, the Funding Committee agreed to seek expert external reviews of each. After receipt and consideration of the reviews, two applicants were shortlisted and attended for interview on the 6th December 2023. Both applicants were deemed by the Funding Committee to lie within the fundable range, and were offered fellowships subject to making some adjustments to their plans as dictated by the Funding Committee.

Given that the scheme is new and the application submission window was short, receipt of four applications is encouraging. The Funding Committee anticipates that, in common with the Pre-doctoral Local Authority Fellowship (PLAF) Scheme and Doctoral Local Authority Fellowship (DLAF) Scheme, greater numbers of applications will be made to subsequent competitions. All four Round 1 all applicants were new to the LAAF Programme, though the Funding Committee considered that this may change as a ‘pipeline’ develops with successful PLAFs and DLAFs making applications.

The numbers of applications and awards made in response to the first call is summarised below.

Round (year)AppliedShortlistedAwarded
Round 1 - (2023/24) 4 2 2

See Annex 1 for awarded project titles.

The Funding Committee

The scheme’s Funding Committee, chaired by Professor Ashley Adamson (of Newcastle University and Director of the NIHR School for Public Health Research), comprised ten experienced and established academics who operate across a range of pertinent fields, and from universities and funding bodies across the United Kingdom. These academic members were joined for the interviewing of shortlisted applicants by two lay members with expertise in Public Involvement and Engagement (PI&E).

Members of the scheme’s Funding Committee are listed below.

Funding Committee MemberPrincipal Affiliation
Professor Ashley Adamson (Chair) University of Newcastle
Professor Ben Barr University of Liverpool
Mrs Yasmin Begum None – Lay member with relevant lived
experience and PI&E expertise
Professor Yvonne Birks (Dpt Chair) University of York
Professor Brian Ferguson University of York
Professor Russell Jago University of Bristol
Professor Pip Logan University of Nottingham
Dr Clair Phillips None – Lay member with relevant lived experience and PI&E expertise
Professor Jennie Popay Lancaster University
Professor Gillian Ruch University of Sussex
Professor Sarah Salway University of Sheffield
Professor Karen West University of Bristol

Funding Committee Observations

Following conclusion of the assessment process on the 6th December 2023, the Funding Committee reflected on its experience of reviewing the four submitted applications and of interviewing two of the applicants.

Professor Ashley Adamson, Chair of the Committee, has since selected the following points of note, which she recommends prospective applicants to consider if developing an application of their own. Essentially, strong applications demonstrate:

  • Strong support from the host organisation
  • A focus on topics that are embedded and strategically important to their local authority and/or partners but also includes consideration of translation beyond one local authority
  • Ways in which the research might make a difference to policy, practice and people’s lives
  • Strong support and mentorship, focused on the needs and development of the applicant including extending networks and links beyond local authority
  • Sufficient detail of potential methods – even if some flexibility is needed for some of this to be co-designed at a later stage
  • A training plan that is really tailored to the needs of the individual and will equip the applicant to take the next step to becoming a research leader in the local authority context.
  • A clear plan, including management and development of supporting researcher/s to be appointed
  • Good support and training for any public members which may be involved in the research

The need for strong statements of support from the partnership of hosting organisations

The Funding Committee noted that, in some instances, the statements of support provided by the partnership of hosts were under-developed and/or not specifically tailored to the candidate, their research or their aspirations for personal development. This may be expected given that the local authority fellowships and particularly the ALAF are new to local government.

Weak and generic statements, which fail to convey a reassuring level of support for, and understanding, of the proposal, or fail to convince that protected time and resources will be afforded to match the aspirations of the applicant at this Advanced Fellowship level are detrimental to the competitiveness of the application.

The supporting statements submitted by the host and partner organisation are the only means by which the funding committee can determine the necessary institutional support on which the applicant will draw. The funding committee, therefore, pays considerable attention to these statements and expects them to articulate an ongoing and post-award commitment to the applicant’s career as a researcher practitioner and future research leader.

Strong supporting statements convey a deeper insight into the candidate’s professional aspirations, an understanding of the benefits of the proposal to both of the hosting organisations, and the extent to which these organisations may be prepared to support the candidate’s professional aspirations.

The need for applicants to engage with, and focus on, topics that are strategically important to their local authority setting but to include translation of findings beyond that local authority. 

Some applicants submitted research proposals that seemed to align to personal interests but did not explicitly align the key strategic challenges that their services and organisations face and so had limited capacity to have impact on policy, practice or people’s lives.

Applicants are advised to work with their local authority host to identify and develop a research proposal that will be of interest to, and have direct application in, that organisation but also think beyond that to other local authorities and/or organisations.

The expectation that the Fellowship will generate research outputs and achieve impact 

As publicly funded Fellowships, ALAFs need to include plans for dissemination, and viable routes to making an impact on policy, practice and people’s lives. These should include plans for peer reviewed publications but also approaches for dissemination and knowledge mobilisation to ensure findings are accessible to a wide audience including, for example, local policy makers, elected members and the public.  

Strong support and mentorship, focused on the needs and development of the applicant including extending networks and national links 

The ALAF is an advanced fellowship award, and as such, applicants should give careful thought to support and mentorship. Applicants are encouraged to consider support from their own host organisations but also to think beyond this and how mentors can help in making, or extending, national links and networks beyond their host organisations relevant to their research. For example it is likely the proposed research will fall within the remit of one of the three NIHR Schools for Social Care ResearchPublic Health Research and Primary Care Research.

The need to propose a well-considered and tailored training and development plan

The ALAF is an advanced research training Fellowship and applicants should take advantage of the opportunity to gain experience and develop expertise in areas that will further their professional and academic careers. Training and development plans should be specific and tailored to individual needs and be planned to align with the needs and timeline of the planned research. Development plans should extend beyond and include training in research leadership, appropriate to career stage and that will serve the applicant as they move towards becoming an established practice-based researcher and leader.

Applicants may like to refer to needs analysis / mapping tools such as the Vitae Researcher Development Framework.

A clear plan, including management and development of supporting researcher/s to be appointed

Applicants to the ALAF have opportunity to include funding to appoint researcher/s. This option is available to allow additional capacity for the delivery of an ambitious research project and to offer the opportunity for the Fellow to gain research management. Applicants should carefully consider the grade of researcher to be appointed and provide justification. It is not the intention that the researcher/s replace the applicant in the conduct and delivery of the research. The application should also include a plan for the management, support and personal development of the researcher/s to be appointed.

Support and training for any public members which may be involved in the research

Applications should include details of public involvement and how any public members involved in the research will be supported including any training which will be offered.  

The benefits of seeking support from the NIHR Research Support Service 

Applicants are advised to take full advantage of NIHR’s free Research Support Service (RSS) and particularly the Specialist Centre for Public Health and the Specialist Centre for Social Care which launched 1st Oct 2023.

The RSS and the Specialist Centres provide support to health, social care and public health researchers across England on all aspects of developing and writing a funding application, including research design, research methods and involving service users, carers and the public. Advice is confidential and free of charge.

RSS advisers have a wealth of experience and proven track records in supporting high quality funding applications.

To make the best use of the RSS, contact at an early stage to discuss your research ideas.

Annex 1 – Advanced Local Authority Fellowships made to date

Round 1 (2023) Award Titles

  • Development and feasibility testing of intervention(s) to support increased participation in active travel in under-represented groups

  • Local authority levers to address wider determinants of health