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Research for Social Care - Call Specification



Adult Social care is a strategic priority for the NIHR. We intend to improve and expand the evidence base for adult social care, consistent with the remit of the Department of Health and Social Care. The NIHR is keen to extend support for high quality social care research, hence this current call for research proposals specifically on adult social care.

Following successful social care calls in 2018 and subsequent years, the NIHR will continue to offer social care research funding opportunities via the Research for Patient Benefit programme in its annual Research for Social Care (RfSC) call.  

In the RfSC call we expect research proposals to demonstrate strong links to people with social care needs, to social care service users and carers, and to organisations which provide adult social care services. We also expect proposals to demonstrate strong and appropriate research expertise, with teams which can demonstrate a track record of relevant published research.

Key information

The RfSC call is an annual competition for social care research proposals, which will be assessed by a national committee of social care research experts.


The budget for this call will be £3m, and individual projects will be funded up to £350k.

Please see the Autism highlight notice on the RfSC call page for details of additional funding for Autism social care research

Key dates

Indicative call dates, subject to confirmation.



Call Launch

29 September 2021

Stage 1 call close

19 January 2022

Stage 1 committee assessment

March 2022

Stage 2 call open

April 2022

Stage 2 call close

May 2022

External peer review

June  2022

Stage 2 committee assessment

July 2022

Final decision and outcome notification

August 2022


Applications will be made through universities, local authorities, and NHS bodies or other providers of NHS services in England, which will act as the contracting organisation, be the recipient of the funds, and will be responsible for the delivery of the research. The sponsor of the research (that is the organisation directly responsible for securing the arrangements to initiate, manage and finance the study) can be either the contracting organisation or a collaborating partner, as long as that organisation is capable of fulfilling the role of a research sponsor as set out in the UK Policy Framework for Health and Social Care Research.

Applications are expected to have strong involvement and collaboration with organisations that are responsible for delivering social care services e.g local authorities and third sector, where appropriate.

Partner organisations from outside of England may be included, provided a strong case is made that it is best placed to provide the necessary expertise to carry out the planned research.

Approach to funding social care research

RfSC will fund research which generates evidence to improve, expand and strengthen the way adult social care is delivered for users of care services, carers, and the public. 

RfSC research is expected to have a high degree of involvement from  relevant users of social care and social care practitioners throughout the research.

RfSC welcomes high quality proposals from researchers and practitioners which are focused on:

  • Social care needs and relevant outcomes (which could be quality of life, social or health care related, as appropriate to the study, population etc.)
  • Developing a more robust evidence base for current ways of working
  • Developing and evaluating new ways of delivering social care
  • Secondary data analysis, record linkage and reviews
  • Research methods development 
  • Care users’ and carers’ circumstances and needs
  • Those who deliver social care including unpaid carers and the staff and professionals involved in the delivery of social care e.g. social workers.

Using the above points, in terms of developing research proposals, RfSC would welcome applications addressing areas of social care including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Inequalities among social care service users
  • ‘Unmet’ social care needs
  • Under-served social care users
  • New models of care
  • Self–funders and their families
  • End-of-life care 
  • Housing, community and employment related support
  • Family carers, unpaid carers and carer support
  • Social care practice and workforce
  • Social prescribing and other approaches to working, such as strengths- and assets-based approaches
  • Impact and economic analyses of social care model and service interventions
  • Interventions to help tackle loneliness and isolation
  • Interventions to improve the experience of discharge from hospital to social care communities 
  • Effectiveness of early interventions for people requiring social care support 
  • Transitions and interactions between health and social care and other systems
  • Transition from children’s to adult care services
  • Health and social care inequalities
  • Transitions between self-funded and local authority-funded care

We are aware that social care is broad and if you are unsure as to whether a topic is within scope for the call you will be able to contact the team and submit a pre-submission form once the call has launched.

Application process and selection criteria

RfSC has a two-stage commissioning process. Applications submitted to Stage one are initially scrutinised by an NIHR Programme Manager and then assessed at a funding committee. Outcomes from Stage 1 will be provided to applications three days after the panel meeting.

Applicants shortlisted at Stage 1 are then invited to submit a Stage 2 application. Stage 2 applications are peer reviewed by external experts and then also considered by a funding committee. Committee decisions and feedback are then supplied to applicants.

The criteria used by the assessing committee at both application stages will be:

Quality of the research proposed:

  • Is this an important research question?
  • Is the proposed methodology robust, and based on sound scientific rationale?
  • Will the proposed methodology answer the research question?
  • Has the research involved service users at relevant stages of the project?

Significance and potential benefit to social care and users of services:

  • What is the trajectory to social care benefit?
  • What is the likelihood this will lead to benefit?
  • What is the likely type of impact?

Value for money provided by the application:

  • Given the likelihood of achieving benefit, is this proposal costed appropriately?
  • Given the likely scale of impact, does it provide value for money?

Approach to applicants

The RfSC call welcomes proposals led by social care researchers and/or practitioners as part of a wider multidisciplinary team.  These teams would be expected to include strong methods support from experienced research specialists.

RfSC has a track record of funding researchers at various stages of their careers, from new investigators to senior investigators.  RfSC’s approach to assessing the research team is to assess the team as a whole, meaning the lead applicant can be a relatively newer investigator providing there is a clearly identified, sufficient, convincing and appropriately resourced team supporting the newer researcher. When the team support is robust we actively encourage less experienced researchers as leads.

Support for applicants

When developing a proposal for submission to RfSC, the programme strongly recommends seeking advice from your local NIHR Research Design Service (RDS) at the earliest opportunity.

They also offer a workshop for specifically for social care researchers, practitioners and users

We’ll introduce the call and give you an overview of the remit, requirements and applications processes. We’ll also give you: top tips for your application from researchers who have been funded by RfSC and answer specific questions

Applicants considering submitting a Stage 1 application should consider submitting an outline of their proposal for guidance before official submission. This can be done using the pre-submission enquiry form which will open with the call launch. This is non-mandatory and purely aimed at helping potential applicants to engage with the requirements of the call (e.g. eligibility and remit).