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Research for Social Care - Call Specification


Published: 25 May 2022

Version: 6.0 - March 2023

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Social care is a strategic priority for the NIHR. We intend to improve and expand the evidence base for 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.

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 bi-annual Research for Social Care (RfSC) call.

In the RfSC call we expect research proposals to demonstrate strong links to people who draw on social care support, carers, and to organisations which provide social care services. We also expect proposals to demonstrate strong and appropriate research expertise, with teams which can demonstrate a track record of relevant experience of research and practice in social care. The RfSC call welcomes applications addressing adult, children and young people’s social care.

Key information

The RfSC call is a bi-annual competition for social care research proposals, which will be assessed by a national committee of social care research experts, practitioners and public members.


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

Key dates

We publish competition dates covering launch, submission and outcome deadlines.


Applications will be made through universities, local authorities, NHS bodies or other providers of social care 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 involvements and collaborations with organisations that are responsible for delivering social care services e.g local authorities and third sector organisations and charities, 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 in which social care is delivered for people who draw on care services and support, 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 that may address any of the following issues outlined below.

  • Social care needs and relevant outcomes related to adult and/or children and young people’s social care (which could be quality of life, improvement of social care and other interrelated factors, 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 services
  • ‘Unmet’ social care needs
  • Under-served communities and people who may draw on support
  • 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, and improve well-being and mental health
  • 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 social care and other social system
  • 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 can contact the team and submit a pre-submission form.

Please note that RfSC is also accepting applications for “Reducing Compound Pressures” on social care in this round of competition. For more details please see the Compound Pressure Commissioning Brief and the Compound Pressure Supporting Information (RfSC). Applicants need to complete the standard RfSC Stage 1 application for this and the application will be reviewed following the standard commissioning process. Please note that the deadline for submitting applications on compound pressure is the same as the Call 7 end date, 23 June 2023, 1 pm. 

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. Successfully scrutinised applications are then assessed by the Research for Social Care funding committee. Initial outcomes from Stage 1 will be provided to applications approximately one week after the panel meeting. All Stage 1 applicants receive thorough feedback on their applications based on the Committee meeting discussions. Applicants invited to Stage 2 are expected to address the feedback points comprehensively in their Stage 2 application.

All Stage 2 applications of over £150k, (or those £150k and under if specific expertise has been requested) are peer reviewed by external experts and a public peer reviewer.. All Stage 2 applications are then considered by the same funding committee in a funding meeting. Committee decisions and feedback are then supplied to applicants.

  • Stage one - application
  • Stage one - panel assessment
  • Stage two - application
  • External peer review
  • Stage two - panel assessment
  • Decision and feedback

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

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 that the outcome will lead to improvement and expansion of services?
  • 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. The RDS will introduce the call and give you an overview of the remit, requirements and applications processes. They will 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 may consider submitting an outline of their proposal for guidance before official submission. This can be done using the pre-submission enquiry form. This is non-mandatory and purely aimed at helping potential applicants to engage with the requirements of the call (e.g. eligibility and remit).