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NIHR Research Programme for Social Care (RPSC) Call Specification


Published: 26 September 2023

Version: 2.2 - November 2023

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This document provides details of the NIHR Research Programme for Social Care (RPSC).


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 the success of the Research for Social Care (RfSC) call, we have now launched the stand-alone bi-annual Research Programme for Social Care (RPSC).

In RPSC, 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 across regions and different communities. 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 new Programme welcomes applications addressing adult, children and young people’s social care from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Key information

The Research Programme for Social Care has two researcher-led calls per year and will also operate commissioned calls on priority highlight topics. All calls will typically employ a two-stage application process.

Applications will be assessed by a national committee of social care research experts, practitioners and members of the public.


The Call has a total annual budget of £10 million. However, the amount awarded and the length of the funding period for individual projects will depend on the nature of the proposed work. Strong justification for the research duration and funding requested is required and will be considered by the reviewing committee.

The Research Programme for Social Care also offers opportunities for early career research (ECRs)* to apply for applications up to £250,000, providing they are supported by an appropriate team which is suitably resourced. These applications will be reviewed by the assessing committee but will not be in direct competition with larger awards or those from non-early career researchers.
*early career researchers are defined as a researcher who has not held a grant as chief investigator (excluding fellowships) of over £100,000 or is within 5 years of completing a PhD.

As part of NIHRs drive to develop research capacity, RPSC is now offering the opportunity to develop and advance social care research capacity building. Applicants to RPSC can include funding for research capacity development, across all stages of the academic career pathway (i.e., from internships to Masters to PhD to post-doctoral),

As a general rule, it is anticipated that 10% to 20% of the overall project budget should be spent on capacity building within the grant, however each request will be reviewed on its merits. More information can be found in the capacity building guidance.

Key dates

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


Applications will be made through universities, local authorities/governments, NHS bodies or other providers of social care services across the UK, 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 collaborations with organisations that are responsible for delivering social care services e.g local authorities and third sector organisations and charities, where appropriate.

Approach to funding social care research

Applications through the Research Programme for Social Care should have:

  • A clear pathway to social care benefit which could be immediate or over a longer-term
  • A strong link with people who need or use social care, carers and organisations which provide social care services or other relevant groups
  • An appropriate team likely consisting of social care researchers, workforce, carers, methodologists and people who use social care, reflecting the nature of the application

The Research Programme for Social Care funds research projects which could include but is not limited to:

  • Studies of social care needs, circumstances and relevant outcomes related to adults, children or young people who need or use social care and carers, including studies of inequalities in any of these domains
  • Evaluation of existing or new social care services, addressing their effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and distributional consequences
  • Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness evaluations of interventions, including adaptations or refinements of existing interventions/technologiesDeveloping and testing new assessments, interventions or services
  • Research methods development
  • Feasibility, pilot and definitive trials
  • Research examining consequences for social care users of provision of other services (e.g., health, education, criminal justice, family courts, housing, benefits)
  • Policy-implementation research
  • Studies that involve secondary data analysis or record linkage
  • Systematic or other reviews of evidence
  • Strategies for preventing or delaying the need for care and support
  • Research on approaches to support and strengthen the social care workforce
  • Capacity-building opportunities within awards

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.

Application process and selection criteria

The Research Programme for Social Care has a two-stage commissioning process. Applications submitted to Stage one are initially scrutinised by the RPSC team. Successfully scrutinised applications are then assessed by the Research Programme for Social Care funding committee . Outcomes from Stage 1 will be provided to applications 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 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 to respond. The criteria used by the assessing committee at both application stages are below.

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 people who use services, carers and workforce at relevant stages of the project?
  • Have Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) elements been properly considered and embedded in the research design?

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

  • What is the trajectory to the anticipated benefit?
  • What is the likelihood that the outcome will lead to improvements within social care?
  • What is the likely type of impact?

Value for money provided by the application:

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

Approach to applicants

The RPSC programme 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.

NIHR has a track record of funding researchers at various stages of their careers, from new investigators to senior investigators. RPSC’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

RPSC is committed to supporting social care researchers to develop high-quality and competitive research projects. Researchers are strongly encouraged to contact the newly-launched NIHR Research Support Service (RSS) at their earliest convenience when seeking advice on this.

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).

All queries about the Call can be made to this email: