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Policy Relevant Research - Call Specification




1. The NIHR Policy Research Programme (PRP) invites applications for a number of research projects to further develop current NIHR investments within the context of policy making.

2. This innovative call has the specific objective of establishing and building fruitful connections between NIHR funded research and current and emerging policy priorities.

3. Between £50k-£150k will be made available to existing NIHR investigators to deliver small scale projects, lasting between 6-12 months, with clear policy relevance and building on existing NIHR funded work.


Timetable and Budget

  • Deadline for stage 1 applications: 08 October 2019, 1 PM
  • Deadline for stage 2 application: 18 February 2020, 1 PM
  • Notification of outcome: February - April 2020
  • Project start: Within 4 weeks of outcome
  • Budget: £50,000 to £150,000 per project 


Call specifications

4. The call is open exclusively to NIHR investigators, who are encouraged to build or further develop a policy research package related to existing NIHR funded projects. These should be small scale proposals, with requested funding between £50k-£150k and duration between 6-12 months. Budgets will need to be proportionate to the duration.

5. Proposals will need to demonstrate a clear connection with,  and add value to, current NIHR funded work, but should also be able to (i) stand as individual projects with limited dependency on the original NIHR contracts and (ii) start almost immediately to exploit windows of opportunities.

6. The call will be open for NIHR investigators within an NIHR contract that, at the time of submission, has no more than 12 months left until its end date, or has been closed for no longer than 24 months. The PI will need to be a co-applicant in the original NIHR contract. Junior researchers are encouraged to apply as project leads, with adequate support from experienced co-applicants.

7. The funding could cover a wide range of areas, such as (but not limited to):

  • Additional health economic, economic and social return on investment analysis, cost/benefit analysis for scaling up health, social care, or public health interventions
  • Extension of existing work into new contexts, secondary data analysis, longer follow-ups
  • Further work on novel methodological approaches that will enrich options for policy decision making

8. This call does not mandate any specific subject. However, proposals will need to align to recognised policy priorities. Applications will need to clearly reference relevant policy documents or documented policy priorities (e.g. NHS Long Term Plan), and specify how the project would contribute to policy decision making. Applicants must also demonstrate existing links and recent contact with relevant policy customers for their research.

9. The call will follow a 2 stage submission process. Applicants will be required, in the first instance, to submit a short outline application. This will be followed by a request to submit a slightly more detailed second stage application for short-listed proposals, addressing questions and concerns raised by the commissioning committee.

10. Applications will be reviewed by the PRP Funding Committee, with input from potential policy customers. Specific selection criteria for this call will include:

  • Policy relevance (demonstrated for example through documented endorsement by policy stakeholders)
  • Policy engagement (applicants need to explain how they propose to work with DHSC and ALBs policy teams to refine research questions and ensure continued relevance)
  • Readiness (applicants need to demonstrate proposed projects can start within weeks of funding decision)
  • Duration (projects need to be delivered within the short-medium term)
  • Clear links to previous NIHR funded work

11. Other standard PRP requirements will still apply. For example, proposals will be expected to be methodologically sound and to integrate meaningful PPI where appropriate.

12. At the sole discretion of DHSC, proposals that fail to secure funding at this stage, but are considered to be fundable by the Commissioning Panel, may be considered for funding at a later stage should the need for the proposed research and outputs become more pressing and timely.


Rationale to this call

13. The NIHR Policy Research Programme (PRP) supports policy makers in England to make informed decisions for the benefit of the general population, patients and the NHS. Success of PRP depends on the ability to commission high quality research that offers value for money and delivers robust, relevant, timely, accessible and intelligible evidence to ministers and Arms-Length Bodies (ALBs).

14. The specific nature of policy making translates into a number of challenges for evidence informed decision making. For example, there is an inherent mismatch between timing for policy making and required times for commissioning and undertaking research. Policy making is a very fast process with decisions often taken within weeks, whilst research can take months or years to deliver evidence. Because of this mismatch, there is often a limited window of opportunity for research evidence to enter the policy discourse.

15. The NIHR has developed a vast community of health and social care researchers with access to robust evidence of potential interest to policy makers. The purpose of this call is to offer policy makers the opportunity to tap into this community and broaden its access to readily available, trustworthy evidence and expertise.

16. The PRP has benefited before from pull through opportunities from other NIHR funded initiatives. Previous examples of NIHR funded research receiving further support from PRP include:

  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa Infection in Augmented Care: Detecting Transmission from Water Using Whole Genome Sequencing - this PRP funded contract followed on from a study on Pseudomonas transmission on the burns unit and the role of water in transmission. The work was funded via the NIHR Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology Research Centre (Birmingham)
  • Organ donation in Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities - previous Programme Grants for Applied Research (DonaTE) offered the basis for this PRP funded follow-up study to inform the national campaign to increase BAME donors and allow NHSBT to deliver more effective interventions and activities to improve organ donation consent rates among BAME communities.
  • Real world evaluation of a scaled deployment of HeLP-Diabetes: a web-based self-management program for people with Type 2 diabetes - This PRP call will fund a real-world evaluation to shape national policy and practice for people with type 2 diabetes within the NHS online digital environment and builds on pilot work funded by NIHR to develop the programme – HeLP Diabetes.

17. There is much more value that the NIHR can offer to the policy making community. This call offers a systematic approach to identify where such value lies and realise it.

18. Expected outputs might include (but are not limited to):

    • Policy briefing papers on topics of current high interest
    • Dissemination events tailored for the policy audience
    • Novel lines of enquiry for research of relevance to policy makers 


Scope and eligibility for this programme of work

19. This call welcomes proposals with a direct connection to research projects funded via any of the NIHR funding streams, with the exclusion of:

  • NIHR Academy Funding streams
  • NIHR Policy Research Units
  • NIHR PRP Contracts
  • NIHR Health Protection Research Units
  • NIHR Global Health investments

20. The call will be open to NIHR investigators within an NIHR contract that, at the time of submission, has no more than 12 months left until its end date, or has been closed for no longer than 24 months. The PI will need to be a co-applicant in the original NIHR contract.

21. Junior researchers are encouraged to apply as project leads, as long as their proposal clearly includes senior, experienced support. More generally, proposals that offer personal development opportunities for junior researchers will be prioritised.

22. The ability to connect multiple NIHR contracts through a single policy research package will be considered an advantage. 



23. Applicants are asked to consider the timing and nature of deliverables in their proposals. Policymakers will need research evidence to meet key policy decisions and timescales, so resource needs to be flexible to meet these needs. A meeting to discuss policy needs with DHSC and NIHR officials will be convened as a matter of priority following contracting.

24. Expected outputs might include (but are not limited to):

  • Policy briefing papers on topics of current high interest
  • Dissemination events tailored for the policy audience
  • Novel lines of enquiry for research of relevance to policy makers

25. Given the special nature of this call, consideration of novel approaches aimed at making findings more accessible to a policy audience are strongly encourage


Budget and duration

26. Funding will be available for at least two commissioning rounds (Round 25, to be launched in August 2019, additional round TBC) and allocated flexibly across projects working across disciplines and health systems on a broad range of themes.

27. The NIHR is expecting to fund up to 10 projects in total, at a cost of between £50,000 to £150,000, with maximum duration of 12 months.

28. In assessing proposals, the Department will be seeking value for money as well as scientific excellence and, in particular, the potential for policy impact which is key.

29. Costings can include up to 100% full economic costing (FEC) but should exclude output VAT. Applicants are advised that value for money is one of the key criteria that peer reviewers and commissioning panel members will assess applications against.


Management arrangements

30. Funded projects are expected to already have a research advisory group in place as part of the connected NIHR contract. Business related to contracts resulting from this call could be included as a standing item for discussion in pre-existing advisory groups.

31. Considering the nature of the investment, successful applicants are encouraged to include representatives of DHSC, NIHR and/or relevant DHSC system partners in advisory group meetings. In the absence of an advisory group, applicants will need to describe how they propose to engage meaningfully with the target policy audience.

32. Research contractors will be expected to work with nominated officials in DHSC, its partners and the NIHR Central Commissioning Facility. Key documents including, for example, research protocols, research instruments, reports and publications must be provided to DHSC in draft form allowing sufficient time for review. 


The application

33. Given the relatively small amount of funding available per project, applicants are asked, in the first instance, to complete a very short proposal outlining:

  • Rationale for the study (including links to existing NIHR research)
  • Aims and objectives
  • Project plan / methodology
  • Policy relevance (including audience, current policy support and expected impact)
  • Dissemination plan (including policy engagement)
  • Indicative costs and justification

34. Cumulative word limit for the technical details of the proposal is expected to be no more than 1000 words. This limit excludes references and other administrative information.


Standard information for applicants

35. The sections below provide standard information on different aspects of NIHR PRP funding and will contain details relevant to your application.

General comments about applications

36. NIHR PRP is a national programme of research dedicated to providing an evidence base for policy-making through the Department of Health and Social Care. It provides information to the Secretary of State for Health and his Ministers directly and through policy directorates in the Department of Health and Social Care and covers all aspects of the Department’s policy-making activity.

37. Applications will be considered from other UK countries (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) provided they address the priority areas in a way that is relevant to the needs of the Department of Health and Social Care (England) and meet all other selection criteria.

38. Applicants are encouraged to submit multidisciplinary applications.

39. Applicants should consider the full range of potential audiences and describe how the research findings could be disseminated most effectively to ensure that the lessons from this research impact on policy and practice.

Research governance

40. Day-to-day management of this research will be provided by the principal investigator. They and their employers should ensure that they identify, and are able to discharge effectively, their respective responsibilities under the Health Research Authority (HRA) UK Policy Framework for Health and Social Care Research,[1] which sets out the broad principles of good research governance.

41. All successful research involving National Health Service (NHS) and social care users, carers, staff, data and/or premises must be approved by the appropriate research ethics committee (REC) or social care research ethics committee (SCREC). For further information on RECs, please visit the Health Research Authority website.

42. The successful research team must adhere to the General Data Protection Regulation and the new Data Protection Act (2018)[2] and the Freedom of Information Act (2000). Effective security management, and ensuring personal information and assessment data are kept secure, will be essential. In particular:

  • The research team shall, at all times, be responsible for ensuring that data (including data in any electronic format) are stored securely. The research team shall take appropriate measures to ensure the security of such data, and guard against unauthorised access thereto, disclosure thereof, or loss or destruction while in its custody.
  • Personal data shall not be made available to anyone other than those employed directly on the project by the research team, to the extent that they need access to such information for the performance of their duties.

43. For any research involving clinical trials, the successful team will be expected to be familiar with the Medical Research Council (MRC) Framework for Evaluating Complex Interventions, and to follow the principles of the MRC Guidelines for Good Clinical Practice in Clinical Trials in proposing structures for oversight of such trials and comply with the Medicines for Human Use (Clinical Trials) Regulations 2004.

44. The Institution leading the proposal should confirm that it has the capacity and is prepared to take on sponsorship responsibilities for clinical trials undertaken as part of the programme. Where the proposal includes a proposal for multi-site clinical trial activities the research unit should demonstrate that they have the experience of governance and management of clinical trials across multiple clinical trial sites. 

Risk management

45. Applicants should submit, as part of their proposal, a summary explaining what they believe will be the key risks to delivering their research, and what contingencies they will put in place to deal with them.

46. A risk is defined as any factor which may delay, disrupt or prevent the full achievement of a project objective. All risks should be identified. The summary should include an assessment of each risk, together with a rating of the risks likelihood and its impact on a project objective (using a high, medium or low classification for both). The risk assessment should also identify appropriate actions that would reduce or eliminate each risk, or its impact.

47. Typical areas of risk for an evaluation study might include ethical approval, site variation in data gathering, staffing, resource constraints, technical constraints, data access and quality, timing, management and operational issues; however, please note this is not an exhaustive list.

Patient and Public Involvement (PPI)

48. The NIHR Policy Research Programme expects the active involvement of patients and the public (e.g. service users and carers) in the research that it supports, where appropriate and proportionately to the proposed work. The nature and extent of patient and public involvement (PPI) is likely to vary depending on the context of the study. Applicants should describe how the issue of PPI will be addressed throughout the research process. For example, this could include patient and public involvement in refining research questions, designing research instruments, advising on approaches to recruitment, assisting in the collection and analysis of data, participation or chairing advisory and steering groups, and in the dissemination of research findings.

49. Applicants are required to detail what active involvement is planned, how it will benefit the research and the rationale for their approach. PPI needs to be undertaken in a manner that acknowledges that some people may need additional support, or to acquire new knowledge or skills to enable them to become involved effectively (see INVOLVE publications for guides for researchers). Applicants should therefore provide information on arrangements for training and support. In addition, applicants should note that a budget line for the costs of PPI is included in the finance form. Where no PPI is proposed, a rationale for this decision must be given.

50. For further information and guidance about PPI, please visit the INVOLVE website.

Outputs and reporting arrangements

51. The research team will be expected to provide regular progress reports over the lifetime of the research and will be provided with a progress report template to complete at regular intervals. In addition to describing progress, these reports will allow researchers to indicate any significant changes to the agreed protocol, as well as setting down milestones for the next reporting period, giving an update on PPI and any publications or other outputs. Information on emergent findings that can feed more immediately into policy development will be encouraged and should be made available as appropriate.

52. Where applicable, a final report on the research, with an accessible executive summary, will be required within one month following completion of the research. The report may be peer reviewed and will be circulated among relevant stakeholders within the Department of Health and Social Care and its partners. A summary of the final report will be placed in the public domain, on the Policy Research Programme webpage. This is where the outputs resulting from expenditure of public funds are made available for public scrutiny so it is important that the summary of your final report is easily accessible to the lay reader.

53. Research contractors are obliged to give at least 28 days notice before submission of any publication arising from research funded by the NIHR Policy Research Programme. In this instance, ‘publication’ concerns any presentation, paper, press release, report or other output for public dissemination arising from a research project funded by the PRP. Research contractors remain under an obligation to provide notice even after the contract has ended. Publication of PRP-commissioned research is subject to prior consent of the Secretary of State, which will not be withheld unreasonably and cannot be withheld for more than three months from the time the publication is submitted.


54. Applicants should describe how the research findings could be disseminated most effectively, ensuring that results of this research impact on policy and practice in the NHS, DHSC, social care and wider sectors.

55. Publication of scientifically robust research results is encouraged. This could include plans to submit papers to peer reviewed journals, national and regional conferences aimed at service providers, professional bodies and professional leaders. It might also include distribution of executive summaries and newsletters.

56. Given the special nature of this call, consideration of novel approaches aimed at making findings more accessible to a policy audience are strongly encouraged.


57. In line with the government’s transparency agenda, any contract resulting from this tender may be published in its entirety to the general public. 

58. If you wish to view the standard terms and conditions of the NIHR Policy Research Programme contract, sample contracts are available on the NIHR website.

Application process

59. A sample application form is available on the NIHR Policy Research Programme webpage.

60. The NIHR CCF runs an online application process and all applications must be submitted electronically. No applications will be accepted that are submitted by any means other than the online process. Deadlines for the submission of outline and full research applications occur at 1.00 pm on the day indicated and no applications can be accepted after this deadline.

61. We strongly recommend that you submit your application on the day before. Once the 1.00 pm deadline passes, the system shuts down automatically and CCF Programme Managers are unable to re-open it. If you are experiencing any technical difficulties submitting your application, please contact the CCF on 0208 843 8027 in good time, before 1.00 pm on the closing.

62. Applicants are expected before submitting applications, to have discussed their applications with their own and any other body whose cooperation will be required in conducting the research.

63. In order for your full application to be validated and submitted you are required to gain electronic approval from the relevant authorities before the application deadline. The Declarations page must be approved:

  • by the Lead Applicant to confirm that the content of the application is complete and correct.
  • by an administrative or finance officer for the contracting (host) institution to confirm that the financial details of the application are correct and that the host institution agrees to administer the award if made.
  • by a Head of Department or Senior Manager to confirm that they have read the application and that, if funded, the work will be accommodated and administered in the named institution and that the applicants may undertake the work.

64. Until this is completed, the lead applicant is unable to validate and submit the application.

Commissioning process

65. Please be aware this call will not be following a standard PRP commissioning cycle.

66. Stage 1 applications will be reviewed by a Commissioning Committee. Incomplete applications, applications too remote from the issues set out in the research specification, or applications that have clearly inadequate presentation or methods may be rejected at this stage.

67. Following the Stage 1 commissioning meetings, we intend to inform applicants whether or not they will be funded; subject to addressing concerns raised by Committee members in their Stage 2 application.

Standard PRP selection criteria

68. The Commissioning Committee members are directed to consider applications against the criteria stated in this research specification as well as selection criteria detailed below:

  • RELEVANCE of the proposed research to the research specification
    • How relevant is the proposal in relation to the research brief? Does it demonstrate awareness of and addresses recognised policy priorities? Does it offer evidence of support from potential policy customers?
    • Does the application demonstrate clear links with previously or currently funded NIHR work? Does it meaningfully build on and add value to such work?
  • QUALITY of the research design
    • How appropriate is the research design in relation to the proposal's stated objectives?
    • To what extent is the proposed design and methodology for all elements of the research well defined, appropriate, valid and feasible within the timeframe and resources requested?
    • To what extent does the research show originality and innovation?
  • QUALITY of the work plan and proposed management arrangements
    • How appropriate are the work plan and project management arrangements? Have clear milestones/deliverables been proposed? How likely is it that these will be met within the specified timeframe?
    • Have the applicants identified key risks to delivery? Have these been adequately addressed?
  • STRENGTH of the research team
    • Are the roles of the team members clearly described?
    • Does the Principal Investigator appear suitably qualified and experienced to lead the proposed work? If the PI is a junior researcher, is there adequate senior support in the wider team?
  • IMPACT of the proposed work
    • Does the proposal offer demonstrable benefits to policy makers? Does it offer an understanding of and a clear trajectory for how benefits might be achieved?
    • Does the proposal demonstrate readiness, intended as the ability to start quickly following funding decision?
    • Are the necessary clinical, academic, organisational links needed to support the research in place? Are dissemination and policy engagement plans clearly described and credible?
  • VALUE for money (justification of the proposed costs)
    • Does the proposal sufficiently justify the resources required to deliver the proposed work?
    • Do the proposed costs demonstrate value for money?
    • Is the time committed by the applicants realistic to ensure delivery?


69. General enquiries regarding the application and commissioning process can be directed to the PRP CCF Help Desk by telephone at 020 8843 8027 or by email to


1. Health Research Authority (HRA). UK Policy Framework for Health and Social Care Research. 2018. 

2. Information Commissioners Office. Guide to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).