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Policy Research Programme - Standard Information for Applicants


Published: 08 April 2021

Version: 4.0 - May 2024

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This document provides standard information on various aspects of funding from the NIHR Policy Research Programme (PRP) and contains details relevant to applicants.

More general advice on how to prepare an application is available on the how to make a strong application webpage

General Comments About Applications

The NIHR Policy Research Programme commissions and manages leading edge research to inform national policy decisions in England across the health, care and public health systems. It provides robust evidence through research commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to inform policy development and implementation.

Applicants for NIHR PRP awards are expected to respond directly to requirements laid out in the research specification for a given call. These research specifications are defined by the research customers in DHSC and Arm’s Length Bodies (ALBs). 

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 DHSC (England) and meet all other selection criteria. The NIHR Policy Research Programme accepts applications from Higher Education Institutions, NHS organisations, commercial and other third sector organisations. Please be advised that individual calls may however indicate specific requirements - please check the research specification for the call to ensure no exclusions apply.

Applicants are encouraged to submit multidisciplinary applications.

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.

NIHR is committed to promoting equality, diversity and inclusion in research and asks applicants to provide Equality and Diversity Monitoring Information (age, sex, ethnicity and race, and disability).  By answering these Equality and Diversity Monitoring Information questions, you will help us to better understand the different groups of people that apply to us for funding and their experiences of the funding process – particularly the groups protected by UK equality legislation.  Although it is mandatory to answer these questions, it is possible to select “prefer not to say” as a response.  However, the more information you provide, the more effective our monitoring will be. This information will not be used to make decisions about funding.

Research Management

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, which sets out the broad principles of good research governance.

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 HRA website

The successful research team must adhere to the General Data Protection Regulation and the new Data Protection Act (2018) 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.

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.

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

Applicants should include, 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. Please ensure this in the online application form.

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 application should include an assessment of each risk, together with a rating of the risk 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.

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 & Engagement (PPIE)

PRP expects the active involvement of patients and the public (e.g. service users and carers) in the research that it supports, where appropriate. However, the nature and extent of patient and public involvement (PPIE) is likely to vary depending on the context of the study. Applicants should describe how the issue of PPIE 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.

Applicants are required to detail what active involvement is planned, how it will benefit the research and the rationale for their approach. PPIE 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. Applicants should therefore provide information on arrangements for training and support. In addition, applicants should specify costs of PPIE within their application finance form. Where no PPIE is proposed, a rationale for this decision must be given.

NIHR has issued guidance for researchers about involving patients and the public in research. The NIHR website offers PPI resources for applicants to NIHR research programmes, including: Briefing notes for researchers on how to involve patients/service users, carers and the public, including definition of involvement engagement and participation; and Payments Guidance for researchers and professionals with information on budgeting for involvement.

Outputs and Reporting Arrangements

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.

A final report on the research, with an accessible executive summary, will be required within one month following completion of the research. The report will be peer reviewed and may be circulated among relevant stakeholders within DHSC and its partners. Subject to authority approval the executive summary may be placed in the public domain, on the PRP webpage.

Research contractors are obliged to give at least 28 days notice before submission of any publication arising from research funded by the PRP. 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.


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, and/or in social care.

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. Less traditional dissemination routes are also welcomed for consideration.


In line with the government’s transparency agenda, any contract resulting from this tender may be published in its entirety to the general public. Further information on the transparency agenda is available in the government's procurement and contracting transparency requirements guidance.

Details of the standard terms and conditions of the PRP contract are available on the sign a contract webpage.

Application Process

To access the research specification and application form, please refer to the relevant NIHR PRP funding opportunity.

The NIHR 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 the system will not accept applications after this deadline.

We strongly recommend that you submit your application on the day before the deadline. If you are experiencing any technical difficulties submitting your application, please contact the PRP on in good time, before 1:00 pm on a closing date.

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.

If you are struggling to submit your application, please check the “validation summary” page in the first instance

Guidance on Health Inequalities and associated data collection within NIHR PRP Research

Health Inequalities is a high priority area within the Department of Health and Social Care and the NIHR and is often present in a majority of funded projects.We are now assessing all NIHR research proposals in relation to health inequalities. We ask that you please clearly identify in the research plan section of the application whether your application has a health inequalities component or theme as well as how this research aims to impact health inequalities or not. Please also detail the core set of health inequality breakdown data that will be collected, if applicable. The applicant guidance for your stage 1 or stage 2 application form indicates where to include this information.

The collection of specific information about health inequalities in research submitted to the programme will allow for categorisation of health inequalities research, curation of data to aid future health inequalities research and enable policymakers to better understand the implications of health inequalities within their policy areas. Additional information on this requirement for data collection is provided in Appendix A. This is a new request from the NIHR PRP and we will be continuing to monitor queries and adapt the process as needed. If you have any feedback on this new request, please contact us at

Commissioning Process

The standard NIHR PRP commissioning cycle has two stages of assessment.

Stage 1 (outline application shortlisting)

Outline Stage 1 applications are shortlisted by a Committee which is composed of independent experts (possibly with observers from other government departments and executive agencies) who will advise the NIHR on which applications are most suitable for funding. Applications too remote from the issues set out in the research specification, or applications that have clearly inadequate presentation of methods may be rejected at or prior to the stage 1 Committee review.

Applications that are successfully shortlisted by the Committee will usually then proceed to Stage 2 of the application process and will be invited to submit a Stage 2 full application for consideration. In certain calls a committee funding recommendation may be made based on assessment of outline (Stage 1) applications, in which case funding outcomes will be communicated to applicants after a single stage of assessment. Please check the research specification for the call for additional information.

Stage 2 (full application assessment, including applicant rebuttal)

All full (Stage 2) applications submitted to PRP will be peer-reviewed by both stakeholder and independent academic referees. Wherever time permits, applicants are provided with a one week window to rebut peer reviews through the system; the dates of the window will be communicated after application submission, typically 6-8 weeks post submission. Only the Lead Applicant can write and submit the rebuttal and will have 3300 words and an optional upload.

Please note: the rebuttal is optional and if reviews are received late, there may not be the opportunity to rebut.

Full applications, peer reviewers’ comments and any responses to those comments will then be considered by the Stage 2 assessment Committee. The Committee will be informed by the reviewers’ comments and any responses made to these comments by the researchers. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of the Committee to make any funding recommendations to DHSC.

Selection criteria

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:

  1. How relevant is the proposal in relation to the research specification? Does it demonstrate awareness of and address recognised policy priorities? Is it clear how it would support potential policy customers?
  2. Does the application demonstrate an awareness and understanding of previous relevant research or developments in this area?

Quality of the research design:

  1. How appropriate is the research design in relation to the proposal's stated objectives?
  2. 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?
  3. To what extent does the research show originality and innovation?
  4. To what extent does the proposed work add to or complement initiatives at a national (or international) level?

Quality of the work plan and proposed management arrangements:

  1. 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?
  2. Have the applicants identified key risks to delivery? Have these been adequately addressed?
  3. Does the proposal demonstrate readiness, intended as the ability to start quickly following funding decision?

Strength of the research team:

  1. Are the roles of the team members clearly described?
  2. 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?
  3. Are the skills and expertise available in the team adequate to achieve the stated objectives?

Impact of the proposed work:

  1. 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?
  2. 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):

  1. Does the proposal sufficiently justify the resources required to deliver the proposed work?
  2. Do the proposed costs demonstrate value for money?
  3. Is the time committed by the applicants realistic to ensure delivery?

Involvement of patients and the public:

  1. Is the involvement of the public and possibly the wider community clearly stated within the proposed work? Is there evidence that the public has been involved at every stage of the proposed work from development through to dissemination?
  2. Is the patient and public involvement appropriately costed?

Submission to More Than One NIHR Programme

NIHR will not accept the same or substantially similar applications to more than one NIHR programme. If two similar applications are submitted, once the overlap is identified, the application that is most advanced through the funding process will continue and the second will not be taken further.

Similar applications will only be considered by two programmes concurrently if:

  • the aims and research proposals are substantially different
  • if successful, NIHR would be prepared to fund both proposals
  • the successful delivery of one project is not dependent on the other


General enquiries regarding the application and commissioning process can be directed to the PRP Team by telephone at 020 3692 7875 or by email to

Appendix A: Further Detail on the New Guidance on Health Inequalities data collection within NIHR PRP Research

Our goal is to facilitate more widespread and consistent reporting of health inequality breakdown data relating to the primary outcomes of NIHR funded research. We would ideally like researchers to focus on the following equity-relevant variables: age, sex, gender, disability, region*, 5 ONS Ethnic groups**, and the 5 IMD quintile groups. These variables are considered an ideal, but we understand that these are subject to change depending on the sample population and specific research question.

For qualitative research projects, this can be purely baseline characteristics of the participants, for example, the number of participants in each ethnic group.

For quantitative research projects, we would ideally like researchers to use a table of the form described below, to provide one-way breakdowns of their main outcome(s) by the following equity-relevant variables: age, sex, gender, disability, region, 5 ONS Ethnic groups, and the 5 IMD quintile groups, if appropriate for your research, together with the number of observations in each cell. If you have collected information relating to other inclusion health groups which are not covered by the fields within this table, please provide this information in a separate row.

This table should be submitted to NIHR PRP at the end of the project. Due to data limitations, judgement calls may be necessary about which breakdowns to report and whether to merge categories to increase counts in particular cells; we ask you to make these judgement calls yourself, bearing in mind our data curation aim of enabling future evidence synthesis work in pooling results from different studies. If there are multiple outcomes/effects with your stakeholders, select a small number of main outcomes as appropriate to report equity breakdowns. We will not be prescriptive about the number of the outcomes, as it will depend on the number of study design types and the nature of the project aims. We are asking for one way cross tabulations of each primary outcome by these equity-relevant variables, If more detailed cross tabulations are appropriate for your proposed research, please include these as well.

This request applies to both primary data collection studies and secondary analysis of routine data, and to causal inference studies as well as descriptive studies; however, if this is not possible due to data limitations then please explain. Due to sample size and other data limitations there may be difficult scientific and/or data security*** judgement calls to make about which breakdowns to report and whether to merge categories to increase counts in particular cells; we ask you to make these judgments yourself, bearing in mind our data curation aim of enabling future evidence synthesis work in pooling results from different studies. We also ask that researchers report breakdowns for the unadjusted as well as adjusted outcomes/effects, as appropriate.

We understand that research projects may employ different methodologies, and focus on different populations. Please explain how the variables and data collection methods chosen are appropriate to the methodologies used.

Submission of the data collection will be a condition of the final report for all research with relevant methodologies regardless of whether the research has a health inequalities component, and this will need to be submitted to NIHR PRP when the grant has finished. This should only take a few sentences within the research plan section.

* Table below uses the nine regions in England, further regions can be used if using the UK as the study population. Please report region breakdown for large samples in nationally representative descriptive studies. There is no need to report this for small sample studies, for sub-national studies, or for quasi-experimental studies where it would require time-consuming re-estimation.
** White, Mixed/ Multiple ethnic groups, Asian/ Asian British, Black/ African/ Caribbean/ Black British, Other ethnic group. If the sample size is small then it is fine to report only some of the requested equity breakdowns and to merge some of the sub-groups as appropriate.
*** For guidance on how to handle data security concerns in reporting of sensitive data please see ONS guidance.

Example data table for submission at the end of the funded research project

(N.B. If there is more than one main outcome then you will require more tables and if you adjust your outcome then you will need two tables for the adjusted outcome and unadjusted outcome. For other methodologies, variable vs number of observations may be more appropriate to record participant data). This table is for an example only. It does not contain sub variables and does not illustrate any preference for certain variables, as these will be dependent on the proposed research.

VariableOutcome (an appropriate average for this subgroup, usually the mean)Number of observationsAdditional information about variation if appropriate, e.g. range, standard deviation
Age - - -
Sex - - -
Gender - - -
Disability - - -
Ethnic Group - - -
IMD Group - - -
Region - - -