Internet Explorer is no longer supported by Microsoft. To browse the NIHR site please use a modern, secure browser like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.

Programme Development Grants - Developing Innovative, Inclusive and Diverse Public Partnerships call brief


Published: 13 January 2022

Version: 2.0 - June 2023

Print this document

Following the highly successful first round, we are excited to announce the launch of the second round of the Programme Development Grants funding opportunity, giving research teams, community and charity organisations and groups the opportunity to explore and develop partnerships together.

Partnerships can secure up to £150k for between 6 and 18 months to develop relationships and try out new ways of working together and with communities on health and care problems, or to develop new ways of working between researchers and communities that could be adopted by others. Partnerships must include a host organisation who submits the jointly developed application for funding, and takes responsibility for it on behalf of the partners; that organisation must be an NHS Trust, NHS Body or another provider of NHS services in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

Helpful links/resources relating to the funding opportunity

This call is now closed.

Detailed information about this funding opportunity information is provided throughout the guidance document below.

NOTE: The scope of this funding opportunity described below supersedes the 'Scope' and 'What we Fund' sections of the guidance on the PDG webpage. Dedicated application guidance to support completion of the application form can be found using the links below and again, supersedes the current published application guidance for Stream A and B of the PDG scheme.   


The PDG and PGfAR schemes fund research that identifies and tackles the health and social care issues that matter most to populations, patients, users of social care, carers, and commissioners. Both schemes require public involvement, engagement, and a commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion to shape the choice, design, development, and delivery of research. However, novel approaches are now sought, ones which build more collaborative, equitable, and sustainable partnerships between researchers and diverse groups of people and communities, especially those currently under-represented in research

Why are we running this funding opportunity?

This innovation came from members of the public who sit on a committee to help the NIHR to decide which research ideas it should fund. You can learn more about why this innovation is important and needed by reading the blog written by a public contributor, Anica Alvarez Nishio, and Steven Blackburn, from the NIHR.

NIHR had already identified that there was a gap in early-stage funding and time for the development of partnership working between researchers and communities prior to research ideas being put forward for funding. More generally, NIHR is keen to broaden relationships, and to do more community engagement, so that the wider needs of communities (particularly communities currently underserved by research and or health and care in general) shape how research is created and used.

Community/charity groups and organisations are an important bridge to communities that research would not otherwise reach or serve. Community/charity groups and organisations often have a better understanding of the health and care needs of communities in the areas in which they work than researchers would, and they frequently have strong relationships with those communities built on trust. Community/charity groups and organisations bring different skills sets, creativity,  and innovation in how they work with individuals and communities to identify and meet needs. This is hugely relevant and valuable to research design, delivery and use.

This is why this opportunity is specifically encouraging community/charity groups and organisations to come forward, to develop relationships with researchers and to apply for funding to work together in a purposeful partnership. Community/charity organisations and groups do not have to have been involved in research before to get involved.

It is expected that funded awards will provide a springboard for long lasting research collaborations and relationships that benefit all parties alike, within and beyond the NIHR Programme Grants for Applied Research (PGfAR) funding programme.

Who can apply?

If your organisation or group has views about health or care issues which need to be addressed in the area or community you work in, and you’d like to work with researchers and the community to explore them, the first step would be to find a partner researcher or research team that has common interests to your group or organisation. The partner researcher/team should already have good links to a research active NHS Trust, NHS Body or another provider of NHS services. This is because, under current NIHR rules, it is a requirement that any research proposal must be hosted by an NHS Trust, NHS Body or another provider of NHS services in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Whilst a community or charity organisation or group cannot take the role of the host organisation, they might be the ones to initiate the proposal. The community or charity organisation can and are expected to jointly lead the application and to play a full part in the idea generation, design and delivery of any project.

In the event of your proposal being approved, this host organisation acts as the vehicle to access and distribute any funding amongst partners, and takes legal responsibility for delivery of the research. 

What this funding opportunity is looking to fund

We are inviting applications to develop, carry out, and evaluate novel partnership-based development activities that break new ground in research involvement and engagement. Applications involving groups who have been underserved by research are particularly welcome.

It is important to remember, though, that the NIHR funds research, meaning applications need to be logical, specific, have clear outputs, and some connection to the Programme Development Grants and/or Programme Grants for Applied Research schemes, which is: health and social care research that seeks to come up with applied solutions to problems.

Given the above, the funding opportunity is not intended to support applications which seek solely to undertake early work. For example, priority setting endeavours or simply creating new partnerships is not eligible work. Partnership building activity is allowed – and encouraged -- in the context of novel research leading to clear outputs.

Applications funded through this call should also:

  • Help inform a future PGfAR application that will deliver and benefit from novel and inclusive public and community partnerships across its work packages (Stream A); or
  • Further develop and/or evaluate public involvement and community partnerships in ongoing PGfAR funded research (Stream B); or
  • Generate knowledge about new and different approaches to public partnership working that will inform either:
    • future health and social care research funded by PGfAR, or
    • how research is commissioned in the PGfAR scheme and across applied health research more broadly

Applications should be developed collaboratively as a partnership between public contributors and/or communities, and researchers. Co-production and co-leadership of projects is expected. Partnerships should include community organisations or groups, users of social care, patients, carers, people with diverse lived experiences, people with unheard or unmet health and social care needs, or people who are not usually, or not consistently, involved in health and/or care research. In particular, we would like to see researchers seek to address barriers to engaging in research and co-production such as disability and social exclusion. The involvement of third sector and other non-for-profit organisations that have a focus on improving the lives of citizens is also encouraged. The choice of partnership members, and their roles, should be explained.

A good application should demonstrate the following:

  • Early and sustained relationship building with relevant people, public groups, and communities.
  • Clear reach into underserved communities.
  • Reciprocity in research so that people and communities, as well as the researchers, clearly benefit from engagement.
  • Fair, appropriate, and justifiable distribution of funding between research and community partner organisations.
  • Use of creative ways to better serve those traditionally underserved.
  • Built-in evaluation of the impact of the innovative approaches to involvement, engagement and/or co-production.
  • Plans that clearly demonstrate how the applicants will ensure continued engagement between partners after the PDG funding ends.

Example activities

Projects might include, for example:

  • Methods for developing research interest or understanding in groups and communities.
  • Effective and inclusive engagement approaches using creative arts, new technologies or participatory approaches.
  • Ways of engaging and involving groups who are under-represented in research.
  • Ways of implementing patient and public involvement and engagement at scale across communities.
  • Approaches for identifying and developing community health and social care priorities as research proposals.

Case studies

We have produced case studies of a few of the projects funded from the first round of this funding opportunity, so you have more ideas of the things we are looking for:


Applicants may apply for funding of between £50,000 and £150,000 to cover the costs for all the partners involved in the partnership development activities which can be delivered over a period of between 6 and 18 months.

How to apply

This is a one stage application process which requires applicants to complete an online single stage application form. The online form has a number of sections. Full details on the requirements for each of the sections and the application process is detailed in the application guidance. The application form can be found, completed, and submitted on our online Research Management System (RMS).

If you are interested in applying, you will first need to register on the RMS. We recommend that those who will be named applicants register for an RMS account as early as possible as the process can take up to 48 hours. This will enable immediate access to the application form when the call opens in August. 

To be included as a named applicant within an application, each individual must have an approved and active RMS account. Each named co-applicant will be required to log into the RMS and confirm their involvement in the application.

You can download a word version template of the application form (.DOCX - Word) and use it to draft your proposal in advance of the funding opportunity opening on 23 August. Your offline draft can then be copied into the online form. Please note that we will only accept applications submitted through the online form.

The deadline for submission of your application is 13:00 on 25 October 2023. We recommended that the host organisation submit the application several days in advance of the deadline, to allow time to fix any last-minute technical glitches that you might encounter.

How will we decide what to fund?

Applications submitted to the funding opportunity will be reviewed by a committee comprising a Chair, Programme Director, a mixture of applied health research experts, and public contributors. Given the PPIE/community engagement focus of the call, we intend to have more public contributors than applied health research experts on the committee. Each application will be assessed against selection criteria, including:

  • the strength of the partnership and whether the team has the right skills mix to lead the research
  • the plans for the partnership to be sustained
  • the plans to ensure mutual benefit between researchers and communities
  • the reach of the team and research proposed within underserved communities
  • the novelty and overall quality of the proposal
  • the proposal’s likelihood to influence future PGfAR health and social care research
  • the amount and distribution of funding between the researchers and community partner organisation

Applications that meet the selection criteria are typically recommended for funding. Funding recommendations will then be sent to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for approval. Once approved, all applicants will be notified of the outcome of their application; we anticipate this will be around March 2024.

What happens after the funding decision?

If your partnership application is recommended for funding:

  • you will be provided with committee feedback in your notification letter. You will also be provided with feedback about any problems with the budget etc.
  • the applicant team will be expected to provide a response to the committee feedback, with any financial and intellectual property concerns identified.
  • the response to committee feedback will be reviewed by the chair and Programme Director, and, if necessary, members of the funding committee.
  • if satisfactory, the host organisation and key contacts in your team will be notified and a contract issued to start negotiations.
  • this part of the process typically takes between 2 to 4 months.
  • once the signed contract is in place, the host organisation will finalise agreements with you, and you will be able to start the work. The host organisation will make arrangements for paying your share of the costs.
  • we anticipate that the partnership work you have described in the proposal will be able to start around September 2024

If your application is not recommended for funding:

  • your notification letter will include committee feedback outlining the reasons why - your team can ask for further clarification about the feedback if anything is unclear.
  • your team can also discuss the feedback with the Research Support Service (RSS) who may be able to help you improve the application based on the feedback provided (this was previously supported by the Research Design Service)
  • the PDG scheme does not prevent applicants from reapplying, as this is a special scheme that is only being run once a year, the next opportunity to apply will be in 2024

Key call dates

Call launch 23 August 2023
Call close 25 October 2023
Notification of outcome March 2024

Contact and further information

General questions about the funding opportunity, queries and/or any problems with the application process should be addressed to

Applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the NIHR Research Support Service or the NIHR Programme Grants team ( for advice about their ideas for partnership working and assistance in developing their applications.

Supplementary Information

  • Annex 1: More about NIHR, the PDG and PGfAR funding schemes and funding research
  • Annex 2: Building partnerships and planning for an application

Recommended further reading

Annex 1: More about NIHR, the PDG and PGfAR funding schemes and funding research

1.1 What is NIHR and what job does it do?

The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). You can find out more about the NIHR by visiting the website.

NIHR’s research is shaped in collaboration with patients, service users, carers and communities. We partner with patients, service users, carers and communities to keep improving the relevance, quality and impact of our research. You can find out more about the ways in which NIHR partners with the public by visiting the website.

1.2 What is the Programme Grants for Applied Research Programme (PGfAR)?

Programme Grants for Applied Research (PGfAR) is one of NIHR’s research funding programmes. It aims to deliver research outputs that will lead to clear and identifiable patient, service user or carer benefit. Typically through the promotion of health and wellbeing, prevention of ill health and disease management. Research proposals must be in an area of priority or need for the NHS, public health or social care. You can visit the PGfAR webpage to learn more about this scheme.

2.2 What is a Programme Development Grant (PDG)?

NIHR Programme Development Grants (PDG) is a funding scheme which is part of one of the NIHR programmes: Programme Grants for Applied Research (PGfAR). It was designed to enable researchers and partners to work together to prepare a future application to the programme, or to further develop an existing programme of research which is already funded by the programme. You can visit the PDG webpage to learn more. This new funding opportunity fits under the umbrella of PDG.

1.3 How does NIHR fund research, and who is involved in doing research?

A key way in which NIHR funds research is through operating different funding programmes to fund different types of research.

Researchers/research teams (this can include public contributors and or charities/community organisations) apply to NIHR for funds so they can deliver research. This requires developing a research proposal.

Researchers/teams usually work in or through the infrastructure of universities or hospital trusts. To deliver meaningful research which can make a difference to care and treatments, different perspectives and skills are needed to plan and write (and afterwards, deliver) a research proposal. This includes people with research skills, clinical experience, and lived experience (patients, public, service users, carers) of the conditions, treatments or care being researched.

A research proposal needs to match the aims and eligibility criteria for the programme or themed call. In any proposal, a partnership will:

  • make clear the questions that their proposed research will answer
  • explain how they will go about designing and delivering the research (who will be involved, the time frame, the expected outcomes and the difference it will make), including how public contributors/communities will be involved

This is usually done using an NIHR Standard Application Form. For this funding opportunity, we have made some changes to the form to make it easier to complete and more appropriate for the information needed for this funding opportunity. You can download a template application form for this call (.DOCX - Word) and use it to draft your proposal in advance of the funding opportunity opening on 23 August.

Annex 2: Building partnerships and planning for an application

2.1 Start planning early

We  recommended that applicants begin planning and drafting their application, using the template, as early as possible rather than wait until the funding opportunity opens in August. This is because it can take some time to make the initial contacts, to decide whether your aims and ways of working are compatible, and to develop trust, before you even agree what you might do together.

We recommend that you speak to your staff or volunteers and the people or communities you work with as soon as possible about the sort of partnership you would like, which health and care related issues affecting them that you want to explore further with researchers, your ideas for how you might go about this and the particular skills and strengths you or your team can bring to a partnership.

It is advisable to try and make contact with researchers or research teams in advance of July. This is when the academic year finishes and many researchers become uncontactable for periods throughout July and August.

2.2 Explore common interests and ways of working between prospective partners

Once you identify potential partners, build time in to get to know each other’s interests and ways of working more before you agree to work together on a proposal. You could start off in a more general way, and focus on specifics as you move towards an agreement to work together. Below are some example prompts to help shape your discussions:

  • The health and care issues that most concern you and your communities in your work, who they most affect (e.g., specific customers that a charity works with) and where (e.g., geographical location)
  • What do you understand to be the specific needs and wants of the individuals or communities in question? What would that mean for how you would work with them, including involving them in shaping the design and delivery of any work together?
  • What would you like to see happen/achieve in the longer term to address these issues? What would success look like for your group or organisation? How might working together get you closer to achieving that?
  • What knowledge, skills, strengths, insight, connections, networks and resources do you already bring and what gaps might there be?
  • What is unique or special about your organisation and the way it works which could be relevant? This could be anything - from running a community radio station or arts classes through to being able to speak community languages
  • What might it look like working together and what are your preferences in terms of ways of working and communicating?
  • What are the things you need to happen or to be provided to make a partnership work in your context? For example, a community organisation run by volunteers might need to recruit someone to help run any activity, they might need funding up front in order to do this. Work might need to happen in evenings or weekends. Is this achievable?
  • Which roles would be involved in designing and delivering work together, and who might be best suited to which roles?
  • Who is best placed to do what in the process of preparing the wording and finances for an application and submitting it (e.g., who can help work out the costs for all partners and prepare the finance section? who would write the text and how would they go about ensuring all partners are happy with the content etc.?)?

Once you agree that you want to work together, you might consider developing a joint working agreement to set your respective roles and expectations in the project. It can be good to have what you have discussed in writing. It also helps you to reflect on what you’ve agreed and make adjustments if you need to. This can be as simple or detailed, as formal or informal as you need it to be. If you are a member of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, you can download a template for a joint working agreement. It is also worth agreeing in advance how you would iron out any conflicts or difficulties between partners, were they to arise.

2.3 Understand the budgeting and people implications

If you are a smaller charity or community organisation, especially if you’re mainly volunteer run, you will need to think carefully about how you can build in the time and resources to be part of a proposal, how you will decide what to charge for the work, and how you’ll manage the finances and work together if the research proposal is approved.

One option is to link up with a larger charity or community organisation who understands your work and organisational needs and who already has effective finance and administration systems in place. They could be a partner in the proposal, and you could agree to deliver some of the activity for them, and they would be responsible to the lead partner for that work being delivered. For example, they might agree to do things like manage the payments to your public contributors for their involvement directly, if you do not have the ability to do this. Alternatively, you could both be collaboration partners with the host organisation; each responsible to the host organisation for different activities. Another option is to agree with the host organisation that they do most of the heavy lifting with regards to organisation, management, finance and administration.

However you proceed, it is recommended that all partners agree in advance who will be responsible for tasks such as:

  • organising and minuting partnership meetings and activities (pre- and post-approval)
  • writing and submitting the application on the Standard Application Form (pre-approval)
  • responding to NIHR and partner queries about the project (pre- and post-approval)
  • preparing and agreeing any external communications about, or publicity for, the project (post-approval)
  • preparing the costings for all partners (pre-approval)
  • managing the distribution of funding and accounting for the project expenditure (post-approval)
  • agreeing how project records will be kept and reported and putting in place processes for this (post-approval)
  • reporting on the project and being part of monitoring processes (post-approval)
  • running project activities and delivering outputs (post-approval)
  • co-ordinating activity with public contributors and ensuring they are remunerated for their time (pre- and post-approval)

You will need to be clear about which individuals working with your group or organisation will be involved in which tasks, how much time this is likely to take, when they might be able to fit the work in over the intended period of the project delivery, and how this fits alongside other work that you have to do. If you do not think you will have the capacity to do the project work with current volunteers or paid staff, you could think about employing new bank staff, contract staff or recruiting some new volunteers to cover other work, or to be part of the project. This would of course involve time and money (for writing job descriptions, advertising roles, interviewing, onboarding, any disclosure and barring service checks and training). The costs of recruiting and training new staff to work on the project are eligible costs to claim, but unless the host organisation is able to fund this “at risk” before the project has been approved, you would have to wait until after the project is approved, then contracted (approximately March/April 2024) to receive the money. Alternatively, you could recruit once the project has been contracted.

You can include the costs for the time that your paid staff would spend working on the project, as part of the application. To work out staff costs, you need to take into account not only any pay they receive (including pension contributions, National Insurance and any other benefits), but also an apportioned amount of your overall costs for running your group and organisation (known as “full cost recovery”). Read more about full cost recovery..

You can include what it costs you to manage and support your volunteers, and you will also need to budget for involving members of your community or the public in your work. NIHR has some guidance on how to cost for involvement.