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Programme Grants for Applied Research - Guidance for Stage 1 applications


Published: 01 February 2024

Version: v44 - February 2024

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This document provides guidance on completing an application for stage 1 of funding competition for the NIHR Programme Grants for Applied Research (PGfAR) Programme. Please see also the supporting information for Stage 1 and Stage 2 applicants.

We supply a word document version of the online Stage 1 application form to help researchers prepare their proposal ahead of submission. This is to be used as a guide and to assist with completion of the online application form only. Please do not try to use this as an application form. You must apply using the online form in the Research Management System (RMS), available when calls are open.

As part of NIHR's drive to develop research capacity, PGfAR is now offering the opportunity to develop and advance health and care research careers. Applications that include research capacity development for methodological and under-represented disciplines and professions are particularly encouraged. Applicants can now 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). For more information please visit our PGfAR Capacity Building web page.

PGfAR now funds 80% Full Economic Cost (FEC) of both direct and indirect research costs.

PGfAR are expanding the eligibility of contracting organisations and will now contract research programmes with Higher Educational Institutes (HEIs) for social care and public health focused programmes where contracting with the NHS is not appropriate.

Section 1: Application Summary Information

Host Organisation

Provide details of the organisation who will be the contractor if the programme is funded.

Research Title

The programme title should state clearly and concisely the proposed research. Any abbreviations should be spelled out in full.

Research Type

Select the appropriate research type. If your proposed programme includes any element of primary research, please select ‘Primary Research’. If you are carrying out new analysis of existing data, select ‘Secondary Research’. If you are not sure which category to select, choose the closest match to your project as this can be adjusted later.

Proposed Start Date

Note this should be from 1st of the month regardless of whether this is a working day or not. Please be realistic about your possible start date taking account of the necessary contracting, and staff recruitment prior to starting your project.

Research Duration (months)

Ensure you include sufficient time to complete all aspects of the research including applications for regulatory approvals (where required) and the final report.

End Date

This field will automatically populate once you have entered the start date and research duration information.

Estimated Research Costs

Enter the total amount of research costs requested (not including NHS Support & Treatment costs). PGfAR now funds 80% Full Economic Costs (FEC) of both direct and indirect research costs.

PLEASE NOTE: Applicants should no longer include open access costs as part of their stage 1 estimated application Research Costs.

Further information can be found by reading the Open Access Funding Guidance.

Estimated NHS Support & Treatment costs or external (not NHS) intervention costs

Enter the total amount of NHS support and treatment costs or external intervention costs associated with this proposal.

Conflict checks

Please declare any conflicts or potential conflicts of interest that you or your co-applicants may have in undertaking this research, including any relevant, non-personal & commercial interest that could be perceived as a conflict of interest.

Agreement to terms and conditions

As lead applicant, please tick the box to confirm that the information entered into the application form is correct and that you take responsibility for overall management and delivery of the research. 

Section 2: Lead Applicant Details 

Complete your name, contact details and other requested information.

Section 3: The Research Team

Specify your (lead applicant) role in this research

Explain in addition to your role as Lead Applicant, the role that you will be undertaking in the research, e.g. co-ordination and project management, analysis, methodological input etc.

%FTE Commitment

This refers to the percentage of your time that you will commit to this project. If you are funded as part of other NIHR projects that will be running concurrently, your time must not exceed 100% overall. 

Joint Lead Applicant

Where appropriate and justified it is acceptable for the application to be led by Joint Lead Applicants. Where this applies, please complete your name, contact details and other requested information.

Justification for Joint Lead Applicant and Role in This Research

Justification should be given to demonstrate why more than one person would be required to lead this research and how this brings added value to the application. Please also provide a brief overview of their role in the proposed research.

%FTE Commitment

This refers to the percentage of your time that you will commit to this project.

NOTE: For application/contracting purposes, the joint lead applicant will be counted as a co-applicant.


Add details of all co-applicants and their specific role in the programme. Do not include collaborators, who should be mentioned (if necessary) in the Research Plan section of the form.

Up to a maximum of 15 co-applicants will be allowed. Please note that any joint lead applicant will be counted as a co-applicant. If you have listed a joint lead applicant, then only a further 14 co-applicants can be included.

We encourage the inclusion of public co-applicants, where appropriate. Please include a clear description of their role and the reasons why a public co-applicant is joining the team. For further information please access the ‘Public Co-applicants in Research’ guidance.

Co-applicants are those individuals with responsibility for the day to day management and delivery of the project and can include patients, carers and service users. Co-applicants, including public co-applicants, are considered part of the project team and are expected to share responsibility for its successful delivery. In contrast, collaborators normally provide specific expertise on particular aspects of the project but do not share in the responsibility for the delivery of the project.

PPI Lead

There should be a named person with appropriate skills and experience who is responsible for leading the PPI element within the project. This role should be an adequately costed and resourced research team member who is able to manage the PPI plans and related activities. More information and examples of the activities a PPI lead might undertake can be found in our guidance on the NIHR website.

Section 4: Plain English Summary of Research

A plain English summary is a clear explanation of your research.

Many reviewers use this summary to inform their review of your funding application. They include clinicians, other practitioners and researchers who do not have specialist knowledge of your field as well as members of the public. If your application for funding is successful, the summary will be used on the NIHR and other websites.

A good quality plain English summary providing an easy to read overview of your whole study will help:

  1. those carrying out the review (reviewers and board and committee members) to have a better
    understanding of your research proposal
  2. inform others about your research such as members of the public, health and social care professionals, policy makers and the media
  3. the research funders to publicise the research that they fund

If it is felt that your plain English summary is not clear and of a good quality then you may be required to amend it prior to final funding approval.

It is helpful to involve patients / carers / service users / practitioners and members of the public in developing a plain English summary.


When writing your summary consider including the following information where appropriate:

  1. aim(s) of the research
  2. background to the research
  3. design and methods used
  4. patient and public involvement
  5. dissemination

The plain English summary is not the same as a scientific abstract - please do not cut and paste this or other sections of your application form to create the plain English summary.

Further guidance on writing in plain English is available online at NIHR Plain English summaries.

For further support and advice on writing a plain English summary, please contact the Research Support Service (where applicable). 

Section 5: Research Plan

Using all of the headings in the order presented below, please use this section to clearly explain your proposed research. Schematics, tables, illustrations, graphs, and other types of graphics can be embedded to clarify the research plan but they should not clutter the central narrative. Images do not count towards the overall word count but inclusion of them to overcome word limits is not permitted. Images may only be included within the 'Research Plan.' Images included in other sections will be removed from the application
and not seen by reviewers.

As this is the main part of your application which will be considered by the reviewing committee, you should ensure that the information is accurate, succinct, clearly laid out and provides sufficient methodological detail. The overall amount of information that you can provide at this stage is limited to 3 - 4 pages (dependent on the type/complexity/scale of study proposed). (Limit: 3000 words).

The NIHR expects appropriate and relevant involvement of patients/service users, carers and the public and other key stakeholders in the research it supports. It is essential to set out your plans to involve patients/service users, carers and the public in the Stage 1 application. Your patient/service users, carers and public involvement plans will be assessed by the funding committee/board including patients/service users, carers and public members.

A list of PPI resources for applicants to NIHR research programmes is available on the NIHR website, 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.

In this section it is important that you identify all stakeholders who are relevant to your research proposal. For each stakeholder group you need to be clear about how they benefit from your proposed research and, where appropriate, how they have been involved in the development of the application, as well as the plans for their involvement in the proposed research.

What is the problem being addressed?

Provide a clear explanation of the health or social care problem to be addressed, the impact on patients/service users, carers or the public as well as health and care services, and how this research would fill a demonstrable evidence gap, addressing patient/service user and carer needs and DHSC priorities (at national or local levels).

Explain how your proposed research is within the remit of the PGfAR programme and how it addresses the key aim of the programme to produce research findings that will have practical application for the benefit of patients, service users, carers, the public or populations, and the NHS or social care sector in the relatively near future.

Remember that the application will be reviewed by assessors who may not have a detailed understanding of the particular clinical, public health or social care area that your application relates to. It is vitally important that you clearly tell the story of why this research is important, and how it will make a stepped change to practice and/or outcomes. The committee is looking for novel approaches. Research which, in the committee’s view, represents only an incremental development on current practice, or is unlikely to have general application / uptake is unlikely to be supported. Research which improves efficiency and effectiveness (rather than increasing workload in an already stretched NHS) is welcomed.

Please indicate under this question if you are responding to the NIHR highlight notice on ‘Brain Tumours’.

Why is this research important in terms of improving the health and/or wellbeing of the public and/or to patients and health and care services?

It is essential that you clearly identify the health and care need your research meets or contributes to. Please outline the anticipated value or contribution the study will provide.
Briefly describe:

  1. The importance of the proposed research and its relevance to the priorities and needs of the NHS, public health and care or social care (including a statement of the significance of the research area, e.g. burden of disease)
  2. The anticipated outputs, outcomes and impact of the proposed research on the health and care of patients/service users, carers and/or the public, highlighting the innovation and/or development aspects and quantifying the potential benefits, where possible
  3. The anticipated timescale for the benefits to patients/service users, carers, the public or populations and the NHS or public health or social care settings resulting from the proposed research to be realised
  4. As well as the overarching patient/service user or carer benefits the proposal seeks to achieve, detail the clear and identifiable patient/service user or carer benefits emerging from each work package. For example, (patient/service user, carer and/or health care professional/practitioner experience data following qualitative work, increased knowledge following surveys/observational studies etc.)

Review of existing evidence - How does the existing literature support this proposal?

Explain why this research is needed now, both in terms of time and relevance. Briefly describe:

  1. The need for research in this area, drawing particularly from systematic reviews (including NHS, public health or social care context and relevant literature), and the rationale for the particular lines of research you plan to pursue
  2. Past and current research that justifies the proposed research and shows that it will add distinct value to what is already known, or in progress
  3. Work undertaken previously by the research team which has led to the proposed programme (e.g., describe any pilot or feasibility data)

NOTE: We will only fund primary research where the proposed research is informed by a review of the existing evidence.

Applicants should be aware of ongoing research in this area and comment on any other research which might be deemed to overlap with the contents of the proposal. In particular, applicants are advised to use both PubMed Central and Europe PubMed Central for recent material on the topic area they are applying for. All applicants must also include reference to relevant on-going studies, e.g. from trial registries.

Any applications that include primary research should include reference to the existing evidence and explain how this evidence has informed the proposed research. Where a systematic review already exists that summarises the available evidence this should be referenced, as well as including reference to any relevant literature published subsequent to that systematic review. Where no such systematic review exists, it is expected that the applicants will undertake an appropriate scoping review of the currently available and relevant evidence and then summarise this in their proposal. The application may then include a more detailed review in early work packages.

For further information please read about our Adding value in research model.

What is the research question /aims and objectives

This section should be used to indicate the overarching aims/objectives of the research, outlining the key question(s) which the work will address and, where appropriate, the main hypothesis.

Project Plan

NOTE: Applicants should aim to reserve a significant proportion of the word limit for the project plan to ensure methodological approaches are fully specified.

Provide an expert summary of the project plan of investigation plus any additional points required to support statements made in the previous sections, and include any key references required to justify the points made (e.g. in the use of particular outcome measures or methods of analysis).

Applicants are reminded that NIHR strategy encourages research which follows patient/service user, carer needs. Researchers should clearly articulate how their research meets this objective. Programmes should recruit participants from geographical areas where patient/service user, carer need is greatest, including for example rural and semi-rural areas where many older people live, and represent areas of diverse socioeconomic and ethnic diversity.

Equality, inclusion and diversity should also be properly considered when planning and describing the research, and evidenced in the application.

Guidance for applicants on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion for study participants

Every person eligible to take part in research should be offered the same opportunity of taking part in that research regardless of:

  • Geographical location
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Ethnicity - for example:
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Access to health or social care

All NIHR applications are expected to include information about how this data will be collected. In addition, applicants should demonstrate how these factors have been considered and addressed in their proposal, including steps taken to ensure the research sample is representative of the population the study is targeted at. Applicants need to explain who they are planning to recruit to ensure inclusivity of study participants and justify and explain any exclusions, for example by completing an Equality Impact Assessment. Costs associated with inclusivity, which may include, but are not limited to justified translation of research participant material into other relevant languages, would be expected and where appropriate should be included in the detailed budget section under ‘Other Direct Costs’. Additionally, applicants should demonstrate that all potential recruiting locations have been considered and the research is deliverable to those areas.

Please see the NIHR INCLUDE Guidance for more information about how to include under-served groups effectively:

Helpful links:
NIHR's promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion in research web page

Research plan/Methods

Describe the proposed research plan, providing brief descriptions of individual projects/workstreams/workpackages in turn and indicate how they integrate together to form a coherent programme of research. In particular, specify the methodological approaches proposed in sufficient detail to allow them to be assessed, (justification for sample sizes, inclusion and exclusion criteria, nature of follow up, techniques of data collection, choice of analysis and why etc.).


Briefly describe why the team is well qualified to do the work. If submitting with a joint lead applicant, justify why more than one person is needed to lead the proposal.
The team should be multidisciplinary and include relevant expertise in the clinical, public health or social area concerned, e.g. operational research, PPI lead, public voice with lived experience, health economics etc.

For applications seeking to embed research capacity building, indicate which member of the team will be the Named Point of Contact for Training and Development (NPC). Alternatively, if an existing dedicated career development and training lead from the contracting or collaborating institutions will take on this role. Please briefly describe the NPCs experience in facilitating academic capacity development and training.

There should be a named person with appropriate skills and experience who is responsible for leading the PPI element within the project. This role should be an adequately costed and resourced research team member who is able to manage the PPI plans and related activities. Examples of the activities a PPI lead might undertake can be found in our definition and role of a designated PPI Lead.

Please also list and explain the role of key collaborators involved in the research, as well as any patient/service user, carer and public leads (not previously listed as co-applicants).

Capacity Building

Please indicate if your proposal involves research capacity building plans.

Please use this section to outline your plans for increasing research capacity, including through the provision of training, which supports diverse career paths and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion, as well as which competitively recruited post(s) this will apply to. Include an explanation of why it would be beneficial to increase the research capacity in the specific selected discipline(s) and the area of research being addressed with the proposal, and what stages of the academic career pathway require capacity building. Plans for research capacity building should be in line with the capacity building information for applicants.


Detail the timetable for the programme of work, including key milestones and deliverables.

PPI (Patient/service user, carer and public involvement)

The NIHR expects appropriate and well-designed involvement of patients/service users, carers and the public and other key stakeholders in the research it supports. In the Stage 1 application, it is essential to show your plans for involving patients/service users, carers and the public at each appropriate stage of the research project lifecycle. For example, sitting on oversight committees, being a member of the research team involved in activities such as recruitment, data collection, analysis, producing study materials and sharing findings. Your PPI plans will be assessed by the funding committee which includes patient and public members. In the rare circumstances where PPI is not appropriate, a clear justification must be provided. 

You should also outline how PPI has informed the development of the project so far. For example, the involvement of patients/service users, carers or the public in shaping the research question and study design. These activities could include the development of feasible, relevant and acceptable recruitment plans, data collection tools, information materials, outcome measures, follow-up, intervention design and delivery.

For a Stage 2 application, you will be asked how the PPI will be managed, reported and evaluated; whilst it is not necessary to provide the detail in Stage 1, early consideration should be given to these aspects.

More resources to support the design of your PPI are available in our guidance on the NIHR website. Your initial application will be assessed by a public committee member who will consider this aspect of your proposal.

Patient/service user, carer benefits and impact

As well as the overarching patient/service user, carer benefits the proposal seeks to achieve, the patient/service user, carer benefits emerging from each work package should be described. For example, patient/service user, carer and/or health care professional/practitioner experience data following qualitative work, increased knowledge following surveys/observational studies etc.

Please also provide information on the potential impact the programme might have. We acknowledge that defining impact can be challenging and paths to impact are complex with many steps beyond your control. We therefore define impact broadly as the contribution, effect on, or benefit that excellent research makes to knowledge, people, health and care, the NHS, health and care services, society or the economy. We wish to understand the ways in which the proposed research will change activity, attitudes, awareness, behaviour, capacity, opportunity, performance, decision- making, practice or processes. Impact can also result from new understanding that benefits individuals, population, organisations, communities, constituencies or the nation.


Please describe the main knowledge products or outputs from your research and how they will be presented, disseminated and used. Explain how the findings from the proposed research will be shared with or disseminated to others and how this will maximise the potential impact of the proposed research. Describe who are the likely beneficiaries of the research, when they are likely to benefit and in what ways, and describe how the knowledge will be translated into the real world. It is important to include details of how you will share the progress and findings of the study with study participants.

Further information and help can be found in our guidance on how to disseminate your research.

References should be provided as an attachment.

Researchers may find the SPIRIT 2013 statement a useful resource when preparing their protocol.

Section 6: Uploads


One single-side A4 page, listing references used throughout your proposal.


If required, an additional supporting (single side of A4) document can be submitted with your application form (e.g., a flow diagram illustrating the study design and the flow of participants, gantt chart, pictures, diagrams etc.) If submitting a flow diagram, applicants should also describe complex interventions and controls as accurately and fully as possible within their diagram. If proposing an RCT, we advise you refer to the CONSORT statement and website for guidance. Alternatively, you may find the EQUATOR Network website useful. The PDF file should be submitted along with your application form.

Section 7: Administrative contact details

Please provide the details of an administrative lead as a secondary point of contact for any queries relating to the application, should it be supported.

NOTE: This person does not need to be a co-applicant.

Section 8: Research and Development office contact details

Please provide the contact details and job title of a person in the R&D office so that we are able to notify them of the outcome of this application including any associated feedback.

NOTE: Please note this person does not need to be included as a co-applicant.