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PRP (38-01-01) Strengthening the Evidence Base to inform Social Care Policy Decisions - Social Care Policy Research Initiative


Published: 08 September 2023

Version: 1.0 September 2023

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Update 18 September 2023: Supplementary clarifications on the research specification have been provided. Please see Policy Focus of the Initiative.

Timetable and Budget

Deadline for Wave 1 Stage 1 Applications 13 February 2024, 1PM
Notification of outcome of Wave 1 Stage 1 Application 23 April 2024
Deadline for Wave 1 Stage 2 Application October 2024 (TBC)
Notification of outcome of Wave 1 Stage 2 Application February 2025
Project Start Within 2 months of the outcome
Project Duration Up to 18 months
Budget Up to £300,000 per project

Please be advised we are intending to run this call again. Additional details can be found in the “Budget and Duration” section.


The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Policy Research Programme (PRP) invites applications for research projects that aim to strengthen the evidence base to support social care policy decisions. Up to £300,000 is available to researchers to deliver small scale projects with clear policy relevance, lasting up to 18 months.

The objective of this initiative is to provide a pathway for researchers who are less familiar with policy research to bring their wealth of experience and expertise to the NIHR PRP, enabling them to deliver evidence to meet a policy need. In particular, we welcome teams new to the NIHR PRP, to widen the pool of researchers nationally who are able to generate evidence to inform social care policy, adding to capacity and capability in this vital area.

The initiative will increase the evidence base to inform policy making and increase capacity in social care policy research. We are seeking projects with a high potential for impact and wide applications to social care policy. For example, research could inform policy assumptions, formulation of policy measures, or broad population-based interventions or services.
We are interested in applications from a range of disciplines and approaches. This call is the first round of the initiative and invites research proposals across a range of topics relevant to social care policy. This initiative will run across multiple rounds and will be left open for a longer time than would be usual for PRP calls in order to enable further time for researchers to develop their applications. In addition, there will be a webinar delivered about this initiative to provide potential applications the opportunity to ask questions. A webinar was delivered on 14 September and the recording is available.

After projects are successfully commissioned for this initiative, NIHR will consider ways to join up projects to share learning and insights, for dissemination related purposes and for engagement with policy.


NIHR Policy Research Programme

The NIHR PRP funds policy research to enable evidence informed policy making in health and social care. The NIHR funds high quality and cost-effective research to deliver relevant, timely and accessible evidence to inform national policy decisions across the health, care and public health systems.

NIHR will ensure to join up successful applicants from this initiative with other PRP related projects where relevant.

NIHR & Social Care

Supporting and funding social care research is a priority for NIHR. NIHR is committed to funding high quality social care research that translates into improvements in outcomes and improves the efficiency and effectiveness of the social care system for those who need or provide care and support.

DHSC Vision for Adult Social Care

The People at the Heart of Care white paper, published in December 2021, set out a 10- year vision for adult social care. It was shaped by national and local government, care providers, care staff, the NHS, people who draw on care and support, their friends and family, charities and the voluntary sector. The vision puts people at its heart and revolves around 3 objectives;

  1. People have choice, control and support to live independent lives;
  2. People can access outstanding quality and tailored care and support;
  3. People find adult social care fair and accessible;

Following on from this white paper the Next steps to put People at the Heart of Care paper, published in April 2023, sets out how government are building on the progress over the last year by implementing the most impactful proposals, along with some new commitments. It includes key milestones for reform and sets out the change we will see for people who draw on care and support, unpaid carers, and people who work in social care.

This paper also announced the establishment of an Innovation and Improvement unit, which is working with sector partners to establish clear priorities for innovation and research across adult social care. When fully established, the unit will look at how research can inform all aspects of policymaking and delivery of care across the sector, to ensure we learn from best practice and promote new approaches to care that can improve outcomes for the people at the heart of it.

Applicants are encouraged to read the papers discussed above in order to develop a greater understanding of the vision for adult social care to inform the development of research proposals for this initiative.

Policy Focus of the Initiative

Applicants are invited to submit research proposals to the initiative for projects that will build the evidence base for informing DHSC adult social care policy decisions. Applications need to have a clear national social care policy impact with a primary focus on adult social care. Proposals with a secondary children’s social care focus will be considered.

Applicants are encouraged to read the papers included within the specification in order to develop a greater understanding of DHSC's vision for adult social care to inform the development of research proposals for this initiative. Further detail on the scope of the initiative is available within the specification.

Alternative social care funding routes are available through the NIHR. The first call for the NIHR’s new Research Programme for Social Care will launch on 27 September. The Research Programme for Social Care is open to applications on adults and children’s social care. Further detail on the Research for social care programme is available here and information on wider NIHR funding opportunities can be found here.

Research priorities

Applicants are invited to submit research proposals for projects that would help build the evidence base for informing social care policy decisions.

Applications must state how proposed projects will deliver policy relevant findings and impact.

NIHR is open to applicants’ creativity in approaches to research projects to broaden the evidence base to enable policy decisions, but expects the topic of focus to be one or more of the following:

  • Innovation & improvement (eg: exploring and understanding ‘what works’, understanding barriers to scaling; exploring specific innovations, solutions and the support they require),
  • Access & accessibility,
  • Workforce,
  • Quality (eg: quality of care services, quality of care providers, quality of workforce etc),
  • Integration between health and social care (including discharge),
  • Social care & housing,
  • Commissioning, market shaping and social work,
  • Unpaid care,
  • Self-funders,
  • Implementation in the sector (understanding how policies and initiatives were being implemented at the local level),
  • Social care inequalities and underserved groups.

Whilst the call welcomes applications using a broad range of methodologies, and it will be up to the research team to identify and justify the chosen methodology, we are particularly interested in applications using the following methodological approaches:

  • Evaluation (particularly robust experimental or quasi-experimental impact evaluation),
  • Modelling,
  • Systems mapping and approaches.

NIHR is committed to equality, diversity and inclusion in research and applicants should consider equality, diversity and inclusion and engagement with diverse communities in their project. This could involve innovative approaches to improve the inclusion of underserved groups within research.

Areas out of scope for this programme of work

Areas out of scope:

  • Research that does not have a clear national social care policy impact.
  • Research that focuses solely on practice without consideration of social care policy.
  • Research that does not focus on social care.


Eligibility for the NIHR PRP is laid out in our Standard Information for Applicants and applies to all calls unless otherwise stated in the individual research specification.

Technical requirements / Expertise required

Applicants should be able to demonstrate the following:

  • Expertise in the topic and method focused on within the application
  • Interest in social care policy
  • Experience disseminating research to a lay audience

We encourage applications from those who may not have applied for NIHR funding or Policy Research Programme funding before.


Throughout projects, teams would be expected to have regular meetings with DHSC to discuss emerging findings. This is crucial to ensure that research informs future policy. Updates and findings presented in meetings would need to be shared in a succinct accessible format suitable for policy.

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

Expected outputs include:

  • Short policy briefing papers on key policy relevant findings (including interim/emerging findings where relevant)
  • Dissemination events tailored for the policy audience
  • Report/s to a publishable standard on findings with a plain English summary
  • A short (max 2 page) non-technical summary of the research and findings with a focus on policy implications

Additional briefing notes or updates may be requested as required by the Department.

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

NIHR expects all outputs to be quality assured and for the quality assurance to align with the Aqua Book best practice guidance on quality assurance. NIHR expects details of the quality assurance process to be included within the application and the final project report.

Additional information can be found in the PRP Standard Information for Applicants

Budget and duration

Funding will be available for at least two commissioning rounds, exact timescales for the second wave have not yet been confirmed. NIHR is expecting to fund 6-8 projects in total. Individual projects can be funded at a cost of up to £300,000, with a maximum duration of 18 months. Lower cost projects are also encouraged as DHSC is keen to develop a mixed portfolio of projects in terms of scale and duration.

Planned application round deadlines for first wave:

  • Outline stage 1 application deadline: 13 February 2024
  • Expected stage 2 application deadline: October 2024

Given this initiative is launching for the first time, it may be that timings change. If this occurs we will be sure to communicate this so potential applicants are aware.

After stage 1 applications, the NIHR PRP expert Committee and DHSC policy and analytical colleagues will review applications and provide feedback on the approach to ensure it is robust and policy relevant. All applicants will be able to revise their proposals and resubmit to stage 2. At stage 2, the NIHR PRP expert Committee will recommend whether proposals should be: a) Funded or b) Not funded. DHSC policy and analytical colleagues will have the opportunity in the committee meeting to provide feedback on whether the applications meet a policy need and this will be taken into account in the committee scoring.

All proposals are expected to start within 2 months of funding being agreed, subject to
pre-contract negotiations and specific requirements.

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

Applicants are asked to address the timing and nature of deliverables, maximising staff
resources and other options for interim reporting in their proposals

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 funding committee members will assess applications against.

Management arrangements

A research advisory group including, but not limited to, representatives of DHSC, other stakeholders and the successful applicants for the research should be established for all projects. The advisory group will provide guidance, meeting regularly over the lifetime of the research. The successful applicants should be prepared to review research objectives with the advisory group, and to share emerging findings on an ongoing basis. They will be expected to:

  • Provide regular feedback on progress
  • Produce timely reports to the advisory group
  • Produce a final report for sign off

Research contractors will be expected to work with nominated officials in DHSC, its partners and the NIHR. 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.
If you wish to view the standard terms and conditions of the NIHR Policy Research Programme contract, please go to: Sign a Contract

Guidance on Health and Care Inequalities and associate data collection within NIHR PRP Research

Health and care 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 an inequalities component or theme as well as how this research hopes to impact inequalities or not. Please also detail the core set of inequality breakdown data that will be collected, if applicable. More information on this request can be found in the Standard information for applicants.

References and key documents

  1. NIHR PRP webpage in NIHR website: Policy Research [accessed September 2023]
  2. NIHR ‘Best Research for Best Health: The Next Chapter’ webpage in NIHR website: Best Research for Best Health: The Next Chapter [accessed September 2023]
  3. DHSC Policy Paper ‘People at the Heart of Care: adult social care reform white paper’ [accessed September 2023]
  4. DHSC Policy Paper ‘Next steps to put People at the Heart of Care: A plan for adult social care system reform 2023 to 2024 and 2024 to 2025’  [accessed September 2023]
  5. NIHR ‘Policy Research Programme - Standard Information for Applicants’  [accessed September 2023]
  6. HMT ‘The Aqua Book: guidance on producing quality analysis for government’  [accessed September 2023]
  7. NIHR ‘PPI (Patient and Public Involvement) resources for applicants to NIHR research programmes’  [accessed September 2023]
  8. NIHR ‘Briefing notes for researchers - public involvement in NHS, health and social care research’  [accessed September 2023]
  9. NIHR ‘Payment guidance for researchers and professionals’ [accessed September 2023]
  10. NIHR ‘Policy Research Programme - Health Inequalities’  [accessed September 2023]