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Research for Social Care - Stage 1 Guidance for Applicants


Published: 23 September 2019

Version: 3.0 - February 2023

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Section 1: Application Summary Information

Host Organisation

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

Please give details of the organisation that will be responsible if the application is funded. Applications can be made through universities, local authorities, and NHS bodies or other providers of NHS services in England. For more information, please see the RfSC Social Care Call Specification.

Research Title

The project 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 project includes any element of primary research, please select ‘Primary Research’. If you are carrying out a 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 treatment, intervention or service costs).

The RfSC call has a funding limit of £350,000. Applications with a clear and close trajectory to achieving tangible benefit for social care users, carers, and/or the public may cost up to the maximum funding limit. Applications for research which will require further work in order to benefit social care users and/or the public are expected to cost less than £250,000. Applications for more upstream research, and/or where the social care benefit may not be directly realised through the proposal, are expected to cost less than £150,000. Further information on how to estimate research costs can be found in the RfSC Social Care Call Specification.

NOTE: Please provide as accurate an estimate as possible. It is appreciated that the total research cost may change between Stage 1 and Stage 2 applications; however, if there is a significant change, this would need to be clearly and strongly justified.

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

From the 1st of June 2022 all eligible awards contracts issued across NIHR Programmes, NIHR Personal Awards and NIHR Global Health Research Portfolio will have an Open Access Envelope allocated to them on top of the award value, which is ring-fenced for open access costs of peer reviewed research articles that arise directly from the research funded by the award in question

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

Estimated Treatment, Intervention or Service Costs

Enter the total amount of treatment, intervention or services costs associated with this proposal. Treatment, intervention or service costs must be calculated separately from the research costs and research support costs. While it is expected that the organisation responsible for commissioning the treatment, intervention or service being researched should pay the costs, where this has not been possible, social care research studies funded by NIHR may be eligible for intervention cost support from DHSC. Further information on this can be found below and in the Finance Guidance, which is linked from the RfSC Guidance and on the main RfSC website.

Costs associated with the research that stop when the study stops, including the recruitment of participants, are known as ‘support costs’. Support costs (often referred to as ‘NHS support costs’) are met by the Clinical Research Network (CRN) and social care studies are eligible to receive CRN support. Researchers should include support costs where relevant.

For the purposes of social care studies, ‘treatment, intervention and service costs’ are the costs that would continue to be incurred if the treatment, intervention or service in question continued to be provided after the research study has stopped. Typically, treatment, intervention or service costs will be provided either by the NHS Trust, local authorities or third sector organisations and costs should be met by the commissioner of the treatment, intervention or service (e.g. NHS, local authorities, third sector etc.). However, where this is not possible, researchers can seek additional funding for treatment, intervention and service costs as part of their RfSC application. In order to do so, applicants must complete a proforma as part of their Stage 2 application to RfSC. For Stage 1, applicants are only required to identify the estimated costs associated with the treatment, intervention or service.

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.

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. coordination 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 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. If you are funded as part of other NIHR projects that will be running concurrently, your time must not exceed 100% overall. 

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 roles in the project. Do not include collaborators, who should be mentioned (if necessary) in the Research Plan section of the form.

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 academics, social care researchers, practitioners 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 National Institute for Health and Care Research (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 committee members) to have a better understanding of your research proposal
  2. inform others about your research such as members of the public, 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. 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 your local Research Design 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 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 user, carer and public involvement plans will be assessed by the funding committee including patient/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 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.

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

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 social care problem to be addressed, the impact on care users and carers, as well as social care services, and how this research would fill a demonstrable evidence gap. Explain how your proposed research is within the remit of the RfSC call and how it addresses the key aim of the call to generate research evidence to improve, expand and strengthen the way that social care is delivered for care users, carers and the public.

Why is this research important in terms of improving social care services and/or the evidence base for social care? Does it address local and/or national priorities for care users, carers, practitioners or the public?

It is essential that you clearly identify the social care need that your research aims to address. 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 social care system (including a statement of the significance of the research area, i.e. the scale of the social, economic, or other key public service burden).
  2. the anticipated outputs, outcomes and impact of the proposed research on the welfare of care users, carers, and/or the public, highlighting the trajectory to social care benefit and quantification of the potential benefits, where possible
  3. the anticipated timescale for the benefits resulting from the proposed research to be realised.

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

Briefly describe:

  1. the need for research in this area, drawing particularly from systematic reviews (including social care service context and relevant policies), 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 project(e.g., describe any pilot or feasibility data).

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.

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, along with 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 review of the currently available and relevant evidence (using as appropriate a predetermined and described methodology that systematically identifies, critically appraises and then synthesises the available evidence) and then summarise this in their proposal. All applicants must also include reference to relevant ongoing studies, e.g. from trial registries such as the International Standard Randomised Controlled Trial Number (ISRCTN) registry, and the European Union Clinical Trials Register.

Further information can be found at: NIHR Adding Value in Research

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

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).

  1. Research plan: Describe the proposed research plan and how it will achieve the project’s aims/objectives. If there are multiple workstreams, provide brief descriptions of each one and detail how they will be integrated into a coherent programme of work.
  2. Methods: Specify the methodological approaches proposed in sufficient detail to allow them to be assessed (justification for sample sizes, inclusion and exclusion criteria, recruitment strategy, nature of follow up, techniques of data collection, choice of analysis and why etc.).
  3. Team: Briefly describe why the team is well qualified to do the work. Please also list and explain the role of key collaborators involved in the research, as well as any care user, carer, and public leads (not previously listed as co-applicants). Collaboration with other stakeholders such as Higher Education
    1. Institutions, Local Authorities, third sector providers, and NHS should also be described.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.
  4. Timetable: Briefly detail the timetable for the proposed research, including key milestones and deliverables.
  5. Public involvement: Describe how care users, carers, and the public, as well as other relevant stakeholders including evidence users, have been involved in the development of the application as well as plans for involvement in the proposed research. Applications will be assessed by public committee members who will consider this aspect of your proposal.

For pilot or feasibility studies, clear progression criteria to the substantive study should be provided, including identification of the potential funder of the substantive study. Time should also be allocated to the development of the protocol for the substantive study should the proposed pilot or feasibility study be successful.

References should be provided as an attachment (see Section 6: Uploads).

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

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

Applicants are reminded that NIHR strategy encourages research which follows patient needs. Researchers should clearly articulate how their research meets this objective, and how this contributes to the scientific rigour of their programme. Programmes should recruit participants from geographical areas where patient need is greatest, including for example the 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 (see below).

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:
    • The Centre for Ethnic Health Research toolkit for increasing participation of ethnic minority groups in health and care research
    • The INCLUDE Ethnicity Framework, which aims to improve trial delivery for under-served groups
  • 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:

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, diagrams, pictures 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 that 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 Stage 2 outcome of this application including any associated feedback.

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

Section 9: Acknowledge, Review and Submit

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.


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.

Checklist of information to include when submitting a NIHR stage 1 research application

Applicants should click the checkboxes to indicate that they have included the necessary information prior to submitting their application.


Check box

A good quality plain English summary as detailed in NIHR Plain English summaries


A clear explanation of the problem being addressed


A clear demonstration of the need and importance of the research


A review of existing literature (primary research)


A clear research question / aim(s) and objectives


A clear project plan summarising the study design and methods


A clear description of team member roles and contribution


Appropriate and relevant involvement of users of social care and the public


A single A4 page of additional supporting documentation (document upload), if appropriate


A single A4 page of references (document upload), mandatory