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Research Programme for Social Care Scope


Published: 26 September 2023

Version: 3.0 - October 2023

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The aim of the Research Programme for Social Care is to fund research that generates evidence that increases the effectiveness of social care, provides value for money and/or benefits people who need or use social care and carers. 


The Research Programme for Social Care funds research that generates evidence to improve and strengthen the way in which social care is provided for users of care services, carers, the social care workforce, and the public in the UK. The Research Programme for Social Care funds primary, secondary, and evidence synthesis research, including qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods designs. Social care research relevant to both adults and children, and both statutory and non-statutory social care provision, is within scope.


Applications will be made through universities, local authorities/governments, NHS bodies or providers of social care services, or third sector organisations across the UK. These will act as the contracting organisation, be the recipient of the funds, and will be responsible for the delivery of the research (Sponsor). The sponsor of the research can be either the contracting organisation or a collaborating partner, as long as that organisation is capable of fulfilling the role of a research sponsor as set out in the UK Policy Framework for Health and Social Care Research.

Applications are expected to have strong involvement from relevant people who are users of social care, carers, and members of the social care workforce, by reference to the UK Standards for Public Involvement.

Applications are also expected to involve collaborations with relevant organisations, such as those responsible for commissioning or providing social care services e.g., local authorities, for-profit companies and third sector organisations, where appropriate. 

Partner organisations from outside of the UK may be included and comparative work is eligible, as long as a case is made that it is well placed to provide the necessary expertise to carry out the planned research.

What we fund

Applications through the Research Programme for Social Care should have:

  • A clear pathway to social care benefit that could be immediate or over a longer term.
  • A strong link with people who need or use social care, carers and organisations which provide social care services or other relevant groups.
  • An appropriate team, likely consisting of researchers with social care expertise, researchers with other topic or methodological expertise, members of the social care workforce, carers, methodologists and people who use social care, reflecting the nature of the application..     

The Research Programme for Social Care funds research projects which could include but is not limited to:

  • Studies of social care needs, circumstances and relevant outcomes related to adults, children or young people who need or use social care, and carers, including studies of inequalities in any of these domains
  • Evaluation of existing or new social care services, addressing their effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and distributional consequences 
  • Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness evaluations of interventions, including adaptations or refinements of existing interventions/technologies
  • Developing and testing new assessments, interventions or services
  • Research methods development
  • Feasibility, pilot, and definitive trials      
  • Research examining consequences for social care users of provision of other services (e.g., health, education, criminal justice, family courts, housing, benefits)
  • Policy-implementation research
  • Studies that involve secondary data analysis or record linkage
  • Systematic or other reviews of evidence
  • Strategies for preventing or delaying the need for care and support 
  • Research on approaches to support and strengthen the social care workforce.
  • Capacity-building opportunities within awards (up to 20% of the budget) 

The Research Programme for Social Care will not fund:

  • Infrastructure, such as setting up or maintaining research units (unless specifically requested in highlight calls)
  • Development of databases or repositories unless an integral part of a wider study
  • Programmatic research – for such opportunities please see NIHR Programme Grants for Applied Research (PGfAR)     
  • Quality and service improvement work without broader theoretical approach or research framing

The selection criteria used by the RPSC funding committees include:

  • Quality of the research proposed:
    • Is this an important research question?
    • Will the proposed methodology answer the research question?
    • Has the research involved people who use services, carers, and the social care workforce at relevant stages of the project? Is there an adequate budget for their involvement in the study?
    • Have equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) elements been properly considered and embedded in the research design?
    • Is the research feasible in terms of recruitment of study sites, services and individuals?
  • Significance and potential benefit to social care and people who need or use services or provide unpaid care:
    • What is the trajectory to the anticipated benefit?
    • What is the likelihood that the outcome will lead to improvements in social care, including for people with social care needs and/or carers?
    • What is the likely impact?
  • Value for money provided by the application:
    • Given the likelihood and anticipated pathway to benefit, is this proposal costed appropriately?
    • Given the likely scale of impact, does it provide value for money?

How long and how much?

The amount awarded and the length of the funding period depend on the nature of the proposed work. Strong justification for the research duration and funding requested is required and will be considered by the reviewing committee.

The Research Programme for Social Care also offers opportunities for early career researchers* to apply for awards up to £250,000 within the overall scope of the programme, providing they are supported by an appropriate team which is suitably resourced. These applications will be reviewed by the assessing committee but will not be in direct competition with larger awards or those from non-early career researchers. 

*Early career researchers are defined as a researcher who has not held a grant as chief investigator (excluding fellowships) of over £100,000 or is within 5 years of completing a PhD.

How do I apply?

When is funding available?

  • The Research Programme for Social Care has two researcher-led calls per year and will also operate commissioned calls on priority highlight topics. All calls will typically employ a two-stage application process.

Information on call timetables 

  • We expect the first call of the new Programme to launch in September 2023.

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