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.

RfPB Under-represented disciplines and specialisms highlight notice: Methodologists - Frequently asked questions


Published: 17 May 2023

Version: 2.0 - June 2023

Print this document

This document provides answers to questions frequently asked by applicants to funding calls by the NIHR Under-represented disciplines and specialisms highlight notice: Methodologists. It should be read together with the call specification.

Please note that this call is now closed. The programme is exploring the possibility to continue running highlight notices addressing under-represented disciplines and specialisms with a potential further call addressing non-medical professions.

Will this call for methodologists be repeated at a later date? Or will it just run once for these dates?

Please note that the programme is exploring the possibility to continue running highlight notices addressing under-represented disciplines and specialisms with a potential further call addressing non-medical professions.

Please can you give guidance on which type of methodology research projects relate to the tiered funding structure for RfPB research?

Applications concerning standalone methods research are expected to fall within the Tier 2 or Tier 3 funding limits. 

What sort of methodologies are covered by this funding stream? Q methodology? Methodologies for effective community participation & engagement? Psychometric scales development?

Proposals focused on the development of new methods or scales or the improvement of methods currently used in health or social care research are in scope of this highlight notice

If a project was mostly exploratory in nature e.g. a fully qualitative project, could that be suitable for funding? Or would it need to incorporate some development work?

As with our regular RfPB calls, exploratory studies, e.g. using qualitative methods to provide insights into an intractable problem are within scope and are expected to fall within the tier 3 funding limit.

Do you fund medical/clinical education research? And if so, which tier would be applicable?

Medical/clinical education research is in scope of the RfPB programme. Considering the length of the trajectory to patient benefit we expect that this type of research would typically fall within Tier3.

Would development of software be within remit? Eg for sample size calculations in specialist settings or for complex analysis methods?

Yes, software development to facilitate sample size calculation in specialist settings or for complex analysis methods would be in this call's remit. This type of research would be likely to fall into Tier3 tier.

Can the joint lead be a medical professional? or is this funding opportunity just for the non-medical lead applicants?

To provide opportunity to applicants from under-represented disciplines, for this call we require that both lead and joint lead (if applicable) are methodologists and have non medical background. We will specifically consider the following disciplines: medical statistics, health economics, clinical trial design, operational research, modelling, bioinformatics, qualitative research, mixed methods and epidemiology. However, in certain circumstances e.g. when conducting a clinically based study RCT, it is acceptable that the joint lead applicant is medically qualified. Justification for this needs to be provided in the application form.

Would it be possible to have 2 early career researchers apply as joint leads fully supported by 2 senior colleagues?

There are no eligibility criteria regarding the involvement of ECR specifically for this call, so the arrangement of having two joint leads being ECR would be acceptable with the proper support.
However, there is not a possibility to have 3 joint-leads applicants.

Do I need a PhD to apply?

There is no requirement for an early career researcher (ECR) to hold a higher academic degree (i.e. Master degree or PhD) but we would expect the ECR to have some prior research experience to demonstrate the potential to lead a project.

Can a researcher be co-applicant in multiple applications, for example can one researcher be the lead applicant on their own proposal and then a co-applicant on other 1-2 applications?

Yes, this would be allowed, however researchers would have to consider if they were able to deliver multiple research projects if they would all get funded.

Will applications submitted to the highlight notice be considered by a regional committee? 

A special selection Committee will be convened for this highlight notice and it will consider applications submitted from all English regions. The Committee will draw from the expertise of current RfPB regional Committee members and other experts relevant to the call. The Committee membership will be published on the NIHR website when the information becomes available.

Can funding for doctoral studentships be included in the application? 

Doctoral studentship wouldn't be eligible under this highlight notice as the NIHR does not fund PhD studentships through its research programmes. It is possible, however, for a researcher employed to work on an NIHR funded research project to register for a PhD based on the funded project, although RfPB would not reimburse fees.

Will recipients be required to identify their own supervisor or will assistance in identifying a suitably qualified researcher be provided?

A good starting point for eligible applicants who do not have a supporting team but have a good research idea that seems to fit under this highlight notice is to contact local Research Design Services (RDS), who might be able to direct them to a suitable research team. Alternatively, you can approach a potential academic partner.

Do RDS need to review the application prior to expression of interest (EOI)?

There is no formal requirement for the involvement of RDS colleagues in review or submission of EOIs. However, we would encourage prospective applicants to work with RDS on developing their Stage 1 applications.

What details are needed for the expression of interest (EOI) form?

Follow standard research summary format. EoIs should be top level and provide a short summary of the proposed research, the underlying objectives and methods and identify lead and key partners. It should be no longer than 500 words.

Is there a selection process following submission of EOI, or is it purely for notification purposes?

Information required is for administrative purposes only and will not be part of the assessment. EoIs should be top level and provide a short summary of the proposed research, the underlying objectives and methods and identify lead and key partners.

Can you still apply to stage 1 if you do not do an EOI?

No, EoI submission is required in order to be accepted with Stage 1 application submission. Applicants should not wait for response from NIHR after submitting EOI form but proceed to finalise work on Stage 1 application on RMS and submit by the deadline.

Would the funding also cover international collaborations? Is the funding suitable for project that has supervision from non UK universities? Can a co-lead be from another country, who is an expert methodologist for their country context? Could this funding opportunity be used to look at services in Scotland as well as England (potentially with a comparative focus)?

International collaborators or co-applicants are eligible for this funding call as long as patient benefit of the project is brought to patients in England and there is a strong justification provided for their involvement in the study.

Does the funding cover salary (full or part-time) for the lead applicant? Can the PI be costed with significant FTE to also conduct the study? or should the costing be relevant to being a PI? This is especially important for Tier 3 when there is not much money left for the research team

NIHR funding will cover salary for the time committed to the project, i.e. for research activity. The pay and time devoted for clinical work needs to be negotiated with the trust. The level of involvement is project-specific and the committee would be looking at the justification provided in the application.

Can the lead applicant (non medical) be someone who is currently a joint lead on another RfPB grant?

There is no formal limit in how many NIHR projects a researcher participates. However, if a researcher is funded as part of other NIHR projects that will be running concurrently, their time must not exceed 100% overall.

Can a researcher be co-applicant in multiple applications, for example can one researcher be the lead applicant on their own proposal and then a co-applicant on other 1-2 applications?

Yes, this would be allowed, however researchers would have to consider if they were able to deliver multiple research projects if they would all get funded.

Would RfPB cover costs for junior researchers (either CoI or named researchers) to attend training courses, and conferences for dissemination of the funded research?

Training courses are eligible to be costed in the application as long as the training attended is relevant and necessary to deliver the project. Please see RfPB finance guidance for further information about allowances for dissemination activities and conferences.

When will the award be able to start? Is there a time limit for the latest time this award could start?

Projects that receive funding are anticipated to commence no earlier than August 1, 2024, and must begin within a six-month period following this date.

I find it almost impossible to get a proposal at £150k with increased costs of salaries and overheads - is there any likelihood Tier 3 limt would be increased?

We acknowledge that research costs and salaries are increasing sharply recently. However, every round RfPb receives at least 40 applications falling in Tier 3. We encourage you to visit for examples of this kind of research We also recommend you consider contacting RDS for further information. We will be likely reviewing the ceiling of our funding limits in the near future.                                                    

FAQ for regular RfPB calls

Scope and aims

What is the scope and remit of the RfPB programme?

RfPB is a responsive mode/researcher-led funding programme for applied health research. It is intended to provide an opportunity for projects to emerge out of health and social care practice. As such, the research needs to have a demonstrable impact on the health or health care of users of that service. While it deliberately does not specify topics to be covered, you are encouraged to read the aims and scope statements. The potential trajectory to patient benefit is a major selection criteria, so ensure you make a clear case for the patient and/or public benefit arising from the study. Alongside rigorous research designs and methodologies, we also look for dissemination strategies that will enhance the likelihood that the results can be rolled out within the NHS.

The programme will not fund:

  • Laboratory-based research, basic science research, experimental medicine
  • Animal studies or work on animal tissues
  • Infrastructure, such as setting up or maintaining research units
  • Applications which are solely service development, unless they have wider generalisability. Note: the costs of any new service would not be funded by the programme applications which are solely audit or surveys, although these elements may be part of an integrated research study
  • Priority setting exercises for future research

Note that whilst the programme will fund research aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of a service or intervention, it will not fund the costs of providing the service or intervention itself.

Can you clarify what is expected in terms of the project delivering patient benefit?

Applications to RfPB must demonstrate a trajectory to patient/carer and service users’ benefit in the short to medium term, and patient/carer and service users’ benefit is a major selection criteria for RfPB applications. It is expected that the research will seek to demonstrate realisable (or potentially realisable) and quantifiable benefits to patients/carer and service users and/or the NHS in the short to medium term of the project ending, and that the route to that benefit is clearly set out in the proposal. The benefit could be health benefit to patients/carer and service users’, encompassing outcomes that are clinical and/or psychological and social, but could also be health service benefit or public health benefit. More upstream research such as feasibility studies and intervention development work are also eligible for RfPB funding, and the trajectory to  achieving patient benefit is likely to be longer in these applications. Nevertheless, there is still an expectation that the study will feed through to patient/carer and service users benefit via a definitive study before too long.

Will RfPB fund basic science?

RfPB will not fund projects that are solely basic science. It may be possible to make a case for a project, which has an element of basic science, but the justification would need to be around the likely benefit to patients’ health and to health services in the short to medium term.

Does RfPB fund animal research?

RfPB does not itself fund basic research or work involving animals and/or animal tissue. The NIHR recognises that the carefully regulated use of animals in research is important in understanding disease and in developing safe and effective ways of preventing or treating illness. NIHR also recognises the need for robust application of the 3Rs – that animals are replaced with non-animal alternatives wherever possible, that the number of animals used is reduced to the minimum needed to achieve the results sought, and that, for those animals which must be used, procedures are refined as much as possible to minimise their suffering. NIHR therefore supports the Government’s policies on research using animals set out in Working to reduce the use of animals in scientific research. NIHR works in close partnership with the Medical Research Council which funds animal research in carefully defined circumstances. NIHR funding is focused on clinical and applied health and care research.

Will RfPB fund systematic reviews?

Systematic reviews may be funded as an element in a research design, when appropriate, but RfPB is not a primary source of funding for systematic reviews. RfPB will fund small stand-alone systematic reviews where the likely outcome is aligned clearly with the remit of the programme. Systematic reviews fall within Tier 3 and are expected to cost less than £150,000. Please see the Guidance on funding limits for more information. We will consider funding reviews:

  • that are likely to provide a guide to action (what the service providers should be doing or what they should stop doing) as opposed to identifying knowledge gaps 
  • where a practitioner or researcher has identified a particular area where it is important to have clarity about the best evidence available.

Please note: Applicants undertaking systematic reviews should note the commitment of NIHR to registration in the PROSPERO database. PROSPERO was developed by the NIHR’s Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD), and is the first international online facility to prospectively register systematic reviews for research about health and social care. Access is free of charge and open to the public.

PROSPERO registration is a condition of NIHR funding for systematic reviews. It is accepted that not all systematic reviews commissioned by the NIHR programmes will fall into the scope of the CRD register. The immediate focus is on reviews of the effects of interventions and strategies to prevent, diagnose, treat, and monitor health conditions for which there is a health related outcome. A review should also only be registered once it is in receipt of confirmed funding, and not before.

The timing of registration should be at the point when the protocol is complete/stable but before screening studies for eligibility has begun. It is at this point where intentional, or inadvertent, bias could come into play i.e. manipulating the inclusion criteria to capture those studies that show a particular desired result.

Researchers are required, once registered on PROSPERO, to keep their protocol up to date. This includes mirroring any major protocol amendments, updating status when completed (or abandoned) and adding publication details when published. Registration should take place on the PROSPERO website.

Are studies of diagnostic tests supported?

Stand-alone studies of diagnostic accuracy are likely to be within the scope of RfPB. Diagnostic accuracy studies fall within Tier 3 and are expected to cost less than £150,000. Please see the Guidance on funding limits for more information.

I would like to include the development of a patient decision aid (e.g. leaflet, video, website, etc.) as part of my research proposal. Is this supported?

RfPB views the provision of high quality, accessible information resources to patients as conferring patient/carer and service users benefit, as such information can empower patients to better manage their conditions and make informed choices about their treatment options. However, the applicant must demonstrate that the relevant information is not already available to patients via another medium, such as the Internet. Therefore, an RfPB application that proposes an information resource output will need to include a review of the existing information available to patients both on and offline, and justify the need for a new resource. In addition, all applications must have a strong research component, and cannot solely contain service development work, unless it has wide generalisability. Patient decision aid projects fall within Tier 2 and are expected to cost less than £250,000. Please see the Guidance on funding limits for more information.

Will RfPB fund PhD research?

The NIHR does not fund PhD studentships through its research programmes. It is possible, however, for a researcher employed to work on an NIHR funded research project to register for a PhD based on the funded project, although RfPB would not reimburse fees. More details about NIHR’s main training opportunities can be found through the NIHR Academy.

Is research to do with social care eligible for this programme?

The Research for Patient Benefit programme supports research that is concerned with the day-to-day practice of health service and social care staff. Please note that under the RfPB programme we are now running the Research for Social Care call which funds research generating evidence to improve, expand and strengthen the way adult social care is delivered for care services, carers and the public.

Will any special criteria apply to requests to fund feasibility studies?

Carrying out initial work is frequently essential for a sound research design and lack of preliminary feasibility work can result in a waste of resources, especially when a complex intervention is proposed. We are aware that it can be difficult to find funding for such research. For this reason, and notwithstanding its strong emphasis on patient benefit outcomes, RfPB will consider requests for funding studies in preparation for full trials. Please read our new Guidance on applying for feasibility and pilot studies for further information.

Feasibility studies must address the published criteria for RfPB awards and should amount to a self-contained study with a clear and defined output appropriate to a feasibility trial. You should make clear your long-term goals and the potential gain for patients. If you know which funder you plan to approach to fund the full study then it would be useful to include this information in your application. Success in gaining the resources for a feasibility study does not imply that this programme or any other NIHR programme would fund the full study.

Please note that RfPB would expect feasibility studies to cost no more than £250,000.Costs beyond this amount must be clearly justified in the application form.

My proposed project is very local, to do with service design for a small group in a particular community. Is this likely to be acceptable?

RfPB will look with favour on projects that hold out the prospect of outcomes that are likely to make a difference for patients and to the health of the public in an area. We recognise, for example, that a small change sometimes can make a big difference. What you also need to do, however, alongside demonstrating the rigour and appropriateness of the research design, is to pay particular attention to the sections of the application form that allow you to include some discussion of the potential transferability of findings to other locations or perhaps other groups.

Would the programme consider providing part funding for studies where the total cost is over £500,000?

Yes. Please get in touch with us at to discuss further details. 

We have been asked to be a partner in a large-scale international collaboration in health research. Can I apply for funding for our component?

Although RfPB has not been designed with this in mind, we would consider proposals for funding UK-based arms of large international RCTs. Such projects are expected to bring patient benefit in the English health care system. Please note that they would be considered in the standard two stage assessment process.


I am an early career researcher. Can I apply as the lead applicant?

RfPB welcomes and encourages early career researchers to lead on research applications while being supported by a senior colleague who would be fulfilling the role of mentor and Joint Lead Applicant. We expect to see a justification for the choice of mentor and a summary of their relevant expertise and track record in applied health research (skills and experience, previous publications, grant funding and impact on health service provision). 

Does the lead applicant need to be based in England?

The lead applicant may not be based in England as long as they have an honorary contract with the host organisation in England submitting the application

What is the RfPB policy on partnering with co-applicants or organisations outside of England?

A co-applicant or partner organisation from outside of England may be included, provided a strong case is made that they are best placed to provide the necessary expertise to carry out the planned research and a majority of research activities will take place in England. We are looking to ensure that patient benefit is delivered in the English health care system.

Can an organisation outside of England submit an application?

No. The lead organisation must be in England.

Will a nationwide study be considered under the scheme or is it intended only for studies carried out within one region?

Nationwide studies will be considered, however one body or service provider will need to take the lead role. The lead body will be responsible for the administration of the grant and could distribute funds to other sites if necessary, as defined through appropriate collaboration agreements. The applicant will need to provide justification for why a nationwide study is required. It will be for the Regional Advisory Committee concerned to take a view on the priority ranking of any application with a national dimension.

Will the NIHR act as research sponsor for the projects that are funded via this programme?

No. The NIHR is a distributed organisation providing a strategic framework for the different elements of NHS and Department of Health and Social Care funded and supported research.

Your proposal

Will RfPB consider a proposal where preliminary work must be completed before detailed planning of work on subsequent stages can be finalised, for example, where preliminary work is needed to determine the correct sample size?

It is unlikely that such an approach would be successful within the context of RfPB because there would be insufficient detail in the protocol for proper peer review. Such an application could only be considered where the arguments put forward were good enough to convince an expert in the field that this is the only viable approach to answer the research question. In some cases, it might be better to put forward an application for feasibility funding (see the FAQ on feasibility studies).

My RfPB study is almost complete and I can see that further work would now be helpful in strengthening the possibility that the results will be put into practice. We want to keep up the momentum – would you advise me to put in a further application before we have submitted a final report?

We would treat an application for further work as a new project in its own right. Applicants should note that although an add-on of this nature is not ruled out, the usual expectation is that an application to RfPB should be a self-contained project with a clear potential for patient/carer, service user benefit and should include plans for work that increases the possibility of realising that benefit. Please note that RfPB-funded feasibility studies may be eligible to have their applications for a full trial fast-tracked into RfPB Stage 2, bypassing the initial Stage 1. The aim of this is to help speed up the time between a feasibility study ending and a full trial commencing. 

What if I have a good research idea that seems to fit under this programme but I haven't got the time or the right skills to work on the project myself?

You will need to approach a potential academic partner or use the services of one of your local Research Design Services (RDS).

If my application is unsuccessful, can I revise and resubmit?

Although we do not prohibit the submission of applications which were submitted unsuccessfully in previous competitions, applicants should recognise that the original application was judged to be uncompetitive in that round, or significantly flawed, and is therefore likely to need substantive modification to have a realistic chance of being funded in future competitions. Applicants considering resubmission should therefore pay particularly close attention to any specific feedback provided on their previously unsuccessful application, as well as to the generic feedback provided in the RfPB guidances and on the website.

Please note that resubmitted applications will be treated as a new application, and there is no guarantee that addressing the feedback points from the previous unsuccessful application will result in funding. In addition, there is no guarantee that the new application will be evaluated by the same reviewers or Regional Advisory Committee members as the previous application. Applicants looking to resubmit an application should seek advice from the appropriate regional Research Design Service (RDS).

Can I submit the same application to more than one NIHR programme?

NIHR will not accept the same or substantially similar applications to more than one NIHR programme (see also Research for Patient Benefit Programme - Supporting information for Stage 1 and Stage 2 applicants). Similar applications will only be considered by two programmes concurrently if:

  •   the aims and research proposals are substantially different
  •   if successful, NIHR would be prepared to fund both proposals
  •   the successful delivery of one project is not dependent on the other. 

Project costing

Please refer to the Attributing the costs of health and social care research (AcoRD) guidance when preparing the finance section of the application form.

Are there any guidelines on how the funding should be split between the NHS body or other provider of NHS services and any partner organisation(s), e.g. a university?

There are no set guidelines as to the percentage breakdown of funding between the NHS body or other provider of NHS services and a university when they are collaborating on a proposal. However, please note that:

  • If the majority of funding will be going to a University, then the reasoning for why this is necessary should be made explicitly clear in the application
  • Staff employed by a Higher Education Institution (HEI) can be funded up to 80% of Full Economic Cost (FEC)
  • Staff employed by NHS, commercial or other partner organisations at up to 100% of FEC.

Does the funding limit of £500,000 also apply to feasibility studies or are they expected to cost less?

We would generally expect applications to RfPB for feasibility studies and studies in preparation for full trials to cost no more than £250,000. According to our new Guidance on applying for feasibility studies the cost requested should be aligned to the nature and scale of uncertainties to be resolved in such study. For more information, please see our Guidance on applying for feasibility studies.

Can you explain how research and NHS treatment and support costs are categorised?

There are three types of costs associated with NHS R&D activities.

  • Research costs – these are the costs of the research itself that end when the research ends. They relate to activities that are being undertaken to answer the research questions and include data collection and analysis, trial registration, dissemination, and the salary costs etc of staff employed to carry out the research. 
  • NHS Treatment costs – these are the patient care costs, which would continue to be incurred if the patient care service in question continued to be provided after the research study had stopped. This include supplying/administering the medicine/therapy/device being studied, training of clinicians to deliver the treatment, and patient follow-up when this is part of the clinical management of patients. 
  • NHS Support costs – these are the additional patient care costs associated with the research, which would end once the research study in question had stopped, even if the patient care involved continued to be provided. This includes any additional investigations/tests required, and obtaining informed consent from participants.

For more information, please refer to the Attributing the costs of health and social care research (AcoRD) guidance and the RfPB finance guidance.

Who covers research and NHS treatment and support costs?

The research costs would be covered by the research grant. NHS treatment costs, including excess treatment costs, are normally met through the usual commissioning process, and the NHS support costs are provided primarily through the Local Clinical Research Networks of the NIHR LCRN website. For more information please refer to the Attributing the costs of health and social care research (AcoRD) guidance, in particular Annex A.

How do I ensure that excess treatment costs for a particular project will be covered by the NHS contracting body?

Researchers are required to notify the host NHS body or other provider of NHS services (via the organisation’s R&D lead) about planned studies and their associated excess treatment costs at the earliest opportunity, to enable the organisations and their commissioners to build these costs into their financial and commissioning plans. Researchers are required to notify organisations in advance of submitting the full grant proposals. The researcher should also notify the R&D lead about the funding decision as soon as this is known so that the organisation can amend its financial plans accordingly. If several NHS bodies and/or other providers of NHS services are involved in a multi-centre study, researchers should also consider obtaining a letter of support from the organisations that would be involved, to submit with their application to RfPB. Please note that you will need to provide the contact details and job title of a R&D representative from the host organisation and application outcomes will also be copied to this named R&D contact.

Do I need to account for inflation when costing the application?

Costs must be provided at current prices and should not include inflation. An adjustment for inflation will be made centrally by NIHR annually thereafter at rates set by the Department of Health and Social Care. Whilst allowances for incremental increases should be included on the form, nationally or locally agreed pay increases should be excluded.

Patient and public involvement

What is considered to be appropriate patient and public involvement (PPI) in an RfPB application? There is no standard model for appropriate PPI as RfPB applications vary immensely. To start, you may find it helpful to consult the Supporting Information for Applicants page. More resources to support the design of your PPI are available in our guidance on the NIHR website. NIHR has also published a guide on payments for PPI.

One of the best resources for early advice on PPI involvement is your local Research Design Service. Each NIHR RDS has a PPI Manager who can help you plan and source local information and assistance from healthcare consumers, PPI organisations and their contact networks.

I am/my co-applicant is a PPI member. How do they register on the RMS?

If you are creating an account as a Public reviewer or Public co-applicant, you may use your personal email address to register. As a public reviewer or public co-applicant you must ensure to enter your organisation as PPI Representative.