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Tips for applying to Programme Grants for Applied Research


18 June 2019


1.0 - June 2019


NIHR Programme Grants for Applied Research (PGfAR) funds collaborative, multidisciplinary programmes of applied research to solve health and social care challenges.

Funding will only be awarded on the basis of proposals meeting a very high quality standard. It is therefore essential that potential applicants for a Programme Grant award carefully consider the following tips, as well as the application guidance, before submitting a proposal.

Our experience with funding PGfAR so far shows that successful applications have the following qualities:

NHS sponsor

All NHS bodies and other providers of NHS services in England may propose programmes, in collaboration with an appropriate academic partner or partners provided they are capable of fulfilling the role of research sponsor as set out in the UK Policy Framework for Health and Social Care Research. Bids may be submitted by consortia including more than one NHS body or other provider of NHS, public health or social care services. Bids may include support for patient/consumer groups leading or participating in programmes of research.

It is possible that the academic partner could be a university outside England, if an appropriate case is made in the application. We would expect the application to make a strong case that the chosen academic partner was the organisation best placed to provide academic input to the planned research.

If the application is successful, a contract will be placed with lead NHS body or other provider of NHS services for delivery of the research. If the Lead Applicant is not employed by the NHS body they will need to obtain an honorary contract with them. The host organisation should be able to advise on expectations.

Applied research

A programme of research which meets the stated criteria for applied health or social care research. This typically includes the methods of health services research, public health research, social care research, behavioural science, economic evaluation and modelling. Programme Grants are not intended to support exploratory research with no likelihood of significant benefit to health and social care services users, carers and the wider public throughout the programme, and will not fund proposals that are dependent upon elements of basic research or experimental medicine.

Relevance for health and social care service users, carers and the wider public

Great importance for health and social care service users, carers and the wider public. At both Stages 1 and 2, the significance of the research area is clearly articulated, together with a detailed description of the outputs/deliverables that are to be generated, and a convincing demonstration that the programme is likely to benefit health and social care service users, carers and the wider public throughout its duration.


Identification of the major scientific, technical or organisational challenges involved and how they are to be addressed in the research.

Breadth & depth of the research team

A Lead Applicant that is suitable to lead a programme of applied health or social care research, as indicated through appropriate expertise and experience in this area of research. Eminence solely in a clinical area, or in more basic research, is not considered, on its own, to be sufficient. A team which possesses the necessary breadth and depth of expertise in all the methodological areas required to deliver the proposed programme of work (e.g. trial or observational study design, statistics, health economics, health services research, behavioural science, qualitative research methodologies, sociology, etc.), providing appropriate and demonstrable input into the development and delivery of the programme – simply naming a strong team is not sufficient.

Research methods and clarity

At both Stages 1 and 2, clearly articulated aims and objectives, each with its own research strand specifying in detail relevant and feasible research methodologies to be used. A proposal written in plain English, logically and coherently set out with minimal jargon, abbreviations and acronyms.

Coherence and scale

A coherent programme of work, well-balanced between its various research strands, realistic in scope and scale and deliverable within the time and funding agreed.

Equality, Inclusion and Diversity

Careful consideration should be given to applying the principles of the ‘Public sector equality duty’ when designing the proposed research. Applications should clarify how the research addresses the needs of persons who share a relevant protected characteristic that are different from the needs of persons who do not share it. The steps put in place to encourage persons who share a relevant protected characteristic to participate in research, and to ensure the research sample is representative of the population the study is targeted at, should be clearly stated.

Patient and Public Involvement (PPI)

Evidence that appropriate arrangements for patient and public involvement are built into the development and delivery of the proposal (i.e. as active participants in the research activities, alongside the research team, and not just the inclusion as the 'subjects' of the research), by not only specifying the people dedicated to the role, but also allocating sufficient resource from within the budget to allow for this. There should be a named person and/or PPIE lead with appropriate skills and experience responsible for the PPIE element of the programme. 

Value for money

A strong likelihood of excellent value for money from the proposed programme, for which the resources being requested are clearly justified and are appropriate to the type and scale of the work.