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Research for Social Care - Stage 1 Guidance for Applicants


23 September 2019


2.1 - May 2022


Section 1: Application Summary Information

Host organisation

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

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 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 NHS Support & Treatment costs and/or external (non NHS) service and care costs).

Estimated NHS support & treatment costs and/or external (non NHS) service and care costs

Enter the total amount of NHS support and treatment costs and/or external (non NHS) service and care costs associated with this proposal.

Please note: Social care studies are eligible for Clinical Research Network (CRN) support, it does not just apply to the NHS based research, and researchers should speak to the CRN and include support costs where relevant. For the purposes of social care studies ‘treatment costs’ should be interpreted as ‘intervention costs’ and should be included in the proposal when needed. Further guidance on support and ‘treatment’ costs can be found on the NIHR website.

Costs including the recruiting participants and users are known as support costs. Social care studies are eligible for CRN support, and researchers should include support costs where relevant.

For the purposes of social care studies ‘treatment costs’ should be interpreted as ‘intervention costs’ and should be included in the proposal.Treatment cost (i.e intervention/service costs) are the care costs that would continue to be incurred if the care service in questions continued to be provided after the R&D activity has stopped. Treatment costs will be provided either by the NHS Trust, local authorities or third sector organisations. So typically treatment costs should be met by the organisation delivering the service. In social care, this treatment cost is equivalent to intervention/service costs. Treatment costs should be met by the commissioner of the care service (e.g. NHS, local authorities, third sector etc.).

Support Costs include the additional user-related care costs associated with the research, which would end once the R&D activity has stopped, even if the care service involved continued to be provided. 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.

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. co-ordination and project management, analysis, methodological input etc. 

% FTE commitment

This refers to the percentage of your time that you will commit to this project. 

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

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.

Relevant expertise and experience of Joint Lead Applicant

Please summarise the proposed Joint Lead Applicant’s relevant expertise and track record in social care research, in terms of skills and experience, previous publications, grant funding and impact on social care provision.

Specify role in research

Please provide a brief overview of your role in the proposed research. You have the opportunity to elaborate upon this further in the ‘Research Plan’ section.

% FTE commitment

This refers to the percentage of your time that you will commit to this project. 

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

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 are considered part of the project team and are expected to share responsibility for its successful delivery, collaborators normally provide specific expertise on particular aspects of the project but do not share in the responsibility for the delivery of the project.

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:

  • those carrying out the review (reviewers and committee  members) to have a better understanding of your research proposal
  • inform others about your research such as members of the public, care professionals, policy makers and the media
  • 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 care users / carers / 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. patient and 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 in the NIHR Plain English Summaries guidance. For further support and advice on writing a plain English summary, please contact your local NIHR 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 care users, carers, the public and other key stakeholders in the research it supports. It is essential to set out your plans to involve care users, carers and the public in the Stage 1 application. Your public involvement plans will be assessed by the funding committee including 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:

  • 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).
  • 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
  • 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:

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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).

  • 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.
  • 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.).
  • 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 Institutions, Local Authorities, third sector providers, and NHS should also be described.
  • Timetable: Briefly detail the timetable for the proposed research, including key milestones and deliverables.
  • 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

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.

  • 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 side page of additional supporting documentation (document upload), if appropriate
  • A single A4 page of references (document upload), mandatory