UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP) Second call for proposals: Consortium and Network Awards
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The UKPRP partners have agreed to commit over £50 million to support research into the primary prevention of NCDs. NCDs account for around 89% of all deaths in the UK and result in large economic costs to health and social care systems and to the wider society. Socio-economic inequalities in health are consistently observed in the UK and have been increasing despite improvements in health and life expectancy. Diverse and complex systems operate to influence NCDs and inequalities in health. Recognising that these challenges extend beyond the remit of any one research funder, an alliance of funders is investing in the UKPRP to improve population health by tackling the upstream determinants of NCDs. These include, but are not limited to, the built and natural environment; systems relating to employment, education, welfare, transport, health and social care, and communication; and the policies of local and central government and of commercial enterprises.
The UKPRP vision is to generate evidence on actionable, sustainable and cost-effective ways of modifying the upstream systems and environments that influence NCDs, and of reducing health inequalities, through population-level action. The UKPRP is a new model of funding in the UK that aims to:
- build and support interdisciplinary research teams to develop, implement and evaluate generalisable and scalable preventive policies, practices, designs and interventions which will enable change within complex adaptive systems to prevent NCDs.
- deliver solutions for large-scale and cost-effective improvements in health and the prevention of NCDs that meet the needs of providers and policy makers and are responsive to the challenging timescales of policy making. This involves co-production of research with the public, policy makers, professionals and those likely to implement the intervention.
Generating evidence and fresh insights on how best to prevent NCDs and reduce health inequalities requires expertise and perspectives from diverse academic disciplines and users (including policy makers, practitioners, health providers, civil society groups, industry and the public). Drawing on the capability of both researchers and users would provide greater understanding of the context into which population-level interventions will be implemented. This understanding should inform the design and evaluation of interventions for modifying the upstream determinants of NCDs, and for addressing adaptations in systems as changes occur.
We strongly encourage applicants to use systems thinking and where appropriate systems science when developing and evaluating interventions to prevent NCDs and reduce health inequalities. Systems thinking has been defined by Arnold and Wade (2015) as “a set of synergistic analytic skills used to improve the capability of identifying and understanding systems, predicting their behaviors, and devising modifications to them in order to produce desired effects.” Systems thinking enables consideration of how different actors and other components of a system as well as interventions operate together to influence NCDs. This wider perspective should inform the evaluation of interventions for tackling complex population health challenges, including dealing with changes that occur within a system in response to interventions. Systems science methods such as systems mapping and computational modelling are available for examining how system components relate to each other and drive impacts over time. Applicants will need to consider what, if any, systems methods are appropriate to their work. We have provided below references on systems thinking and systems methods to help applicants less familiar with systems thinking.
Under this initiative, the funders seek to foster co-production of large-scale, interdisciplinary, solution-focused approaches to preventing NCDs and reducing health inequalities that address the common upstream determinants of NCDs. Further details of the UKPRP vision, objectives and rationale are set out in a separate document. Applications for funding need to be guided by the vision and focus described therein and the scope of the second call.
Call 2: Remit and scope
Under the first UKPRP funding round, four consortia and four networks were awarded over £25 million to tackle major upstream determinants of NCDs. Details of each consortium and network are available on www.ukprp.org. The funders now seek to complement the initial portfolio of UKPRP investment and would particularly welcome proposals to form consortia and networks in the areas outlined below. UKPRP-funded research delivered through the consortia should focus on solutions, policies and strategies which are sustainable, replicable, feasible and affordable and which aim to enable change within complex adaptive systems. Without wishing to be prescriptive, we also provide some non-exclusive examples of the sorts of research that is envisaged. Applicants should note that we would welcome proposals outside of the areas highlighted below provided that they complement the current portfolio of consortia and networks.
- Preventing poor mental health and promoting mental wellbeing.
The UKPRP covers physical health, mental health and wellbeing in the UK, but we have highlighted mental health as it is a particular area of need. Research could include the development, design and evaluation of strategies or technologies to reduce mental health problems during key life-course transitions.
- Reducing health inequalities (where this forms the primary focus of an application).
Research could include developing and testing strategies most likely to reduce inequalities in health (for example by socio-economic status, deprivation, ethnicity, gender etc.) at different stages of the life course.
- Using fiscal and economic interventions to prevent NCDs and reduce health inequalities.
Research could include the evaluation, by natural experimental and/or big data methods, of population level policy changes relevant to the primary prevention of NCDs (e.g. congestion charging, soft drinks levy, changes in the child benefit system etc).
- Modifying other social and economic determinants of health and wellbeing.
Research could cover welfare systems, poverty alleviation, occupational settings, gambling, housing or social cohesion; the co-design, implementation and evaluation of spaces and places (e.g. housing, workplaces, and public spaces) to improve physical and mental health; and the development of solutions for ensuring that the benefits derived from preventive strategies are shared equitably (e.g. by socio-economic group, ethnicity, gender etc.).
- Tackling food systems that perpetuate unhealthy diets and obesity.
We are aware of existing research funding schemes on food systems and influences on diet and obesity. Given the importance of this challenge, the UKPRP would welcome proposals addressing this area. Research could investigate strategies for modifying food systems in ways that affect demand for and uptake of unhealthy food.
- Improving the urban environment, including transport systems and air quality.
Research could evaluate the effects of central and local government transport or planning policies on air pollution, accidents and physical activity levels; or investigate how to enhance the built environment to improve health; and the development, design, application and evaluation of new technologies such as smart traffic management systems.
- Using green and blue spaces for improving population health and preventing NCDs.
Research could examine the effectiveness of different solutions for improving natural environments in health enhancing ways; evaluate interventions designed to encourage healthy use of the natural environment and how this can be achieved without exacerbating health inequalities; and the role of the natural environment in promoting health related resilience (particularly in relation to multiple deprivation).
- Targeting specific life course stages or transitions.
Research could examine the effectiveness of solutions targeted at reducing risks in specific life course stages such as childhood, adolescence, or old age; and specific life course transitions such as school to work, retirement, or becoming a parent.
- Cross-cutting approaches.
UKPRP would welcome approaches which exploit digital technologies, social media or other platforms, or which take advantage of large-scale datasets and linkage to routine datasets, to design and deliver solutions; and research into ways of improving the use of evidence in policy and decision making, particularly in local and central government.
Research into the effectiveness of existing interventions relating to the above topics also falls within the call remit as this is an area of need given that local policy makers require evidence to inform decisions on removing or retaining existing interventions.
- generate scientifically robust proposals.
- engage in interdisciplinary working, where expertise is drawn from across diverse academic disciplines, and the disciplines are appropriate to the focus of the consortium or network.
- summarise succinctly the current state of knowledge about the proposed topic of their application (for example by citing recent systematic reviews).
- ensure any proposed research takes into account any impact on health inequalities.
- ensure any proposed research takes into account the financial and other costs and benefits of proposed interventions, designs, or policies.
- give a clear account of the mechanisms by which they believe their proposed research will reduce NCDs in the short, medium and long term (for example by providing a logic model or theory of change). We have also provided references below on logic models and theory of change.
- demonstrate co-production of ideas and proposals between academic researchers and users, such as local and central government, civil society groups, industry and the public.
- describe, and demonstrate commitment to, proposed mechanisms for influencing policy and practice and for delivering impact.
We would welcome applications from research teams including expertise from outside the public health arena: for example, engineers, geographers, architects, designers, systems scientists, transport planners, lawyers or linguists. Proposals could be led by researchers from these disciplines and/or be in partnership with disciplines traditionally involved in population health research. We recognise that academic disciplines not traditionally involved in NCD-prevention research can provide insights and approaches for tackling population health challenges.
Industry can play a part in co-creating solutions to population health challenges by, for example, contributing expertise, technology, methods and data. An application proposing a collaboration with an industry partner must adhere to the UKPRP’s principles and guidance for working with industry. If successful at the outline stage, each applicant will be required to submit industry collaboration agreements and heads of terms as part of the full application, detailing their proposed collaboration with industry, in accordance with the forms provided.
Awards and level of funding
The UKPRP initiative will initially support two types of award, Consortium and Network. A comparison of the two awards is presented below to illustrate their different features. Other sections provide additional detail about each award. This call invites researchers to submit outline proposals for either Consortium or Network Awards.
Consortium Awards provide substantial, long-term investment (five years) to support novel combinations of partners, including, where appropriate, industry (i.e. commercial/business partners), representing a range of academic disciplines and undertaking interdisciplinary research addressing a specific challenge in the primary prevention of NCDs. These groups should develop research strategies with users, for example policy makers, practitioners, health providers, the public etc. who may be part of the consortium, for the generation and implementation of new knowledge. The thinking behind consortia is that drawing together teams of experts from different disciplines and sectors, and including users, should enable researchers to capitalise on a range of expertise to develop novel research into new or existing high quality interventions that can deliver change at a population level.
Funding for consortia:
- The scale and duration of funding is £4-7 million over 5 years. Applications outside of this range will be considered although, as with all applications, they should represent good value for money. Applications at the lower end of this funding range are encouraged but they must reflect ambitious research programmes that meet the UKPRP’s objectives.
- Recognising that the desired combinations of partners may not already exist, each successful outline applicant will receive a six-month Consortium Development Grant of up to £50,000 to build linkages between the consortium members, to develop research ideas and to act on feedback received from the assessment of the outline proposal. During the consortium development period, applicants will be required to attend a Joint Applicant Meeting which aims to bring together all successful outline applicants to discuss key areas applicants will need to develop in their full proposals.
Network Awards will build new interdisciplinary communities of researchers and users around broad challenges in the primary prevention of NCDs. This award aims to support interactions between diverse disciplines and users to exchange expertise, scientific insights and capability as the network generates a shared vision around its chosen NCD prevention challenge. Each network award will fund the operating costs of the network, for up to four years. While a small proportion of the grant can be used to pump prime new research collaborations, applicants should note that the funding provided is not for primary research. Network awards are intended to develop future capacity in the UK to address NCD prevention challenges. We expect networks will lead to new collaborative interdisciplinary research proposals on preventing NCDs.
Funding for networks:
- Each network will receive £100k per year for up to four years. This funding covers operating costs and provides limited funding for some feasibility work to pump prime a new research collaboration.
- Successful outline network applicants will receive a six-month period to develop full proposals and plans for network membership and respond to feedback received from the assessment of the outline application. During this time, you will be required to attend a Joint Applicant Meeting which aims to bring together all successful outline applicants to discuss key areas applicants will need to develop in their full proposals.
Consortium and Network Awards: A comparison
The different definitions of Consortia and Networks are set out in the table below.
Mode of Operation
Funding and Scale
This section includes a list of materials which you may wish to refer to in developing your proposal. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but it is provided to aid understanding of the key areas your application must address.
Information and networking events to support the funding calls:
- in May 2017 - a report of the workshop, along with presentations and audio recordings of the talks can be found here: https://www.mrc.ac.uk/about/events/ukprp-information-and-networking-workshop/.
Co-production of proposals and research
- NIHR INVOLVE’s Guidance on Co-producing a Research Project: https://www.invo.org.uk/posttypepublication/guidance-on-co-producing-a-research-project/
- NIHR INVOLVE’s guidance on how to involve members of the public in research: www.invo.org.uk
Complex systems thinking, systems methods and evaluating complex interventions
Complex systems thinking and systems approaches:
- Arnold RD and Wade JP (2015) A definition of systems thinking: a systems approach. Procedia Computer Science 44: 669-678.
- Egan et al. (2019) NIHR SPHR Guidance on Systems Approaches to Local Public Health Evaluation. Part 1: Introducing systems thinking. London: National Institute for Health Research School for Public Health Research. https://sphr.nihr.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/NIHR-SPHR-SYSTEM-GUIDANCE-PART-1-FINAL_SBnavy.pdf
- Egan et al. (2019) NIHR SPHR Guidance on Systems Approaches to Local Public Health Evaluation. Part 2: What to consider when planning a systems evaluation. London: National Institute for Health Research School for Public Health Research. https://sphr.nihr.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/NIHR-SPHR-SYSTEM-GUIDANCE-PART-2-v2-FINALSBnavy.pdf
- Diez Roux A (2011) Complex systems thinking and current impasses in health disparities research. Am J Public Health, 101(9): 1627-1634.
- Hawe et al. (2009) Theorising interventions as events in systems. Am J Community Psychology, 43 (3-4), 267-276.
- Rutter et al. (2017) The need for a complex systems model of evidence for public health. Lancet, 390(10112): 2602-2604.
MRC Guidance for developing and evaluating complex interventions:
Theory of change and logic models
- De Silva et al. (2014) Theory of Change: a theory-driven approach to enhance the Medical Research Council's framework for complex interventions. Trials, 15: 267.
- Rehfuess et al (2018) Towards a taxonomy of logic models in systematic reviews and health technology assessments: A priori, staged, and iterative approaches. Res Synth Methods. 9(1): 13-24.
- Rohwer et al. (2017) Series: Clinical Epidemiology in South Africa. Paper 3: Logic models help make sense of complexity in systematic reviews and health technology assessments. J Clin Epidemiol. 83: 37-47.
For further details about the UKPRP’s Consortium and Network Awards as well as the application process please see www.ukprp.org