The purpose of this scheme is to provide funding for the best proposals to generate new knowledge to strengthen and improve health systems in LMICs.
The programme’s aims are to fund methodologically rigorous, high-quality interdisciplinary research that will:
- generate evidence on:
- the structure and dynamics of health systems
- how to strengthen and improve health systems for people living in LMICs through the delivery of evidence-based interventions or structural changes (for example, strengthening governance, management, health workforce or supply chain)
- provide evidence that is of direct relevance to decision makers and practitioners in the field, linking health systems with defined outcomes (for example health, confidence or financial protection)
- demonstrate an appreciation of current theories and frameworks in health systems research or other social or political science theory of relevance to health systems
- where focused on a particular aspect of the health system, proposals must demonstrate how interventions relate to and affect wider elements of the system, such as governance, financing, health workforce, information systems or service delivery.
The HSRI scheme remains primarily a mechanism to support large research projects exploring big, new ideas. However, we recognise that preliminary work is often needed in order for applicants to develop innovative partnerships and proposals.
Foundation grants are smaller and shorter, and can be either:
- exploratory, for example, retrospective, diagnostic analyses looking into existing health systems, investigating the underlying causes beneath perceived problems or to explore possible health system innovations, under-researched areas or creative approaches that have the potential to be developed further
- small standalone research studies that will generate outputs and impact
- to conduct pilot work to build the necessary knowledge and methodological base to support a future full proposal, which could include work to pilot an intervention, feasibility or preliminary work to conceptualise broader research questions on the health system.
Please note: funding is available for research only. We will not fund the routine delivery of health services.
Foundation grant holders conducting pilot work will not be automatically awarded funds for a full project upon completion of their foundation grant.
If the HSRI partnership is still live by that point, they could submit an outline proposal to the main research grant application route in open competition with all other applicants.
If the partnership is not live any more, potential applicants will need to investigate other potential funding sources, either with the individual funders who fund the HSRI scheme, or elsewhere.
Priorities for this call
The funders welcome:
- multidisciplinary, collaborative and multi-country or multi-site applications
- focused in-depth applications, including those driven by social science questions.
Applicants should also ensure they embed research within relevant theoretical frameworks.
Teams should also ensure engagement of researchers that have:
- strong health systems expertise
- demonstrate knowledge of, and potential contribution to, relevant health systems empirical literature.
For further guidance on the HSRI Committee’s expectations for successful applications, consult the notes provided by the committee (PDF, 111KB).
Recognising that health systems are complex and multidimensional, this scheme welcomes research that identifies and addresses a range of health systems topics. These include but are not limited to questions of:
- social policy
- health workforce
- financing or trade
- private sector
- civil society
- information systems
- products and technologies
- supply chains
- service delivery and so on.
Research funded through this call could:
- engage with the contextual dynamics that shape or undermine effective health systems in developing countries
- offer practical solutions to implement health care improvements
- evaluate the health system at scale
- illustrate how the research findings can contribute to increasing knowledge and to the discourse for addressing other health challenges.
Typically, this scheme does not fund disease specific research. If you wish to discuss whether your research plans fit the call remit, please contact HSRI@mrc.ukri.org. See details of previously funded applications (PDF, 111KB).
Where relevant, applicants must identify the potential impacts of their research on policy and practice and outline clear relevance to decision makers and practitioners.
Projects should identify and address the key barriers to implementation and uptake of evidence-based interventions at local and national levels. This will pave the way for their sustainable adoption into routine practice with improved access and use by the populations in need.
A central component of this research programme is to build evidence on and within health systems.
However, we also encourage the exploration of assumptions, and of broader conceptual and structural matters, such as power and economic organisation, which have longer term impact.
Solutions to strengthening health systems in developing countries must be rooted in, and acceptable to, the institutions, communities and societies where they will operate.
As such, non-academic stakeholders, including potential users of the research, are expected to be included and involved in the design and delivery of projects.
Indeed, proposals should:
- demonstrate strong engagement with in-country stakeholders and decision makers from the project inception stage
- include appropriate budget for such activities.
Researchers are encouraged to be innovative in the kinds of user engagement, knowledge exchange, communications and research uptake activities they plan to undertake during and beyond the period of research funding.
It is important that applicants appreciate that outreach and engagement activities in themselves do not constitute impact.
Applicants may find it helpful to refer to the:
Priority will be given to research that benefits the most vulnerable populations or those in poorly resourced settings.
Whilst the funders recognise that many of the world’s poor live in middle-income countries, it is a specific objective of this programme to increase the body of research that is specifically relevant to low-income countries.
Whether this is through research in those countries or the ability to demonstrate the relevance of experience from middle-income countries to low-income countries.
Applicants must illustrate how the proposed study will contribute to strengthening low-income country health systems.
All countries of focus need to be adequately justified and a local need identified.
Research capacity building
All funders are committed to strengthening research capacity within LMICs and the UK.
Grants funded through this scheme are expected to contribute to the development of equitable and sustainable global research systems.
Applicants are encouraged to start discussing priorities as early as possible, in consultation with key stakeholders within and outside of the project team. This might include researchers, data collectors, managers, practitioners, grass roots organisations, policymakers and research management offices.
The proposed approach to capacity building will be assessed as part of the review process and will help to demonstrate the equity of the partnership. Examples of capacity building include, but are not limited to:
- building leadership skills amongst early career researchers
- opportunities for mutual learning across the project team (such as through staff exchanges), for example, in the subject of the research, the context where it is being conducted, engagement with policymakers and research management
- building capacity to working collaboratively, across disciplines and across practice-research boundaries (for example with policymakers, managers and practitioners in the system)
- providing mentoring to improve the capacity of less experienced researchers to generate new knowledge and attain policy impact
- team members attending training courses to develop specific expertise or obtain relevant qualifications (excluding Masters and PhDs)
- opportunities for staff and associated health managers to author or co-author journal and conference papers and participate in national and international conferences
- building organisational capacity, (for example in management, finance or communications)
- formation of LMIC research networks.
UK investigators should demonstrate an understanding of the national and local health system context and work harmoniously and effectively with local stakeholders to ensure the research programme does not undermine local research capacity.
These factors will be taken into account by the commissioning panel.
In recognition of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the funders welcome proposals to research the impact of the pandemic on health systems and examine ways to enable health systems to respond to this or future pandemics more effectively.
This does not need to focus directly on COVID-19. It could explore wider health systems research beyond containing the infection, for example knock on effects on health systems provision.
Please note, COVID-19 related proposals will be assessed according to the scheme specific assessment criteria in a competitive manner with wider non-COVID-19 research proposals. No specific budget is allocated.
All applicants are expected to provide an honest assessment of how the COVID-19 pandemic might affect the research plans.
There is an expected £700,000 available for this call from the UK FCDO, the UK MRC and Wellcome, in collaboration with ESRC.
You may request support for all research costs that are attributable to the project. For example:
- appropriate percentages of the investigators’ time
- scientific, technical and administrative staff including statisticians, research nurses and so on
- items of equipment
- data or sample handling
- archiving and travel.
UK research will be funded at 74% of the full economic cost (fEC). Research incurred by overseas research organisations and investigators is eligible to be funded at 100% of fEC.
Regulation, ethical review and liability may vary across different countries. Principal investigators and proposed sponsors should ensure that they have adequately understood the feasibility and costs of participation of proposed international centres.
For example, insurance arrangements will vary between countries and the sponsor (usually the host institution) is responsible for ensuring adequate arrangements are in place at each site.
If you would like to discuss whether your research fits the remit, please contact HSRI@mrc.ukri.org.