Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Population health improvement network of clusters

Apply for funding to lead a group of interdisciplinary researchers, working together to establish a research cluster to address an important population health challenge.

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding.

You can request £4.5 million to £7 million (80% full economic cost (FEC)) per cluster, over four years.

Up to seven research clusters will be funded, each addressing a separate yet complementary challenge. Together they will form an interdisciplinary network, which will generate research to improve the health of communities across the UK, reduce health inequalities, and develop and evaluate effective, long-lasting and environmentally sustainable interventions.

We will appoint a director through a separate process, who will work closely with research cluster leads to integrate activity across the network.

Awards will have a fixed start date of 1 April 2024.

We will hold our final networking event on 4 May 2023, 1:00pm to 4:00pm.

Research organisations are only permitted to lead on a maximum of two applications. Additional involvement in other applications is permitted, such as a collaborator or co-investigator.

Who can apply

This funding opportunity is part of UKRI’s strategic theme on health, ageing and wellbeing and is administered by MRC on behalf of the research councils.

Who is eligible to apply

Standard UKRI eligibility criteria apply. Proposals are invited from eligible UK-based organisations, in accordance with standard UKRI practice.

Before applying for funding, check the following:

To be eligible to apply to lead this cluster funding opportunity you must:

Holding UKRI support is not a requirement for every investigator in the cluster though a track record of some UKRI support within each cluster is expected.

A maximum of two applications as lead organisation is permitted. Additional involvement in other applications is permissible.

Applicants and other members of the cluster

You can include international co-investigators if they provide expertise not available in the UK. The inclusion of an international co-investigator must be discussed and agreed with UKRI staff before you submit the application. Please email your request to include international co-investigators to phiclusters@ukri.org

Researcher co-investigator role

Find out more information about the role of researcher co-investigator.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

We are committed to achieving equality of opportunity for all funding applicants. We encourage applications from a diverse range of researchers.

We support people to work in a way that suits your personal circumstances. This includes:

  • career breaks
  • support for people with caring responsibilities
  • flexible working
  • alternative working patterns

Find out more about equality, diversity and inclusion at UKRI.

Early career researchers

We support applications involving early and mid-career researchers.

What we're looking for

Scope

UKRI seeks to establish a new high profile, national interdisciplinary research network which will explore novel ways to transform health through change at the population level across the UK and reduce health inequalities. This network will be formed by multiple research clusters that address a specific challenge to progress systems interventions in communities using funding from this initiative.

This initiative aims to explicitly include people who typically have not applied their expertise to improving population health before and to work together with researchers already in the area to catalyse creative and innovative approaches that build on and synergise existing strengths and build new capabilities.

The network will form part of a portfolio of investments supported through the UKRI securing better health, ageing and wellbeing strategic theme, as set out in the UKRI strategy 2022 to 2027.

Each cluster must:

  • bring together multiple research organisations
  • include expertise from multiple disciplines and stakeholders to co-develop solutions for complex challenges
  • identify creative ways to broaden inclusion and strengthen engagement and partnerships with communities, people with lived experience and policy makers to identify and co-design the cluster challenge
  • synergise and enhance existing UK strengths
  • build on existing evidence including large scale population data resources
  • clearly set out deliverables for practical outcomes and impact and how they will be measured
  • develop and host an innovative and multidimensional training provision to encourage a new generation of future leaders
  • remain open to new members, partnerships and collaborations including but not limited to charities, local authorities and the private sector

The success of the network will depend on coordination and synergy between clusters and each cluster will work proactively with the network director to drive the network ambition of improving population health and health equity.

We are running a series of engagement events in spring 2023 to help bring people together, develop ideas and shape research clusters.

A Teams site has been set up for potential applicants seeking to join emerging clusters to communicate with each other. To join the Teams site please email phiclusters@ukri.org

A coordination hub consisting of the network director, leads of each of the clusters, and a small team of core-support staff will manage the network. This hub will be commissioned via a separate announcement and process.

The UKRI goal is a holistic, 360-degree perspective of the biological, social, economic, behavioural, cultural and environmental influences on the physical, cognitive and mental health and wellbeing of populations. Together with development and evaluation of radically, innovative interventions at the population level that are based on systems approaches.

Challenges can be around methods development or take topic-driven approaches. Examples of potential topics, include but are not limited to:

  • close links between health impact of poverty and poor-quality living environments
  • addressing health consequences of the local environment
  • access to safe, nutritious, affordable food
  • behavioural and cultural insights into physical activity relating to urban environments and transport solutions
  • exploring how creative interventions can contribute to the prevention of ill-health, promotion of healthy behaviours, management of long-term conditions, and treatment and recovery across the life course
  • health benefits from public sector spending allocations
  • new methods for evaluation of interventions in complex systems

UKRI support you to think creatively around the challenges that could be addressed and the impact that could be achieved.

Within scope:

  • research focused on what actions can be taken early, and at the population level, to prevent later ill health
  • population-level interventions
  • research to inform policy development, for example involving local councils
  • evaluation of policy
  • natural experiments
  • methodology for evidence synthesis
  • novel data analysis methods (which may include artificial intelligence, machine learning and modelling)
  • interventions at scale that narrow inequalities
  • applications of digital health

Not within scope:

  • underpinning research at the individual level
  • studies which solely describe current issues
  • individual-level interventions, except as part of a pre-defined subpopulation
  • policy development
  • interventions that aim to improve health service delivery
  • research that is not interdisciplinary

Duration

We will fund projects lasting four years.

Cluster awards will have a fixed start date of 1 April 2024.

You should ensure that when completing the project details section of your cluster application, you indicate a start date of 1 April 2024 and duration of 48 months.

Applications that have not indicated the fixed start date and the required duration will be rejected.

Funding available

You can request £4.5 million to £7 million (80% FEC) (this would be £5.6 million to £8.75 million at 100% FEC) per cluster, over four years.

What we will fund

You can request funding for costs such as:

  • directly allocated contributions to salaries of the leadership team and other established researchers, usually between 15% to 30% of their time, in line with their research contribution
  • directly incurred salaries of research staff, technicians and direct support staff, such as project managers, where there is a clear justification for each critical role
  • other costs: research consumables, sub-contractors and other costs directly related to the project
  • engaging stakeholders, including public engagement and involvement
  • travel and subsistence enabling members to meet to exchange ideas and expertise, which may include visits by or to experts overseas (industrial collaborators should meet their own travel costs)
  • administrative support, which can be requested to help in the coordination of individual clusters and can include reasonable costs for monitoring clusters’ output (costs to cover any ‘admin support’ can be requested under either ‘other staff’ or ‘other directly allocated costs’, depending on the costs being claimed as either directly incurred or directly allocated
  • we recognise that some project partners may or will be employed by a government-funded organisation. You must therefore avoid the double counting of public funds in costings
  • where justified, we will fund the time of project partners at 100% FEC. The combined costs for project partner must not exceed 30% of the overall cost of the grant at 100% of FEC, and would normally be lower than this
  • directly incurred costs for international research costs (including international co-investigator salary costs) may be requested (when approved), as an exception funded at 100%, up to a maximum of 30% of the FEC requested
  • the combined costs for project partners and international research costs must not exceed 30% of the overall costs of the grant at 100% FEC
  • NHS research costs of a study (funded at the appropriate FEC rate, usually 80%)

When developing costings, you should take careful note to differentiate the cluster’s activities from existing funding for related work by the members of the application.

Project partners

You may include project partners where these add value to the cluster, for example in terms of access to:

  • expertise
  • data
  • technologies
  • funding, such as staff time

Each project partner must provide a statement of support. If your application involves industry partners, they must provide a company letter of support if the team project partner falls within the industry collaboration framework.

Find out more about subcontractors and dual roles.

Project partners from non-governmental organisations, a local authority partner or a director of public health, or a member of their team are welcomed.

Who cannot be included as a team project partner

The individual named as the contact for the project partner organisation cannot also be a named applicant, such as those with a role of ‘investigator’ and any other named member of staff.

We also support collaborations with an industrial or commercial partner or partners where appropriate. You and your potential collaborators are advised to refer to the guidance on MRC Industry Collaboration Framework (ICF). ICF is the mechanism by which academic-industrial collaborations can apply to the MRC.

What we will not fund

We will not fund:

  • open access costs: these must be covered by the UKRI open access grant
  • PhD students and fellowships
  • equipment
  • generic computing platforms for data analysis or data storage, which should be part of wider research organisation data management activities
  • networking activities across clusters (funding for this will come from the coordination hub)
  • buildings and other types of infrastructures
  • clinical trials or longitudinal population studies, which have specific governance requirements and for which alternative funding routes are available
  • NHS support or treatment costs (although MRC will take NHS support and treatment costs into account when considering the value for money of the research)
  • project partners costs already covered by public funds (for example, project partner employed by a government-funded organisation)

Responsible innovation

UKRI is fully committed to developing and promoting responsible innovation and trusted research. Research has the ability to not only produce understanding, knowledge and value, but also unintended consequences, questions, ethical dilemmas and, at times, unexpected social transformations.

We recognise that we have a duty of care to promote approaches to responsible innovation that will initiate ongoing reflection about the potential ethical and societal implications of the research that we sponsor. We encourage our research community to do likewise.

In common with other funding across UKRI, your application will be required to embed principles of responsible innovation and those of trusted research throughout each activity. You will be expected to engage with the relevant regulatory bodies where concerns may arise under the National Security and Investment Act. You should consider aspects of bias, privacy, security and ethics where appropriate.

How to apply

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

You can find advice on completing your application in:

We recommend you start your application early.

Your host organisation will also be able to provide advice and guidance.

Submitting your application

Before starting an application, you will need to log in or create an account in Je-S.

All investigators involved in the project need to be registered on Je-S.

Any investigators who do not have a Je-S account must register for one at least seven working days before the funding opportunity deadline.

When applying:

  1. Select ‘documents’, then ‘new document’.
  2. Select ‘call search’.
  3. To find the opportunity, search for: Population health improvement network of clusters.

This will populate:

  • council: MRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: research grant
  • call/type/mode: Population health improvement network of clusters

Once you have completed your application, make sure you ‘submit document’.

You can save completed details in Je-S at any time and return to continue your application later.

Deadline

UKRI must receive your application by 26 July 2023 at 4:00pm UK time.

You will not be able to apply after this time. Please leave enough time for your proposal to pass through your organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date.

You should ensure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.

Attachments

What to include with your application

In addition to the Je-S application, you will also need to include the following mandatory attachments:

Case for support

The case for support should be a self-contained description of the proposed work with relevant background, with no dependence on additional information. The case for support must not exceed 12 pages.

The case for support forms the body of your proposal and should address the following points:

  • an introduction providing the vision, aims and objectives of the proposed PHI research cluster, including the specific challenge that the cluster will tackle, and the rationale for choosing this challenge
  • a summary of the current state of knowledge on the research challenge that the cluster will address. Give sufficient details of past and current research to show that the aims are scientifically justified, and that the work will add distinct value to what is already known, or in progress
  • the detailed research questions to be addressed and how these will align with the vision of this funding opportunity
  • a description of the four-year work programme of your cluster, showing the organisation of the work packages involved, highlighting their interdependencies and how they address the central challenge theme:
    • each work package should provide details of anticipated outputs and the timescales involved
    • include the names of the relevant investigators for each component and the disciplines involved
    • say how each of the investigators will work together and outline other major collaborations important for the research
    • explain how the environments in which the research will be done will promote delivery of the proposed research
    • provide a description and rationale of the study designs and methods for analysis. Highlight any innovation in methods or highlight their intention to develop new methods and make clear the likely wider applicability of what is developed
    • articulate a clear understanding of the context and needs of the relevant communities and describe the ways in which the proposed research will directly or indirectly meet these needs or impact upon understandings of these needs
    • describe how you intend to co-produce evidence with relevant stakeholders and communities, with reference to the work-packages for the research programme. You should also describe the specific contribution of each partner to co-producing the proposed research
  • give plans for knowledge transfer and exchange, and specify how these will facilitate the pathways to impact and exchange of knowledge with those within and outside of the cluster
  • explain the expected impact of the work of the cluster, specifying the likely magnitude of that impact and who will be the beneficiaries. Clarify the envisaged timescale for delivering the impact; and whether it will be achieved within the four-year duration, or whether your cluster will deliver intermediate outcomes which may be subsequently translated into large-scale, sustainable outcomes
  • provide a diagram and description of the structure and components of your cluster. Your description should cover how the programme of research will be managed, including the composition of any external advisory group
  • include a list of references cited in the case for support

Gantt chart

This should show the deliverables and milestones for each work-package and for the overall cluster. It must show the interdependencies of work packages (maximum of one side of A4).

Justification for resources

A narrative description of the justification of all requested resources should be included as an attachment to this proposal (maximum two sides of A4). All items requested in the Je-S form must be justified in this attachment.

Data management plan

As per standard guidance, all applications must be accompanied by a data management plan (DMP) as an attachment to the application on Je-S.

The DMP should comply with MRC’s policy on research data sharing.

The DMP should demonstrate how the research will meet expectations for research data quality, sharing, and security. It should refer to any institutional and study data policies, systems and procedures and be regularly reviewed throughout the research cycle.

You must use the available DMP template form (maximum three sides of A4)

CVs and publications

The principal investigator and co-investigators should provide their CVs, highlighting relevant research outputs (maximum two sides of A4 per CV) and a list of publications (maximum one side of A4 per investigator) in one combined PDF document.

Equality, diversity and inclusion statement

A statement as to how the project plan aligns with UKRI’s strategy on equality, diversity and inclusion (maximum one side of A4).

Cover letter

This should describe any forerunning conversations you have had with UKRI, for example with respect to the inclusion of international co-investigators.

A cover letter could also indicate any potential conflicts of interests with panel members, who you may wish to exclude from reviewing your proposal.

UKRI reserves the right to judge whether this request should be upheld. Full details on panel membership will be published on this page in due course.

Letters of support

Letters of support must be provided under the following circumstances:

  • where researcher co-investigators are included on an application, a signed letter of support must be provided from the principal investigator or senior authority within the host research organisation. The content of the letter should be in line with MRC guidance for this investigator status
  • where project partners are included on an application, a signed letter of support must be provided that fully articulates their contributions and role within the project

Each letter should not exceed two sides of A4 or equivalent on headed paper or a PDF of an email. Letters of support to be combined into one PDF document. Generic letters of support must not be included in any application.

If your research includes excess treatment costs of studies involving human participants you will need to include a schedule of events cost attribution template (SoECAT). For details and access to the SoECAT form see the National Institute for Health and Care Research’s information on excess treatment costs.

You can find full details of what to include in mandatory and optional attachments in section 2.2 attachments guidance

Guidance for applicants

The MRC guidance for applicants:

  • helps you check your eligibility
  • guides you through preparing an application
  • shows you how to prepare a case for support
  • provides details of any ethical and regulatory requirements that may apply

Industrial partner information

If you want to include one or more industry partners as a project partner, you must also complete the project partner section in Je-S.

Each project partner must provide a project partner letter of support, which should not exceed two pages of A4 on headed paper or a PDF of an email. The letter must:

  • be an integral part of the application
  • focus on the application it accompanies which includes the requirement to include a project partner letter of support

Full details of the content the project partner should include in their letter of support, are provided in section 2.2.6 of the MRC guidance for applicants.

MRC industry collaboration framework

If your application involves the collaboration of one or more industrial partners, you should review the information published within the MRC industry collaboration framework (ICF) to decide if you should submit your application under the ICF.

After reading the ICF information, if you decide that your application will include industry collaboration, you will need to include the following within your application for each collaborating industry partner:

The completed ICF form should be uploaded to the Je-S attachments section using the ‘MICA form’ document type. Please type ‘Industry Collaboration Framework form’ in the description box.

The company letter of support must use the available template and be uploaded to the relevant project partner entry you are required to add to your Je-S application.

Research disruption caused by COVID-19 pandemic

You have the option to include a one-page annex to the case for support. You can use it to provide additional information explaining any disruptions you have encountered to previous or current research, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic (where relevant to your pending application).

For further information relating to the annex, please see the MRC guidance for applicants (section 2.2.3.6).

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

We will assess your application using the following process.

Examination of applications

Following the close of the funding opportunity, all submitted applications will be examined by UKRI to ensure the proposed application meets standard UKRI eligibility and is within scope of the funding opportunity.

Following our completion of the application examination process, all those with an application outside of the scope of the funding opportunity, will be advised their application has been rejected shortly before the advertised expert review panel meeting planned for October 2023.

Applications within scope of this funding opportunity will be taken forward to the expert review panel meeting planned for October 2023.

Expert review panel

The review panel will be comprised of experts spanning the breadth of UKRI’s remit and interests, to ensure that due consideration has been given to interdisciplinary proposals.

The panel of experts will collectively review your application against the criteria of this funding opportunity.

Applications will rank alongside other applications after which the panel will make a funding recommendation.

The expert review panel will use the following criteria to assess your application:

  • fit to the funding opportunity scope
  • the importance of the health question and the need for an intervention to address the issues, taking account of the current landscape
  • the proposed approach including methodology, innovation and likelihood of the outcomes of the proposed study to fill a current gap in knowledge
  • the research team, research environment, degree of interdisciplinarity, stakeholder partners and project partner participation and engagement
  • the inclusion of individuals who typically have not applied their expertise to improving population health before and to work together with researchers already in the area
  • how novel the intervention is and whether it brings together disciplines and actors who may not normally be involved in population health research
  • its potential impact, including appropriate engagement plans with project partners, key stakeholders and target populations, and the appropriateness of communication and knowledge exchange plans

The panel will be empowered to recommend the strongest overall portfolio of complementary proposals for the initiative or the portfolio that provides the greatest added value. The proposal will be expected to reflect the UKRI policy on equality, diversity and inclusion.

Principles of assessment

UKRI supports the San Francisco declaration on research assessment (DORA) and recognises the relationship between research assessment and research integrity.

Find out about the UKRI principles of assessment and decision making.

Timescale

We aim to complete the assessment process within three months of receiving your application.

The expert review panel meeting will take place approximately 12 weeks after the closing date.

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

UKRI Population Health Improvement Team

Email: phiclusters@ukri.org

We aim to respond within five working days.

Get help with applying through Je-S

Email

jeshelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone

01793 444164

Opening times

Je-S helpdesk opening times.

Additional info

Previously hosted webinar

UKRI hosted a webinar on 27 January 2023 to provide more details on this funding opportunity and to take questions from the research community.

Read the webinar slides (PDF, 1MB).

Watch the webinar recording on YouTube

Why we are funding Population Health Improvement network of clusters

Until 2011, the UK had experienced decades of improvement in population health, with life expectancy on the increase for a number of decades. Since 2011 improvements in mortality rates have stalled and are deteriorating for certain population groups.

The causes of this slowdown in population health are complex, but numerous studies have associated deprivation with poorer health outcomes, shorter healthy life span and higher levels of disease morbidity and multimorbidity when compared with lower levels of deprivation.

While this topic has never been more relevant to society, as currently constituted, the field lacks cohesion and cannot advance at pace, with consequent effects across our fundamental understanding, interventions and policy.

Supporting documents

UKRI policies and standards

Conditions of award

Start date

Awards will have a fixed start date of 1 April 2024

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