Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Understanding remote approaches to qualitative health research

Apply for funding to improve the understanding, design and use of remote data capture within qualitative health research.

Your research must be designed to improve the research methods used by others. We welcome multidisciplinary and collaborative approaches.

The lead applicant must:

  • have a postgraduate degree
  • be based at a UK research organisation eligible for UKRI funding.

We will usually fund 80% of the full economic cost of your research to your institution.

This is a strategic focus for the June 2021 round of the ‘Better methods, better research’ programme.

Who can apply

The lead applicant should be based at an eligible research organisation. These include:

  • higher education institutions
  • UKRI-approved independent research organisations or NHS bodies
  • public sector research establishments
  • MRC institutes
  • MRC units and partnership institutes
  • institutes and units funded by other research councils.

You must have a graduate degree, although we expect most applicants to have a PhD. We recognise the diversity of skills necessary for a successful research team and encourage multidisciplinary teams or approaches (including via use of researcher co-investigator status as appropriate).

We encourage applications from collaborative teams, which may include international co-investigators where additional impact can be justified.

We welcome collaboration with industry, which should be managed via an MRC industry collaboration agreement.

You should check any specific eligibility criteria for the type of grant you are applying for.

For more details on institutional and individual eligibility, see our general guidance for applicants.

Following an award, teams must begin the proposed work within six months to ensure that the resulting research retains its relevance as assessed when awarded.

What we're looking for

Qualitative research is increasingly moving from in-person to virtual, online or remote approaches. Evidence-based approaches are required to understand where and how the design of virtual, online or remote qualitative data capture methods influences data value and research quality.

This can include:

  • the effect of remote data capture methods on engagement or populations
  • impact of context
  • effectiveness
  • assumptions regarding moderators (for example, therapeutic alliance, social interactions).

Funding is available for methodology research that delivers generalisable learning (that is, learning directly relevant beyond a single research application or method) that improves the understanding, design and use of remote data capture within qualitative research.

COVID-19 has accelerated the move away from in-person approaches to qualitative research. Although applicants should recognise and build on the resources developed by the National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM), funding is not available to directly support changes within ongoing research.

However, opportunities for generalisable methodological learning created by shifts from in-person to remote are considered within scope.

Where there is a clear case for added value above NCRM activity, scoping current evidence, coupled with either a systematic methods overview (Systematic Review Journal) or a systematic review of guidance would be eligible for funding.

Reviews or evidence synthesis should inform our understanding of where and when methods and approaches to remote data capture are optimal. Reviews or evidence synthesis should be framed within a pathway to improve the methods being used by others.

In addition to methodological design, reviews or synthesis can be extended to include other aspects of delivery:

  • ethical issues, for example,storage of new types of data
  • practical issues, for example, mode, safety and security of recording and storage or access for low-income participants
  • quality, for example, loss of therapeutic alliance, hidden context, uncertain confidentiality
  • training, digital literacy of interviewers and participants
  • reach, engagement
  • other limiting methodological challenges.

Methodology research to address clearly identified, evidenced common methods gaps (for example, interviews) in remote data capture would also be eligible for funding.

All proposals must consider the approaches and resources required for outreach and to support meaningful improvement in the research methods of others.

All proposals must provide a clear case for the importance to the MRC or National Institute for Health Research of the methods targeted for improvement.

We will normally award up to £500,000 and support 80% of the full economic costs of your proposal. If you anticipate requesting funding of more than £500,000, you should contact the programme manager.

Methods in this context do not include technology or biomarker development (although new methodological approaches as the primary research focus to improve their implementation or broader uptake may be considered).

If you are seeking support for development of a methodology within a specific application, you should apply through the relevant MRC research board. You should include a covering letter noting the relevance to the ‘Better methods, better research’ programme.

We encourage applicants to learn from others where possible, and welcome multidisciplinary teams or approaches.

Find out more about the ‘Better research, better methods’ programme remit.

How to apply

You must apply through the Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S). If you need help in applying, you can contact the Je-S help desk on 01793 444164 or by email

You apply for funding through the normal application process for the type of MRC grant you wish to apply for. These are:

The MRC guidance for applicants gives more details on how to apply. When applying select:

  • council: MRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: research grant
  • call/type/mode: Better Research Better Methods June 2021.

All responses to this call should prefix the application title with “HRQ:”

If you are applying for a new investigator research grant, you should additionally prefix the application title with “NIRG:”

This call is a time-limited priority opportunity delivered within the June 2021 MRC-NIHR ’Better methods, better research’ programme call only.

Methodology research delivering generalisable improvement and learning of qualitative research methods are always welcomed by the programme. The programme is open twice a year with deadlines in June and November. The next deadline is 16:00 on 11 November 2021.

How we will assess your application

Your proposal will be assessed via a two-stage peer review process. A triage panel will consider your application roughly one month before the full panel meeting.

Applications not declined by the triage panel will have two weeks to respond to external written peer review and any feedback from the triage panel. We aim to communicate funding recommendations within one week of the full panel meeting.

Your application will be assessed on:

  • quality of proposed research
  • relevance to MRC or NIHR funded research
  • project management, risk mitigation and decision-making approaches, community consultation and inclusion of stakeholders as appropriate
  • assurance of wider implementation or learning from project outputs, including approaches for benchmarking (method performance and implementation costs), outreach and the ability or barriers to influence wider audiences
  • value for money and impact.

Contact details

Dr Rosalind Roberts, Programme Manager

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