RDS NW Newsletter – Spring 2022

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RDS NW Newsletter

Spring 2022


Our refreshed Public Involvement How-to Guide

Application deadline 1 March 2022Screenshot of PPI how-to guide

We have just launched a revised and refreshed Public Involvement How-to Guide both in interactive and PDF form.

The guide includes:

  • updated terminology
  • additional things to consider when involving the public in the research process
  • even more advice.

The guide is for researchers, research managers, public contributors and the wider public involved in or interested in the process of public involvement in the design of research. 

Adviser spotlight – Professor Evan Kontopantelis

Photo of EvanAs a regular feature in our newsletters we like to introduce you to our advisers. In this edition we’d like to introduce you to one of our senior advisers, Evan Kontopantelis, Professor in Data Science and Health Services Research at the University of Manchester.

Evan is originally from Piraeus, Greece. His interest in computer programming led to a scholarship in the National Technical University of Athens, where he completed a PhD in computer engineering. Evan is now a Professor in Data Science and Health Services Research at the Farr Institute for Health Informatics Research, at the University of Manchester.

In 2005 he was offered a post at the University of Manchester, to work as a research associate with primary care data, specifically with the Quality Management and Analysis System (QMAS) in the context of an incentivisation programme, the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF).

Over the years he has used his computational background to delve deep into the torrent of data that is fast becoming available in health care, especially in UK primary care, and has been using even larger databases with patient level data, like the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD, formerly General Practice Research Datalink or GPRD).

Although he has built a career as a health services researcher supported by a Fellowship from the NIHR School for Primary Care Research and various research grants, he is still a biostatistician and health informatician at heart. This enables him to investigate existing statistical methods, generate new approaches and implement them in advanced statistical software platforms, mainly in Stata.

Evan’s methodological interests include computational statistics and simulation approaches, meta-analysis, structural equation modelling, data mining techniques, (interrupted) time-series analyses and validity in large health care databases.

Find out more about Evan on his University of Manchester profile.

Evan is happy to share his research knowledge and methods expertise with you when you receive advice from the RDS NW for your research funding application. Why not request advice today?

Find examples of our expertise and watch some of our advisers talking about our expertise on our website. 

Request advice from the RDS NW on your application today.


Meet one of our clients

Photo of peterThe Mental Imagery for Suicidality in Students Trial (MISST): A feasibility study

Dr Peter Taylor, from the University of Manchester, along with Dr Jasper Palmier-Claus from Lancaster University approached the RDS NW for advice on their research funding application titled, “The Mental Imagery for Suicidality in Students Trial (MISST): A feasibility study”

Suicide is the main cause of death in young people. Many students experience suicidal thoughts. These thoughts can be distressing. They can lead to suicide attempts and worse mental health. University and NHS services typically manage this risk. However, there are few treatments for targeting suicidal thinking in students. The project aims to evaluate a new talking therapy called the Broad-Minded Affective Coping (BMAC) intervention. It is brief, structured, and easily used by student services. The BMAC helps people to access and focus on positive memories and experiences. This may help people to break out of cycles of suicidal thinking.

Peter approached the RDS NW for advice on Public Involvement and also requested a critical read of his research funding application in April 2021 but ended up receiving advice in other areas including Health Economics, Identifying appropriate collaborators, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and general application writing advice. As a result of the Public Involvement advice they also applied for and were awarded with a RDS NW Public Involvement fund. This helped facilitate brief consultation meetings with young people with experience of suicidal ideation or behaviour and studying at university.

At the time of requesting advice the project’s team had the July 2021 NIHR Research for Patient Benefit funding programme deadline in their sights. In May 2021, the NIHR announced its “Mental health research in Northern England – Round 1 call.”  Through RDS NW’s ability to monitor the research topics of the projects we advise on, we were able to identify our clients working on mental health projects and share with them information about this call. Peter’s project was one such project and despite a much shorter project development timeline, due to the call’s deadline being in June 2021 not July, they were able to submit their application to the earlier deadline.  They were successfully awarded nearly £247,000.  The project started in October 2021 and will continue through to October 2023.

What does Peter have to say about the RDS NW,

The RDS were a great help in getting this application together, particularly their support around Patient and Public Involvement.

Find out more about the project on the NIHR Funding Awards website.

Peter also kindly presented at one of our proposal development events.  You can find out more about the project and Peter’s experience of applying for funding on our YouTube channel.


Funding focus – NIHR Research for Social Care

Informal carer helping to give medicationLast week saw the RDS nationally work together to host a residential grant development and writing retreat for potential applicants considering applying to the NIHR Research for Social Care (RfSC). At this retreat research teams had dedicated time to develop and write an RfSC application with expert RDS advisers on tap and presentations from those who have experience of applying to RfSC. We’ll update more on what happened at the retreat next time.

What is RfSC?

RfSC funds research which generates evidence to improve, expand and strengthen the way adult social care is delivered for users of care services, carers, and the public. You can find full details in the call specification.

The RfSC programme will fund Individual projects up to £350,000.

Applications to the RfSC programme should have:

  • A clear trajectory to immediate and long-term social care benefits
  • A strong link with service users, carers and organisations which provide adult social care services
  • A team consisting of social care researchers, professionals/practitioners, carers and service users.

Research teams should also demonstrate appropriate research expertise and have a track record of relevant published research.

Applications are invited from higher education institutions, charities, local councils and relevant third sector organisations.

What does the RfSC programme fund?

RfSC will fund research which generates evidence to improve, expand and strengthen the way adult social care is delivered for users of care services, carers, and the public.

The research is expected to have a high degree of involvement from relevant users of social care and social care practitioners throughout the research.

  • High quality proposals are welcomed from researchers and practitioners which are focused on:
  • Social care needs and relevant outcomes (which could be quality of life, social or health care related, as appropriate to the study, population etc.)
  • Developing a more robust evidence base for current ways of working
  • Developing and evaluating new ways of delivering social care
  • Secondary data analysis, record linkage and reviews
  • Research methods development
  • Care users’ and carers’ circumstances and needs
  • Those who deliver social care including unpaid carers and the staff and professionals involved in the delivery of social care e.g. social workers.
  • RfSC is particularly interested to receive applications that involve underserved communities and their social care needs.

When to apply?

RfSC is an annual competition. The next call is expected to open September 2022. Why not come to the RDS NW early for advice on your application.

Request advice from the RDS NW on your application.


RDS Blog: All systems go: systems thinking in public health research

by Rebecca Barnes, Senior Research Adviser in Qualitative Methods, RDS East MidlandsPhoto of Becky - source www.rdsblog.org.uk

What are systems approaches?

Various terms have developed to describe systems approaches, systems perspectives, systems thinking, and complex or whole systems approaches. These approaches point to the need for a greater engagement with the complex landscape or system in which public health interventions are embedded.

Dr McGill cited Donella Meadows’ definition of a system as “a set of things – people, cells, molecules or whatever – interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behaviour over time” (Meadows, 2008: 2).

Systems are not static. They are constantly changing, for example, as providers and initiatives are added and withdrawn, as strategic priorities and budgets change, and as social and cultural attitudes shift. Any new initiative will be affected by this evolving wider system and will likewise impact on it.

Find out more about what systems thinking is in NIHR SPHR Guidance on Systems Approaches to Local Public Health Evaluation. Part 1: Introducing systems thinking, co-authored by Prof. Egan, Dr McGill and other members of the NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR) in 2019.

What are the benefits of adopting a systems approach in public health evaluations?

In conventional public health evaluations, the intervention activity is isolated to measure change in the pre-determined outcomes. Contamination and confounding factors need to be minimised because they could obscure assessment of the intervention’s effectiveness. Systems thinkers argue that whilst this leads to a tidier evaluation, it is artificial because in the real world, interventions rarely operate in a vacuum. We might also want to evaluate policy and practice changes which are not discrete interventions with fixed start and end points.

Systems approaches recognise that plans to introduce something new into a particular context need to anticipate interactions with existing actors, activities and relationships. An intervention’s impact will depend on multiple contextual factors beyond that intervention itself. Equally, because complexity is a property of the system rather than, necessarily, the intervention itself, even a simple intervention can lead to complex consequences. Through identifying and analysing these factors and consequences, systems approaches can target changes needed at a system level and improve the transferability of public health interventions.

By its nature, systems thinking looks at the big picture-macro level and attempts to explain interaction within and across systems. For intervention evaluation, it can be useful to complement systems approaches with logic-model or theory of change development to understand change at the micro and meso levels of ‘everyday’ public health interventions, and how they connect to wider systems.

Systems approaches are increasingly being advocated for, with the NIHR Public Health Research programme encouraging applicants to adopt a systems perspective where appropriate. Dr McGill expands on the benefits of systems approaches in this video, drawing on her own evaluation of an alcohol levy on licensed premises.

Read the previous RDS Blogs here.



NIHR Public Health Research Programme Online Event

12 May 2022, 10.00 am to 12.00 noon4 people, backs to camera, arms on shoulders in the countryside

The NIHR Research Design Service (RDS) is hosting a free to attend, two hour online event focusing on the NIHR Public Health Research (PHR) Programme.

Who should attend?

This is a national event open to anyone with a good idea to develop high-quality research, including public health professionals, practitioners, researchers and academics based at universities, local authorities and other organisations who are interested in applying to the NIHR Public Health Research Programme.

What will be covered

This online event will cover:

  • overview of the PHR programme both commissioned and researcher-led calls
  • what makes a good PHR application
  • what do the PHR Prioritisation Committee and Funding Committee, stage one and two, like to see in an application
  • RDS and Public Health Research Applications and Design Advice (PHRADA) support for PHR applications
  • writing tips, interpreting and responding to common committee feedback
  • Public Involvement for Public Health Research
  • applicant perspectives of applying to the PHR Programme.


Register for this event as soon as possible. If you have any questions about the event you can email here.

Request advice from the RDS NW on your application.


Focus On Research and Equity – FOR Equity

Screenshot of the FOR Equity resourceA new web resource has recently launched, FOR Equity. This resource provides tools and resources to help make research evidence more relevant for action to reduce social and health inequalities.

Health inequalities are large, avoidable, and, therefore, unjust differences in the experience of health and illness.

The FOR Equity website is split into three resources:

  • The FOR Equity Guidance Inventory
  • The Health Inequalities Assessment Toolkit (HIAT)
  • The FOR Equity Resources Library.

The FOR Equity Guidance Inventory

This is a searchable catalogue of tools and guides that support the development of more equity sensitive research. It includes resources focused on health equity in general as well as those with a specific focus on particular social categories and study designs.


HIAT is a space for research teams to deliberate and reflect on: the equity dimensions of a topic they wish to study; how these can be integrated into the design, conduct and reporting of their research; and, how people with lived experience and policy/practice experts can contribute.

The FOR Equity Resources Library

This provides additional resources, including case studies of equity sensitive research linked to the HIAT.

FOR Equity was produced by a team at Lancaster University. It was funded by the NIHR School for Public Health Research and the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration North West Coast.


Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit

Screenshot of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion ToolkitThe NIHR Research Design Service has launched an online Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Toolkit. This resource has been developed to support researchers to better understand how to embed EDI in research design and to meet the NIHR’s EDI requirements. The toolkit advocates for best practice which goes beyond the NIHR’s current requirements.

The toolkit provides:

  • an introduction to EDI
  • sections providing pertinent information for your funding application.

Visit the EDI toolkit.


News in brief

NIHR publishes latest annual report

The NIHR has published its latest annual report highlighting its milestones and achievements during 2020/21 – a year like no other. The report celebrates how NIHR responded to the COVID-19 pandemic while continuing to fund and support world-class and ground-breaking research.

NIHR publishes a suite of guidance and resources to support implementation of the open access policy

The NIHR has published a suite of guidance and resources to support stakeholders in the implementation of the revised NIHR open access publication policy, which applies to publications submitted from 1 June 2022.

NIHR unites with health and social care leaders to improve public involvement in research

The NIHR and the Health Research Authority are working with a host of organisations to bring about changes that will drive up standards in health and social care research. Read more about this work here


Other events and webinars


Always check with the event organisers/funder for latest information.