Taking the long view on Research Funding

On May 1st this year we commenced work on an NIHR programme grant (How are treatment outcomes for people with severe obesity ImPROved by GROUP-based behavioural intervention? The PROGROUP study). This notable success for both PIHR and the sponsor University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, provides £2.5M of collaborative research funding over 5 years, to address a strategically important research question for patients and the NHS. As a community of researchers in PIHR, what can we learn from this success, and can we replicate this success in the future?

My first reflection is on the time it took to get the project funded. This project had its origins some 5 years ago, when I and Dr Mark Tarrant – an expert in psychology applied to health at the University of Exeter, were brainstorming the evidence base for behavioural intervention in severe obesity, and devised a research question. This question was worked up, supported by a literature search by PenARC, and by colleagues in the Community and Primary Care Research Group, and eventually resulted in our first application to PGfAR. In what felt like an eternity, the application went through both Stage 1 and 2 applications twice, as we countered all reviewers’ comments and feedback, before being funded.

There are several worthwhile lessons to share from this experience. First, be ambitious, and take the long view on your research and its funding. An important corollary to this is that the host institution should also take a patient view on its investments, and allow time to build critical mass, and to nurture and support early career researchers. Secondly, collaborative interdisciplinary research is very much the essence of Health Service Research. This application benefited from a strong team of academics and clinicians who are all leaders in their fields, and a knowledgeable and enthusiastic expert patient with a strong track record in this area of care. All research requires teamwork, so make sure that the research team comprehensively covers all key areas of expertise and skills. While we are fortunate to possess significant strength in PIHR, sometimes we must also look further afield for partnerships, recognising the fundamentally collaborative nature of research. Never underestimate the pivotal importance of the PPI contributions. Finally, never accept “no” for an answer! Another lesson is that doors sometimes open if you carry on pushing.