Feedback on expression of interest applications for “Addressing age-related issues of hearing and/or vision through healthcare technologies”

Thank you to everybody who applied to our recent funding call on the topic of addressing age-related issues of hearing and/or vision through healthcare technologies. The deadline for expression of interest applications was on Friday 21st July 2023 and we received many high-quality applications. We recently let applicants know whether they had been invited to submit a full application and the success rate at this stage was 44%.

Expression of interest applications were assessed on a range of criteria which were set out in the call guidelines and our general feedback for those who were unsuccessful at this stage is outlined below:

  • In general, some applications were relatively hard to read and included typographical errors and/or lacked clarity. Sometimes the overall scope / focus of the research was hard to discern – for example, placing an emphasis on both age-related issues of hearing and vision in the abstract, but seemingly only being focused on one or the other in the remainder of the proposal. We would always advise asking others to review the final draft of your application, to pick up on these sorts of issues, before submitting it.
  • Some proposals appeared to be entirely mechanistic, with little / no discernible focus on healthcare technologies. With this funding call, and as stated in the call guidelines, we were looking for proposals which went beyond uncovering the biological mechanisms of age-related issues of hearing and/or vision, and were looking to address these through the testing and/or scaling up of healthcare technologies.
  • We were looking for all sections of the application form to be completed fully and meaningfully, including those focusing on our key principles for research. The best applications not only provided a compelling justification of the need for the research, but also demonstrated how our principles would be addressed during it.
  • It wasn’t always clear why the particular healthcare technology in question had been chosen, or why it was needed. In some cases, for example, there seemed to be an assumption that a particular technological solution was required without fully evidencing / justifying how that conclusion had been reached (e.g. providing evidence of previous scoping work, needs assessments etc.). Relatedly, it was sometimes unclear how the proposed research had reached a particular stage and whether any previous preliminary / pilot work had taken place.
  • We found that many of the videos focused on reiterating the background / importance of the research, but then failed to address the key points we were looking for – namely, a detailed outline of the proposed methods and any guidance / expertise that the team had already accessed and/or would have access to, to ensure methodological rigour. The strongest videos were those which kept background information to a minimum, and thus gave themselves more time to focus on the proposed methodological / statistical approach.
  • When asked to describe the potential impact(s) of the research, some applications provided statements with little detail as to how the proposed impact would be achieved and/or how it would be resourced. For example, some applications proposed to inform “policy” or “guidelines” but did not mention which policies / guidelines and/or the likely relationships that would need to be developed to do so. Sometimes, it was unclear whether influencing policy was realistic given the relatively early-stage nature of a proposal. In other cases, we felt that the proposed impacts were overly ambitious – for example, claiming that the work would have an immediate impact on clinical practice with little evidence / justification to support this. In some cases, it may have been better to articulate impacts on a smaller scale but which were more feasible. Often what was required was a more detailed consideration of the intended next steps should the proposed research be successful.
  • In some cases, we felt that the “Other work” section of applications failed to reference related work that had been conducted by the applicants and/or other grants that were ongoing / under assessment / had been rejected etc. – particularly where these were grants that had previously been assessed and/or funded by the Trust. Relatedly, for some applications the extent to which the research being proposed overlapped with other work being conducted by the applicants could have been more clearly articulated.
  • In general, we were impressed by the quality and suitability of the teams being proposed. However, in some cases we felt that the team lacked certain expertise and/or had not fully articulated the relevant expertise within the team – for example, audiology / hearing experts. In addition, a number of applications failed to state the time commitment (% FTE) of each team member to the research, which made it harder to assess whether there was appropriate oversight / input into the study.
  • Within the “Support for the proposed team” section, applications performed less strongly when they provided generic statements on the support to be provided or when it was unclear how the proposed support / training was to be resourced – for example, stating that the host institution was a supportive environment but providing little evidence / specifics on the type of support / training that team members would have access to. In addition, some proposals seemed to focus almost entirely on the support to be provided to the lead applicant and/or named members of the research team, but didn’t consider the research staff who would be employed on the grant (e.g. early career post-doctoral researchers). Regarding any plans for mentorship, the strongest answers were those that could explain why this was needed (e.g. by identifying particular needs / areas for development) and describe the arrangements that would be in place (e.g. who would be involved, how often would this take place etc.).
  • Related to this, some applications would have benefitted from a greater consideration of how different team members would be managed / supported to work together successfully, particularly where different members would be based at different sites and/or multiple organisations were involved.
  • Often, we felt that applicants’ plans regarding patient, carer and/or public involvement (PPI) could have been better structured with a consideration of each stage of the proposed research. For example, many applications would have benefitted from articulating how exactly PPI would be involved in each stage of the research through the lens of the UK Standards for Public Involvement in Research, as well as explaining who would lead / manage the various PPI activities and evidencing their relevant skills / expertise. In some cases it was unclear how / how often PPI members would be engaged in the research, leading us to question whether the amount of funding requested for PPI activities was appropriate and in-line with payment guidance.
  • With regards to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), some applicants made relatively generic statements and missed the opportunity to talk more specifically about how these matters would be reflected in their research and approach. In particular, a number of proposals stated a commitment to ensuring diverse and inclusive recruitment of participants, but lacked detail on the mechanisms through which this would be achieved and/or whether the proposed team had the appropriate expertise to achieve this. In addition, whilst we were pleased to see a number of applications articulate a commitment to record the demographic characteristics of their sample (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity etc.) it wasn’t always clear how the data would be used – for example, whether they would alter their sampling strategy if it became clear that they were not recruiting a diverse group of participants. A number of applications also made reference to having diverse / inclusive PPI groups but didn’t fully evidence this. In contrast, the strongest applications provided specific detail as to how EDI matters would be embedded into the proposed work and demonstrated that this was resourced (e.g., including appropriate EDI-related costs, such as translation and specialist hearing / vision support, in their budget).
  • In some proposals we noted that the costs included in the financial summary didn’t always align with the narrative of the application form. For example, sometimes salary costs were included for people working on the grant who had not been mentioned in the application previously, or costs included for unspecified dissemination activities. In general, the best financial summaries clearly showed the costs being requested and provided enough detail to demonstrate that the various activities mentioned in the application were appropriately resourced.
  • In a few instances we noticed the use of the terms “elderly” and “subjects”. Whilst we didn’t factor this into our assessment, we thought it would be helpful to highlight this and signpost to some useful guidance on these terms. For example, the Centre for Ageing Better’s Age-friendly communication principles advocates for the use of “older person” or “older people” instead of “elderly”. In addition, the term “subject”, used to describe someone taking part in a research study, is now viewed as outdated – with the UK government aiming to replace the term “subject” with “participant” in the legislation that underpins the regulation of clinical trials in the UK.

The shortlisting process was difficult, with so many interesting and innovative ideas coming forward. We very much appreciate the time and effort put into developing an application and hope that this feedback is helpful to those who were unsuccessful at this stage in finding alternative sources of funding. If you are looking for new networks to assist you, do consider joining / reaching out to members of the DMT Academy. Also, do visit the UK Ageing Research Funders’ Forum news page to view other potential funding opportunities.