Feedback on expression of interest applications for “Interventions targeting the social determinants of healthy older age”

Thank you to everybody who applied to our recent funding call on the topic of interventions targeting the social determinants of healthy older age. The deadline for expressions of interests was on Friday 29th July 2022. We recently let applicants know whether they had been invited to submit a full application and the success rate at this stage was 58%.

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:

  • It wasn’t always clear why the particular intervention in question had been chosen, or what potential benefits it could offer over other, similar and/or existing interventions. The strongest applications included evidence of acceptability or, if the work was not yet at that stage, a compelling justification of its need.
  • Some proposals would have benefitted from introducing the community partner(s) earlier in the application. In some cases, it wasn’t clear who the community partner(s) was/were until we watched the video and read the financial support section of the form, which made it hard to gain a sense of the extent to which the proposed work was a genuine partnership.
  • At times it was difficult to understand the exact role of the community partner(s) throughout the research, and occasionally it seemed they were mainly being used as a recruitment site for participants. This was particularly the case when the community partner(s) also did not feature in the video. The best videos were those that managed to include multiple people’s voices – including the academic and community team members, as well as those with lived experience of the topic being addressed – and not only explained why the research was important to older people and the community partner(s), but also provided some specific detail on their ongoing involvement and how they were planning to achieve practical impact.
  • When asked to describe the impact of the research, some applications provided vague 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. Similarly, in some cases it appeared that dissemination was being used as a proxy for impact (e.g., holding a single dissemination event at the end of the research), when a potentially more productive approach may have been to bring decision-makers and other key stakeholders into the work at an earlier stage (as part of an advisory group, for example), so increasing the potential for the work to create change and have influence.
  • Related to this, some applications did not outline how the work was going to be used within the partner organisation(s) (for example, any plans to implement the chosen intervention longer term). In many cases, this seemed like an obvious first step to achieve impact at a local, or even regional, scale. In general, the strongest applications were those that took a holistic approach to impact and provided specific examples of how this impact could be achieved and/or demonstrated that the team had the relationships and connections in place to make this happen.
  • In some cases, we felt that proposals could have better referenced other related work taking place on the topic of interest, including other work supported by the Trust. For example, there were some proposals focused on technological solutions within older people’s housing and/or care that could have made reference to the Trust’s Technology for our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation (TAPPI) work.
  • For some proposals, it was felt that the proposed team lacked the appropriate expertise or levels of multi-disciplinarity given the nature of the work – for example, in some proposals it appeared that the team lacked a background in ageing-related research or appropriate clinical expertise. Conversely, we were pleased to see a number of applications from lead applicants who were relatively new to ageing-related research, but who had specifically identified and brought on board team members with expertise in this field (e.g., to provide specific advice and/or mentorship).
  • Following on from that, when asked to explain the suitability of the proposed team, some applicants did not include details of members from the community partner(s), who were expected to be integral members of the team.
  • Within the “Support for the proposed team” section, applications performed less strongly when they provided generic statements on the support to be provided – 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 – or when it was unclear how the proposed support/training was to be resourced. 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 academic research team, but didn’t consider the team members from the community partner(s) or research staff who would be employed on the grant (e.g., early career post-doctoral researchers).
  • Related to this, some applications would have benefitted from a greater consideration of how different partners would be supported to work together successfully, particularly where different team members would be based at different sites and/or multiple organisations were involved.
  • Similarly, 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 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 support, in their budget).
  • In some proposals it was sometimes difficult to tell whether the community partner(s) involvement had been appropriately costed. For example, some budgets seemed to include a flat rate or single value for their contribution, with little information on how this had been calculated or what it included.
  • In a few instances we noticed the use of the terms “elderly” and “hard-to-reach”. Whilst we didn’t factor this into our assessment, we thought it would be helpful to highlight this and signpost to some useful guidance – in particular, this blog post provides some alternatives to the term “hard-to-reach”, whilst the Centre for Ageing Better’s Age-friendly communication principles advocates for the use of “older person” instead of “elderly”.  

The shortlisting process was difficult, with so many interesting 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.