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Digital Collaboratives Award - Guidance document


Background and aim

The NIHR’s mission is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. To achieve this, the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) provides a national infrastructure of staff and expertise to facilitate large scale research delivery in England. One of the key priorities for the NIHR CRN is to deliver research within under-served communities, specialties and key areas of health inequalities.

The four CRNs in the south east of England (CRN North Thames, CRN North West London, CRN South London, and CRN Kent, Surrey and Sussex) have partnered to fund an award that supports two Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to create opportunities to network and develop novel collaborations with NHS or social care academics/clinicians that subsequently lead to a study on the NIHR portfolio within the London and Kent, Surrey and Sussex regions. For example, the money can be used to fund sessional times for academic/clinicians, fund research assistance or facilitate meetings to ensure the collaborative meets its objectives. Oxford Heartbeat is a good example of an evidence generation study for digital health technology.

The collaborations must lead to the development, refinement or optimisation of an innovation that fulfils the following three criteria:

  • Involve a digital technology - please see NICE guidelines for digital health technologies
  • Ameliorates an unmet clinical and/or social care/community need
  • Improve outcomes for under-served communities. This could be in the form of:
    • Developing a robust evidence base to better understand impediments in health systems and biases that have resulted in the under-representation in our research of some communities
    • Improving the diversity of research participants in the studies the NIHR support and the voices of those who shape our research agenda.
    • Embedding diversity and inclusion in the NHS and social care processes
    • Helping improve the health and social outcome or wellbeing of under-served communities

Please refer to the NIHR Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy for further guidance. Under-served communities are defined as per INCLUDE guidance.


Each application should meet the following requirements:

  • A joint application between a digital healthcare SME and one of the following: clinician, allied health professional, academic or health expert in the field
  • A proposed digital innovation that fulfils both an unmet clinical need and meets the criteria within the NIHR EDI strategy
  • New collaborations that prepare the digital innovation for research in south east England that may lead to a NIHR portfolio research study
  • Seek funding to establish new collaborations between the parties listed in (1) or to further enhance discussions between parties with the purpose of developing a new research project in south east England

Applications should include:

  • Details of the Digital Healthcare Enterprise and innovation, with focus on how it fulfils both an unmet clinical and/or social care/community need and the NIHR EDI Strategy
  • A named investigator (could be academic, allied health professional, or a clinician) that will lead on:

    • Writing research protocols
    • Completing NIHR portfolio eligible funding grant applications or confirming eligibility through another appropriate route (e.g. fully commercial study)
    • Fulfilling the responsibilities of Chief Investigator during the set-up, delivery, and closure of the research project

  • A named local NIHR CRN contact from either London or KSS who will be an advisory single point of contact

Who will be eligible to receive Digital Collaborative Funding?

  • Collaboratives that meet the above group composition requirements of a collaborative
  • Collaboratives that demonstrate via their application how the funding will be utilised, and the long-term plan for research evidence generation e.g. the number of potential research projects, future research funding applications and timelines
  • Those whose research has taken account of the NIHR’s priorities to deliver research in underserved communities - some key characteristics that are common to several under-served groups are:

    • Lower inclusion in research than one would expect from population estimates
    • High healthcare burden that is not matched by the volume of research designed for the group
    • Important differences in how a group responds to or engages with healthcare interventions compared to other groups, with research neglecting to address these factors
  • Collaboratives that commit to all research study(s) being on the NIHR portfolio.

Application procedure

Funding for digital collaboratives will be approved on a competitive basis by a pan-London and Kent, Surrey and Sussex review board. The application will involve an early discussion with your local CRN, and then the completion of the application form which should consist of:

  • The named digital healthcare enterprise, lead investigator and NIHR CRN regional representative
  • Highlight your approach to the evidence generation plan, and realistic expectations about its full delivery - in your answer please highlight:

    • The business ethos and/or purpose of the digital enterprise and/or collaborative - please include examples of diverse, multi-professional, community representatives that may be part of the enterprise or collaborative, and/or any previous examples of innovations/solutions in this area
    • What evidence you have already collected – please include any previous research projects, especially any that had NIHR portfolio status
    • Details of any current funding available to support delivery of your evidence generation plan
    • An indication of your timescale for evidence generation – preparation, set-up, data collection, analysis

  • Highlight its potential benefit to underserved communities
  • Outline, if successful how the money will be utilised
  • Outline details on funding calls that you plan to apply for

Selection process

  • Shortlisting based on written applications by the selection panel consisting of a Digital and/or EDI representative from each local CRN and a member of the NIHR Research Design Service (London)
  • EDI guidance review - a brief discussion with an EDI lead from the panel to assist with making sure the project optimises its impact with underserved groups
  • Interview with selection panel
  • Selection and money to be allocated by end of Q2 (September 2023)

Support provided to collaborative

  • Up to a maximum of £10,000 to support your collaboration for one year. All funding will need to be spent and a report on expenditure provided for the financial year 2023/24
  • Support from the NIHR Research Design Service (London) from funding application, study set-up, to protocol writing and beyond

Responsibilities of the collaborative

  • Quarterly reports to the pan London and KSS Review board as to the progress of the collaborative
  • Ensure any developed research projects are eligible for the NIHR CRN portfolio and are being run in at least one site in pan-London & KSS regions
  • Any research developed takes into account the priority to include underserved communities in the creation and/or delivery of the study


Closing date for applications is 31 July 2023.

If you are interested in establishing a digital collaborative, and would like to discuss to ensure you have an eligible application, please contact Richard Wong ( who will be able to sign-post you to an appropriate person in your local CRN.

Please use the template application form to apply.