The function of the Policy Research Programme (PRP) is to commission, fund and manage leading edge research that is focused on the needs of Ministers and policymakers for evidence to inform policy. It provides timely evidence for current policy needs and builds the evidence-base for future policy-making.
The primary objective of the PRP is to assist colleagues in DH who are formulating, developing or evaluating policy by:
- providing robust evidence to inform policy development and implementation in timely and accessible ways, including assessment of potential impact and cost-effectiveness
- evaluating policies, including the evaluation of pilots before policies are fully implemented
- commissioning research evidence for policy-making over the longer-term.
To do this the PRP commissions a wide range of different types of primary and secondary research.
The PRP commissioning priorities are determined by the Department’s strategic objectives, priorities and business plans, and are influenced by stakeholder consultation and expert advice. It follows, therefore, that the research priorities for the PRP are continually evolving. An overriding priority in 2011/12 is to ensure a robust portfolio of research is in place to inform the development, implementation and evaluation of the Health and Care Reforms.
The PRP funds research in three main ways:
- Long term programmes of research in academic Policy Research Units (PRUs), designed to meet the longer-term research needs of the DH as well as to provide a rapid response function. Currently PRUs are funded in the following areas:
- Behaviour and Health (University of Cambridge)
- Cancer Awareness, Screening and Early Diagnosis (Queen Mary, University of London)
- Children, Young People and Families (University College London)
- Commissioning and the Healthcare System (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)
- Economic Evaluation of Health and Care Interventions (University of Sheffield)
- Economics of Health and Social Care Systems (University of York)
- Nursing Research (King’s College London)
- Maternal Health and Care (University of Oxford)
- Policy Innovation Research (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)
- Public Health Research Consortium (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)
- Quality and Outcomes of Person-Centred Care (University of Kent)
- Social Care Workforce (King’s College London).
2. Large-scale initiatives, comprising linked groups of studies, providing a range of empirical evidence on a key policy area or issue.
3. Single projects and literature or scoping reviews.
The PRP also contributes to cross government issues and the funding of initiatives by multiple funders including the Research Councils and other Government Departments.
PRP research is usually commissioned by open competitive tender, and always within the requirements of the DH Research Governance Framework for Heath and Social Care (2005). The PRP does not undertake in-house research.
The PRP makes sure there is active and appropriate Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) in the research process.
DH policy teams discuss their requests for research directly with the PRP. The PRP provides an initial assessment of these requests in relation to the following criteria:
- Ministerial priority and relevance to the aims and objectives of DH
- size and importance of the problem to be addressed
- whether the evidence or information requested already exists
- type of research required to answer the questions posed
- likely cost and timescale
- existence of well-defined plans for introducing research results into policy activity
- likely return on the investment in research
- availability of alternative research budgets
- appropriateness of PRP funding.
On the basis of this assessment (often in consultation with a wide variety of stakeholders and experts), the PRP makes a recommendation for funding to the DH’s Director of R&D. If approved, and funding is available, a call for proposals is arranged through the Policy Research Programme’s Central Commissioning Facility (PRP CCF).
The PRP CCF acts as the managing agent, providing a public-facing point of contact for queries around all administrative, contractual and financial aspects of the PRP research commissioning process.
Use of research findings
Given the central purpose of the PRP, the outputs of its commissioned research are primarily used to provide the evidence base for a very wide range of policy activity, in DH and other government departments. Ultimately the goal is to contribute to excellence in policy-making by providing high-quality evidence to enable improved outcomes for patients, service users and the public. More specifically, findings from the research commissioned by the PRP may inform the policy-making process in the following ways:
- influencing the setting or assessment of policy priorities
- informing the formulation of new policy, e.g. White/Green Papers
- underpinning the process of policy review and implementation
- assisting in the development of innovation, e.g. via the evaluation of policy pilots or demonstration sites
- advising on assessment measures to evaluate the quality and impact of services
- providing evidence for policy impact assessment and modelling activity
- informing the production of DH advice and guidance in specific policy areas
- assessing the impact and cost-effectiveness of policies and their consequences for people and their organisations.
Dissemination of research findings
Once the peer review process of research findings has been successfully completed, researchers are encouraged to make their work widely available to a range of audiences. Dissemination may take a number of different forms, including:
- presentations to policymakers
- publication on-line, in book form and in academic journals
- publication in professional and service journals
- national and regional conferences and seminars aimed at service providers, professional bodies, and practitioner and service user audiences
- distribution of executive summaries and newsletters
- inclusion in bibliographic databases, including the NIHR Portfolio Database or the Social Care Research Register.