Research Design Service
National Institute for Health Research

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RDS Blog



01 March 2018

Claire Rosten, Research Methodologist, RDS South East

I’m Claire Rosten, a research adviser with the NIHR Research Design Service, otherwise known as the RDS. I know what you’re thinking: just what the NIHR needs, another acronym.

However, if you’re a health or social care researcher, or would like to be, then ‘RDS’ is one acronym worth knowing. There are 10 RDSs across England who all  employ expert advisers dedicated to providing support for researchers. We’re a collection of trialists, statisticians, health economists, qualitative methodologists, psychologists, epidemiologists, patient and public involvement leads, grant writers (amongst other things) and we want to help you design your research and get it funded.

I write a regular blog in which I discuss issues about research, funding and design, but  here I’ll focus on the unique selling points of the RDS.

First, we have experience with literally hundreds of funding applications from a wide range of funders. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. We’ve worked on bids that have been funded first time around and ones that have been funded fifth time around. We’ve worked on a huge variety of research topics and we know our remit as advisers, and our strengths as researchers and methodologists in our own right. Perhaps most importantly, we occupy a unique position of being committed to an application’s success but not part of the research team and, therefore, not too close to the research idea.

Peer review is the second USP. All RDSs offer some form of formal peer review. One way this can happen is in the form of a regular meeting where advisers from across the region get together and review funding applications in detail in a way that mirrors as closely as possible the assessment process of the NIHR research programmes. This trial run gives researchers an invaluable opportunity to address any potential weaknesses identified in their application prior to submission. It also allows them to make the, sometimes vital, decision not to submit just yet.

Thirdly comes lay review. We give researchers the opportunity to have their applications reviewed by service users who can offer their insight and expertise by experience. This reflects the NIHR’s assessment procedure, which can involve lay review of applications as well as scrutiny by lay members of the various NIHR funding panels. It also allows researchers to hear directly from service users.

Now, I don’t in any way believe that consultation with an RDS will necessarily mean a successful application. However, this does bring us to a fourth USP: we provide our service to researchers confidentially and free of charge.

So, my take home message is this: if you are preparing an application for any national, peer-reviewed health or social care research funder, come and talk to us!

I hope you enjoyed this first entry from the RDS. Next month we’ll be talking about the importance of the research question. We’re @NIHR_RDS on twitter, so come say hello and use #RDSQnA.

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