MRC, AHRC and ESRC invite proposals for ‘Building Capability through Methodological Innovation: Advancing the Field of Adolescent Mental Health Research’. This opportunity will support research to strengthen the methodological and conceptual foundations that underpin research into:
- mental health
- the developing mind.
Scope and remit
This opportunity will support projects that help researchers in delivering more relevant, valid, reproducible, mechanistically informed, multi-level and translationally scalable research in adolescent mental health over the next decade.
Outputs from these projects may also allow new research questions to be investigated.
- address a clear area of unmet need with regard to existing research methods, concepts, tools or measures
- identify innovative new approaches for conducting mental health and wellbeing research with adolescents.
They should present a coherent project that clearly sets out how the outputs and outcomes of the project will contribute to the goal of benefiting the wider mental health research field.
Projects should be designed to create generalisable learning that accelerates progress in or improves the quality of research in adolescent mental health and wellbeing.
Applicants should demonstrate early engagement with a broad range of end-users as appropriate for the developed method, tool or resource and a clear and realistic pathway to impact. The dissemination plan for the outputs should be developed to maximise implementation, adoption and sustainable impact.
Research outputs should also be widely and freely accessible as soon as possible, in line with the UKRI open access policy.
A range of disciplinary contributions are sought, across:
- arts and humanities
- social sciences
- data sciences
This opportunity aims to support a portfolio of projects across the remits of the funding partners. Adaptation of methods from other fields of research and non-traditional disciplines to mental health are also welcomed.
A multidisciplinary approach is expected where able to add value and enhance the potential impact of the project by facilitating the transfer of ideas along with greater awareness and uptake of new approaches and applications.
It is recognised however, that there may be cases where it is not appropriate or feasible to incorporate a multidisciplinary approach. In both cases, the adopted approach should be clearly justified in the application.
Applications supported through this opportunity are expected to focus on the foundations that underpin research into understanding mental health and the developing mind of young people aged between 10 and 24:
While broader benefits and impacts on the field of mental health and wellbeing may be generated from the funded proposals, it should be clear that the primary driving force is accelerating progress in the field of adolescent mental health and wellbeing research.
Proposals are welcomed across the full remit of the opportunity. However, we particularly encourage research that addresses key methodology needs across one or more of the following interrelated priority areas.
These have been identified as key strategic gaps through a scoping community workshop and the recent call for research programmes.
Measurement and data
- improves existing, or develops novel approaches to, quantitative and qualitative measurement and analysis of adolescent mental health and wellbeing data
- enhances our ability to draw mechanistic insights
- contributes to advances in stratified or person-centred clinical approaches.
- tools, measures or approaches (including passive data collection) to meaningfully capture variation in environmental experience, track it over time and capitalise on the new and emerging data generated, in relevant domains including:
- social and online or digital environments
- intervention data capture
- tools, measures or approaches (including passive data collection) to meaningfully capture variation in psychological constructs or subjective experience, track it over time and capitalise on the new and emerging data generated
- methods to capture the unique biological and physiological changes in young people and integrate these with their psychological, social or environmental experience to generate mechanistic insight
- methods to capture and understand the origins and experience of loneliness
- improved approaches to measurement for constructs particularly relevant to adolescence such as gender, sexuality and race
- development and optimisation of experimental tasks or paradigms to measure individual, group or population differences in psychological constructs thought to underpin mental health, wellbeing, social or relational functioning
- extrapolation and calibration of methods validated in children and adults to adolescents
- development and optimisation of data analytic methods to provide new mechanistic insight into adolescent mental health and wellbeing.
The multidisciplinary nature of the field of adolescent mental health and wellbeing results in a range of ways to define and formulate:
Improved theoretical frameworks and constructs that are adaptable to cross-disciplinary research are needed to facilitate collaboration and are key for validity and reliability. This includes:
- defining and formulating key constructs and concepts relevant to adolescent development (for example, but not limited to, trauma, resilience, loneliness, trust and agency) within a framework that integrates across disciplines, addressing issues of:
- conceptual integration
- research operationalisation
- advancing understanding of how mental health, recovery, self-care and wellbeing, and their associated outcomes, are defined by both young people themselves, as well as the people around them and how these relate to professional perspectives.
Engagement and partnership
Methods of meaningful and productive engagement with young people, and collaborating with them and other partners, to advance the ability of the field to better address existing and new research questions and deliver impact. This includes (for example):
- ways in which to effectively engage and involve individuals (including adolescents themselves), communities and other relevant stakeholders (such as charities) to build partnerships and foster better research
- involving a more diverse range of young people in research to identify priorities, advise on study design and as participants (particularly those of greatest need, from low resource and under-researched backgrounds, such as:
- ethnic minority group
- those in care or prison
- those experiencing loneliness or social isolation
- advancing current methods, approaches and tools so that they more accurately and sensitively represent adolescent experience and environments
- methods to improve data collection, implementation of research and interventions in community and school settings and help align research priorities with community expectations
- identifying potential barriers to participating in research and maintaining engagement in longitudinal data collection (including anxiety around collection of biological and psychological measures) and how these might be ameliorated. This might also relate to practical challenges arising from governance frameworks (such as GDPR).
The areas described above are not exhaustive or exclusive and projects that cut across one or more priority areas and disciplines are especially welcome.
Collaborations and partnerships
Patient and public involvement and engagement
Research is expected to proactively collaborate and engage with a range of stakeholders, and in particular adolescents themselves, including those with lived experience of mental health problems and their families or carers.
Inclusion of those members of society under-represented in research activities, or most in need of mental health research, would be encouraged.
Evidence for unmet need should be clear. Proposals should articulate the potential for real-world impact from the research, both in the short and long-term, including which researchers or end-users will be engaged in the development, testing, dissemination and implementation of the study.
Outputs may support and be used by key stakeholders other than researchers, and those that will benefit from them should be clear.
All proposals must consider the approaches and resources required for outreach and dissemination with clear benefit for the wider research community.
Collaborative working within the initiative
The research funded through this opportunity will be expected to work cooperatively with the UKRI programme director and other grant holders funded under the ‘Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind’ initiative wherever possible. This is to ensure national join up of interests and capability and to deliver added value from the collective investments.
Applicants do not need any links to other projects or programmes funded under this initiative prior to applying. However, applicants are encouraged to explore opportunities for strategic alignment where they exist.
We will not fund
The following is not within scope:
- research that does not have clear benefit in terms of enhancing the capability of the wider field of researchers in adolescent mental health and developing mind field
- research that is not clearly positioned in the context of adolescence as a stage in the life course
- research that does not have clear relevance to a methodological challenge in the field of mental health, wellbeing or the developing mind
- technology innovation without an associated methodological advancement
- establishment of new large-scale longitudinal research cohorts or new sweeps of existing cohorts which will require follow-on funding to maintain the resource and realise its benefits (the use of existing rich sources of longitudinal cohort or household panel data is encouraged)
- applications for funding to support only networking activities
- studentships or individual career development support, for example fellowships.
While international collaborations are welcomed, these should be in the service of improving adolescent wellbeing and mental health in the UK. That is, research supported through this scheme should not be of primary benefit (mainly or only) outside of the UK.
£8 million is available to support proposals under this opportunity. Applications may request funding for 12 to 36 months and between £100,000 and £1,000,000 UKRI contribution per proposal.
Proposals to this opportunity may vary in scale, ambition and stage of development and we encourage a diverse range of applications across the funding envelope. We therefore invite:
- developed proposals
- pilot studies
- exploratory work
- proof-of-concept studies.
We will aim to support a portfolio of research across the full scope of the initiative, in terms of research areas, disciplinary contributions and potential impacts.
In light of this, and recognising the critical value of smaller-scale awards to the overall portfolio, we intend to reserve up to £2.5 million of the total budget to support high quality proposals requesting £100,000 to 300,000 UKRI contribution.
Awards will have a fixed start date of 1st November 2022. Funding will be awarded at 80% full economic cost(unless otherwise stated) and can be requested to cover:
- the time of the leadership team
- research activities, for example:
- research staff
- costs of running the award including project management and administrative support
- knowledge mobilisation, dissemination and engagement activities with key stakeholders.
- supporting appropriate ‘public and patient involvement and engagement’ (PPI&E).
Read a full account of grant costs in the MRC guidance for applicants.
Any costs eligible to be requested at 100% full economic cost should be added as an ‘other directly incurred costs’ new item, selecting the check box to indicate the cost is an exception. Multiple new (separate), ‘other directly incurred cost’ items can be added for each item.
Salary costs for new staff to be recruited for the proposed work can be submitted as part of the application.
Travel and subsistence costs and overheads will be allowable if appropriately justified.
Where justified, the time of these partners will be funded at 100% full economic cost.
We recognise that some partners may be employed by a government-funded organisation. Applicants must therefore avoid the double counting of public funds in costings.
The combined costs for non-academic co-investigators must not exceed 30% of the total 100% full economic cost of the grant application.
We welcome collaboration with industry, which should be managed via an MRC industry collaboration agreement.
Additional funding conditions
We would like to work with successful applicants to share learning from all projects funded through this opportunity. Grant holders will be expected to participate in wider activities coordinated by the funders under this initiative.