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Funder profile: The Nuffield Foundation

In this blog, Al Innes, Research Development Officer, shares learning and discussion points from our recent Nuffield Foundation Information event.

Getting to know the Nuffield Foundation

The session opened with an overview of the ‘Nuffield Family’. The Nuffield Foundation makes up one strand of multiple philanthropic bodies created by William Morris, 1st Viscount Nuffield, in the 1930s. Some of you will be familiar with Nuffield Health, they run several membership gyms across the UK, and the Nuffield Trust is perhaps the best known organisation setup by Morris. It is an independent health think tank. It commissions research on quality of care; the NHS workforce; new models of health care delivery; older people and complex care; children and young people, and health and social care finance and reform.

The Nuffield Foundation, however, is a separate entity with a focus on funding specifically in the areas of justice, education and welfare. The foundation is also a joint-funder of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, along with the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.

As part of their annual Tri-Nuffield Conference (involving the Foundation, Nuffield Trust and Nuffield College) Nuffield identified a set of areas that inform their current strategic priorities, focused around “The impact of the fourth industrial revolution on social and economic inclusion”. In addition the Foundation is interested in projects that seek to engage with the following areas:

  • The future of education in a digitally driven society and its relationship to employment.
  • The decline of trust in the legitimacy of public institutions, including the justice system.
  • The conditions in which communities can be successful and enable effective social policy interventions

Working with the Nuffield Foundation

Primarily the Nuffield Foundation is concerned with funding in four core areas, or themes. These are Law and Society, Children and Families, Economic advantage and disadvantage, and Education and Skills. Prospective applicants should bear these sub themes in mind when looking at the ‘funder fit’ of Nuffield; projects can cut across these themes but they will be reviewed by one of the three panels (Justice, Welfare, Education). It’s also worth noting that Nuffield want projects to have a UK-wide appeal, so bear this in mind.

Our guest speaker, Dr Valeria Skafida, explained that these panels are often in close communication with each other so there is not too much concern when planning the application. Nuffield will be able to advise which stream is best for the project. Dr Skafida was keen to emphasise the amount of time that had gone into the successful application, with two first round applications and one second round application over nearly two years to the funder. She advised that it was best to factor in 6-8 months for staff recruitment if it would be required, and that if you would require access to survey data, to apply for it beforehand.

While feedback is generally minimal at first stage, Nuffield provided extensive feedback to the application at second stage. It ran to four pages of comments, with some highlighted by Nuffield as clearly important while others were less critical to address. In responding, the project team were required to address data analysis, adjustment of budgets, justifying sample size, including one more research question, undertaking extra literature research – all of which was required within a week. So this is something for applicants to bear in mind. Dr Skafida emphasised that Nuffield appeared to be a close-knit organisation, and that the experience of working with them and the quality of reviewing and feedback was excellent.

Applying to the Nuffield Foundation

When considering your application it is important that it has a solid grounding in the core areas that Nuffield will assess it by, namely:

  • An interesting question/issue that fits the Nuffield Foundation’s mission and is relevant to the questions in their three domains will be vital. There should be a clear articulation of what you intend to do, why it matters, and what difference it will make – make it clear that you are the right research team to address and deliver on work that Nuffield value.
  • For analysis and drawing conclusions as well as design/data collection, it is important to get across the rigour of your idea and project. Methods need to be right for the question (and many of the questions need some quantitative analysis), so be sure to make use of peer and lay review at all stages.
  • Engagement with policy and/or practice is crucial to making your project attractive to Nuffield. This can and should also include public dissemination through the media and other channels. Engagement needs to be end-to-end, built into the project, not just at dissemination stage.
  • A clear and feasible explanation of the potential for impact is vital to a convincing application. So too the clarity of intended outputs and outcomes and the relationship between the two will make a compelling case that this is the research Nuffield want to fund, and that your team is the right team to deliver it.
  • Bear in mind the resources that you require to undertake the work. It needs to be clear that you have a strong, cohesive team and appropriate budget for the scale of project and type of work you plan to undertake.

View slides from the event (University of Edinburgh staff only).

Al Innes is a Research Development Officer in Edinburgh Research Office, University of Edinburgh.

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Al Innes




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