Methods research to support use of observational data in clinical decision making




With the growing availability of quantitative observational data derived from non-randomised sources, it is becoming increasingly important for organisations like the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and other government health-related agencies to understand the role of this data for clinical decisions at both population and patient levels. The potential inclusion of such data may introduce greater uncertainty particularly when the results appear to differ from the findings of relevant randomised controlled trials. There are therefore a number of methodological challenges to being able to use this type of data in a way that can inform decision making. 

More information is available on the NICE website.

It is advisable to get in touch as early as possible, at least 12 weeks before the submission deadline to discuss proposals. 

Highlight notice

MRC/NIHR is seeking to support the development of innovative methods for identifying, synthesising, interpreting and presenting observational data for decision making, both at the national level (for example NICE ) and for individual patients, and in particular, how one may interpret and rationalise data from different sources e.g. RCT vs. observational clinical effectiveness data.

MRC/NIHR seeks to support the development of innovative methods in the following areas (presented in no priority order):

  • Analysis and synthesis of data derived from different sources and study designs
  • New approaches for deriving estimates of effectiveness from databases, including routine care databases, disease specific databases or national databases such as the Clinical Practice Research Datalink.
  • Determining and characterising exposures, outcomes and potential confounders, particularly when derived from routine databases where data may be complex and/or incomplete.
  • Approaches to be able to identify, assess, quantify, control and adjust for biases and confounding in observational data.
  • To evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of randomised and observational studies in different settings so as to define the types of questions for which each approach is to be preferred.
  • Methods to inform the use of the data for systematic reviews, meta-analysis, decision analysis and health economics.

In addition, MRC/NIHR would like to support the development of best practice guidance for the use of observational data for decision making, covering, for example:

  • Reporting and risk in the use of observational data.
  • Support for the development of scientifically rigorous observational research studies.
  • Formal assessment of the strengths and weakness of alternative study designs and analysis techniques in various settings e.g. When to use observational data alone or in combination with other approaches, to understand intended and unintended effects.
  • A framework for assessing the potential for confounding/other biases in a study, and for assessing the possibility that the effects of these biases may be removed through appropriate data collection and analysis methods.

Successfully funded proposals

For details of successfully funded proposals under the observational data in clinical decision making highlight click here

Application process and schedule

Applications for projects are invited through the normal MRC funding grant schemes and will be considered at the regular Methodology Research Programme Panel meetings. These will be in competition with other applications received, but the Panel will be mindful of the strategic importance of this area.

Browse our current funding opportunities.

In accordance with the remit of the MRP applications should focus specifically on supporting methods development research where the proposed outputs are generalisable beyond an individual case study and where methods development is the primary purpose of the research.

Contact and guidance

The titles of all applications in response to this highlight should be prefixed with 'HOD:' when filling out the JES form, and on any attachments, e.g. “HOD: A method for…”

It is essential to discuss your proposals with MRC Head Office at an early stage. All applications must be approved by the Methodology Programme Manager prior to submission. Please contact:

Dr Sam Rowley


Applicants submitting under this highlight notice have the opportunity to benefit from discussion of their application with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) prior to its submission.  NICE wishes to help improve the quality of applications submitted under this highlight notice and is able to offer advice and guidance on improving the scientific quality of proposals.  Applicants wishing to avail themselves of this opportunity are encouraged to contact Dr Sarah Garner by emailing This opportunity is only available to applicants who have already received confirmation from Dr David Crosby that their proposal falls under this highlight notice.