Application Guidelines for a Call for Research Proposals in Health Systems Operations Research

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Framework and Application Guidelines for a Call for Research Proposals in Health Systems Operations Research at District Health Office Level or at Heath Facility Level in Malawi

Call Opening Date: 13th July 2020
Call Closing Date: 7th August 2020

The Department of Research of the Ministry of Health (DR-MOH) and the National Commission for Science and Technology (NCST) are in partnership for the management of a small grant scheme to support research proposals in health systems operations research as one of the identified national research priority areas in Malawi.
This scheme has been instituted as part of the implementation efforts of the Health Research Policy of December 2019. The Policy calls for the promotion and strengthening of health research governance structures at national and sub-national levels. Strengthened structures, such as district health offices and health facilities, are pivotal for the conduct of quality health research in Malawi in order to generate evidence required to effectively inform the development of health and related policies and interventions. The effective implementation of such evidence-informed policies and interventions would ultimately result in improved health systems performance and peoples’ health and general well-being. This grant scheme has been established with funding from Malawi Government.

Health systems in low income countries face the challenges of substantial socioeconomic and health inequalities, rapid globalisation and evolving disease burdens. Malawi being one of the low income countries is not spared from such challenges. District health offices, who are in charge of health facilities, are faced with health systems operational challenges that necessitate the conduct of health systems operations research at either health facility or district health office level. Such research would generate evidence base that is required to strengthen health systems and improve the delivery of healthcare in Malawi. The research findings would inform the delivery of evidence-based interventions or structural changes that are of direct relevance to decision makers, district hospital management teams as well as health facility management teams in Malawi.

Health systems research addresses questions that are not disease-specific but concern issues that have implication on the performance of the health system as a whole. It is recognised that health systems are complex, and include not only formal health care delivery systems (public or private), but also include factors and elements such as governance, financing, health workforce, information systems, health education, community and individual action, the regulatory and legislative context and the existing and emerging social, economic and cultural circumstances. As such, the research questions under health systems research are generally situated within an understanding of these broader health system linkages and descriptions on how and why findings from such research have the potential to improve the health of the people.

Teams of members of staff at DHO or health facility level will prepare research proposals addressing an identified health systems related problem that is relevant to their scope of work at DHO or health facility level. The scheme will, therefore, fund demand-led, health systems operations research that addresses issue(s) of relevance that is specific to the research team’s institution.

It is expected that outcome(s) of the projects will inform and improve the delivery of evidence-based interventions or structural changes/practices that are of direct relevance and application to district health management teams, health facility management teams and policy makers.

The Call for Research Proposals in Health Systems Operations Research at District Health Office Level or at Heath Facility Level is premised on small grant scheme. Therefore, the budget limit for project activities in the proposal will be not exceed K1,500,000. Research projects may include the following permissible budget items;
• Material costs, if they are directly linked to the research project (e.g, reagents/supplies), field expenses and other data collection costs that may be justified dependent on the nature of the research study.
• Direct costs incurred through the use of research infrastructure linked to the research.
• Cost of dissemination of the results connection with the funded research.

Note: Applicant’s salary top-up is not an eligible cost

(a) Each proposal must have at least one principal investigator as a main applicant based at DHO or at a public health facility. The Principal Investigators will bear the overall responsibility for the project, including its technical and administrative co-ordination as well as the timely delivery of scientific and financial reports.

(b) Each proposal should demonstrate that there is a research team that is led by a principal investigator. The size of the research team should be commensurate with the scope of the envisaged project activities with roles of each member of the team clearly described. The team should be composed of relevant staff from the DHO or public health facility. Where it is necessary and justified, the team may also include any relevant staff from a private health facility who would participate as a collaborator but such a collaborator should be from within the catchment area of the DHO/health facility of the principal investigator. Members of DHO research co-ordinating committees or health facility research co-ordinating committees are encouraged to take advantage of this small grant opportunity to apply.

(c) Support letters from the principal investigator’s DHO or head of a public health facility are a prerequisite. Such letters should signify DHO/health facility support and approval. Proposals without such approval will not be considered.

(d) The Grant will fund only health systems operations research that addresses an identified health systems problem of relevance to the DHO/health facility.

(e) Principal Investigator(s) at the point of application must fulfil the following requirements:

• Hold a primary appointment within DHO or at a public health facility (minimum of 12 months employment) and is still in employment at DHO or public health facility level;
• Be an individual that can command trust of his team members. Those with a track record of leadership ability in co-ordinating research related programmes may have an added advantage but it is not a must.
• Must be a holder of at least a master’s degree in any relevant field. Those holding an MBBS degree are also eligible to be PI.


These guidelines must be adhered to as failure to do so will result into the proposals not being reviewed for funding. Submission of a research proposal does not guarantee funding.

The maximum duration for the implementation of the funded projects shall not exceed six (6) months occurring within the 2020/21 financial year. Research that shows potential for high impact on health systems within the project time line at a reasonable cost will be given high priority. The applicants are requested to use Times New Roman font, size 12, 1.5 line spacing, using the application template (Annexure 1) that is available on or available on request.

(a) Cross-cutting considerations
The proposal should demonstrate how sex and gender equality issues will be addressed in the project. Research projects led by women Principal Investigators are strongly encouraged.

(b) Results and Dissemination
Applicants should clearly define the major outputs expected from the research project and describe how the research findings will be used and disseminated. Who are the target audience/ beneficiaries? How will the findings be used to influence policy, practice and interventions?
(c) Team composition
Research team members should be specified as referred above. It is important to include the field of expertise of each individual with clear roles described. Do not include CVs of the entire research team but only a one or two paged CV for the Principal Investigator. Letters of support to be provided as specified 6(c).

(d) Budget
This should include an explanation and justification for each line item in the detailed budget spreadsheet. Budget should not be inflated. The maximum budget is as stated in section 5.0 above. Presentation of detailed budgets is a must. All rates to be used for the budgeting purpose are the ones as per applicable government circular.

(e) Proposed Project Timeline
Provide a project timeline/workplan.
(f) Ethical clearance
Where the project involves humans as research participants, the Principal Investigator shall obtain ethical clearance from an appropriate NCST designated research ethics committee before any grant disbursement and implementation of the project.

Submission of an application package should be in a form of electronic copy. The deadline for submission is 7th August, 2020 at 16:30hrs Malawi Time. Application package shall include full proposal as per application template; Principal Investigator’s covering letter; letter of support from the Principal Investigator’s DHO or health facility. Applications received after the deadline will not be included for review. When the full application package is duly completed save the document as last “name of the Principal Investigator-DR-MOH-NCST Health Systems Operations Research Proposals 2020. The electronic copy should be in both PDF and Microsoft Word formats.
(a) The full application package should be submitted electronically to both and with a copy to both and under subject heading: “Application for a Health Systems Operations Research Small Grant”.
(b) All proposals must be submitted in the prescribed template and will be reviewed based on their quality and merit. A full proposal template is downloadable on
(c) All documents (full research proposal, detailed CV and letters of support) have to be submitted in both PDF and MS Word files, while the detailed budget should be in excel. Proposals should not exceed twelve (12) pages, using 1.5 spacing and font size 12 Times New Roman (Refer to the proposal template for other details).
(d) Applicant will be required to submit full proposals which will be screened for completeness by NCST and DR-MOH before a rigorous confidential review by an independent panel of experts.
(e) Communication of the proposal review outcome to applicants will be made by 21st August, 2020
(f) Decisions of the scheme managers will be final.


Any enquiries from prospective applicants should be directed to either of the following;

• Dr. C. Mitambo (; cell number:0999397913);
• Mr. Mike Kachedwa ( ; cell number 0999360516.