Tips for PHSI Success

Partnerships for Health System Improvement (PHSI) is an integrated KT program that supports a collaborative approach to applied health systems and services research that is useful to health system managers and/or policy makers.

Why use an integrated KT approach? Partnerships between researchers and knowledge users are the most effective way to get the right questions and to increase the likelihood of uptake of the results into policy and/or practice.

Grant applications for integrated KT programs are different from traditional grants and awards applications and can therefore be challenging, at least initially.

To help researcher and decision maker applicants better navigate and improve their PHSI applications, PHSI merit reviewers (the researchers and decision makers who review your PHSI grant application) offer their tips for success. Remember, good grantsmanship cannot save a bad idea BUT poor grantsmanship can sink a good idea. Read below to increase your likelihood of success!

Grant Writing Resources

Guidebook for New Principal Investigators
Helpful, generalizable advice about how to write great grants (don't miss the "top eight things to do to write great grants")

Grants and Awards Guide
General CIHR policies and definitions, guidelines for grants and awards, and partnership guidelines

How to Apply for Funding
Detailed steps on how to apply for CIHR funding and how to apply using ResearchNet

Understand Peer Review
Overview of CIHR's peer review process


Remember PHSI's Emphasis on Applied Research

Remember that PHSI emphasizes applied research, meaning the research findings are expected to be applicable to the issues and challenges facing the health care system. This means the research is neither purely theoretical, methodological, nor purely investigator driven. Applied research contributes to the creation of new research that has application in the real world and can inform health care decision-making.

Integrated Knowledge Translation

Remember that PHSI is all about integrated KT, so reviewers are looking for demonstration that you will embed KT within your research from the start. This means involving your decision maker partners from the very beginning of the project – including the development of the research question – all the way through to the dissemination of results. Be strategic in building your team (every member should add value), and ask your decision maker partners to share results with their respective organisations. Partnerships can be an effective and efficient way to enhance KT.

Familiarize yourself with CIHR's definition of integrated KT, which can be found on the CIHR KT website. Applicants are also encouraged to refer to CIHR’s Guide to Knowledge Translation Planning and Knowledge Translation Learning Modules.

Active Partnerships

PHSI reviewers look for strong evidence of active and productive partnerships between researchers and decision makers/knowledge users. A successful partnership requires commitment and effort from everyone involved. The potential for a meaningful partnership is evidenced by, among other things, plans for multiple meetings and discussions, commitment (material and intellectual), and strong letters (i.e., not cookie-cutter letters) of support authored by the partners. Partnerships should make sense – i.e., be appropriate and relevant to the proposed research.

Refer to modules 2 and 7 in CIHR’s Guide to Researcher and Knowledge-User Collaboration in Health Research for recommendations on developing and maintaining researcher/knowledge user partnerships. CIHR’s guide for Writing Letters of Support provides suggestions and examples for this important component of an iKT application.

An Experienced and Well-Rounded Team

Health services and policy research often involves mixed methods (quantitative and qualitative analyses), it tends to include more than one disciplinary perspective, and its relevance and utility is ensured only through the participation of knowledge users/decision makers. Successful PHSI applications tend to have teams with the full range of skills (e.g., economic, qualitative, management, policy, etc.), expertise, and networks required to ensure that: the research question (and findings) are generalizable; the research is high quality and the approach is rigorous; and the findings are translated and applied into policy and/or practice. Where appropriate, applicants should identify opportunities for student training and include this in the project proposal.

Policy-Relevant Research Questions

PHSI funding opportunity guidelines require that the research question being addressed is applied, policy-relevant and of importance to decision makers (both those participating on the PHSI team and others across the country). Work with your decision maker partners to refine the research question before submitting your application. When writing your proposal, clearly articulate the need for and the importance of the research. Demonstrate the willingness of the decision makers involved to use the results of the study and to move them into action (when appropriate).

Write with the Reviewers in Mind

It is very important that all parts of your proposal are written clearly. One reviewer notes, "There is no substitute for clear communication." Ensure the quality of the idea (objectives, methods), importance of the idea (why are you focusing on this question?), KT strategy and other components of your proposal are presented clearly and precisely and can be understood by both researchers and non-researchers. Remember that your application is reviewed by both researchers and decision makers. Do not forget to demonstrate how the proposed research builds upon your past work and accomplishments.

Ensure that decision makers' skills, qualifications and rationale for partnering on the PHSI team are clearly described in the ‘Experience and Expertise’ section of the proposal. Similarly, clearly explain how the mandates of your partner organizations align with the PHSI research. Your proposal should demonstrate to reviewers why it is important that these decision makers and organizations partner with you on your PHSI team and what value they bring.

Overall, your application should be easy to read. Revise, revise, and revise again! Avoid making reviewers search for information (information is interpreted with greater ease and clarity if it is in the correct section), and stick to clear, precise language (i.e., avoid using jargon, acronyms and unusual abbreviations). Have others read your application before you submit it. Proof-read! Proof-read! Proof-read!

A Theoretical Framework

Reviewers recommend grounding your research within a theoretical framework. Such a framework should drive the research question as well as the methodological approach (design, measurement and analysis) chosen to derive results and formulate conclusions.

Articulate a Clear Pathway to Impact

A PHSI proposal should clearly illustrate how it will potentially have a demonstrable and sustainable impact on practice, programs and/or policy that could ultimately lead to a change in health outcomes. While the research question may respond to the needs of decision makers, project findings can have an even greater impact depending on the extent to which the results are transferable to other contexts. Capturing the outcomes of research can help in validating the original goals of the study and can serve as a basis for further work stemming from the research findings. Proposals should include an evaluation plan to assess the process of an iKT approach and to learn about barriers and facilitators for collaboration.

Refer to CIHR’s Guide to Evaluation in Health Research for additional guidance.

Develop a Strong KT Plan

For all KT activities, the most important consideration is appropriateness. The key to a successful KT plan is to ensure that there is a match between the expected research findings, the targeted knowledge-user audience and the KT strategies selected. Whether goals are modest or ambitious, they must be appropriate to the nature of the research findings and the target audience. Applicants should clearly state and justify their proposed KT goals.

Refer to CIHR’s Guide to Knowledge Translation Planning for additional guidance.


For all KT grants and activities the most important consideration is appropriateness. Each discipline, research project, and knowledge-user community is different. When there are limitations on the validity or generalizability of the results with few potential knowledge-users, a modest approach is most appropriate. The key to a successful grant is to ensure that there is a match between the expected research findings, the targeted knowledge-users and the KT strategies selected.

Good luck!

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