Spark Grant Scheme round 2: advice from a current grantee

24 August 2022

Clive Diaz is a researcher based at Cardiff University. In 2021, Clive and his team at CASCADE successfully applied for the Spark Grant Scheme, run by What Works for Children’s Social Care (WWCSC), aimed at providing underrepresented and Early Career Researchers with the opportunity to lead new research projects in the field of children’s social care. Here he talks about his experience of the application process and gives some guidance for those planning to apply this year.

Our research project looked at how parental advocacy in Camden is supporting parents to be more involved in decision making. It was a ‘realist evaluation’, which means we designed the study to find out how the parental advocacy service in Camden supports parents and under which circumstances. This includes looking at whether there are particular parents (for example, parents with learning difficulties) that benefit more or less from having an advocate. 

Overall my experience of the application process was positive; the team at WWCSC were very responsive to any queries we had and were extremely supportive throughout the application process. The form is fairly short compared to a lot of grant applications and I found that one of the biggest challenges was fitting everything I wanted to say into the limited word count. 

One of my main tips in terms of the application process is to ensure that your research is likely to interest the funder and that your proposed methods will answer your research question. You also need to be confident that the design is feasible within the budget and time you have for the study. We were fortunate in that we had good relationships with Camden Children’s Services who are at the forefront of parental advocacy development and implementation in the UK. Furthermore, our research topic (peer parental advocacy) had been highlighted in the interim review of children’s social care in England as an example of innovative practice just prior to our application and, as such, was very interesting to policy makers. 

In terms of the budget, some of it was spent on staff costs for myself and other researchers at CASCADE, whilst another portion of the budget was used to pay for CASCADE parents group to be involved in this study. This group consists of parents who have experience of children’s social care. We have met with them a number of times during this study, and they have provided us with really interesting and helpful feedback and insights throughout the process, from data production to data analysis and now to dissemination. Having meaningful public involvement will really help strengthen any bids. 

An advantage of the Spark Grant Scheme is that it is explicitly designed to be a launch pad for future work. We are consciously trying to take advantage of this aspect and are building on this study to do more research on parental advocacy. We have presented our findings at a number of conferences both in the UK and abroad and are currently drafting two journal articles based on the study. We are currently awaiting outcomes from two larger bids on parental advocacy, and hope that these will enable us to continue researching this topic. I would recommend the Spark Grant Scheme to any eligible researchers, as it provides them with the opportunity to carry out an interesting piece of research with a supportive funder, helping them to gain experience of running a small scale project that can be built upon in the future.

Our Spark Grant Scheme aims to fund new and innovative research in children’s social care, conducted by researchers who might otherwise be underrepresented in the research community, and/or who might struggle to get funding through other routes. We encourage proposals from researchers from underrepresented, minoritised groups and/or Early Career Researchers (ECRs). If you are interested in applying, please visit our Projects & Funding page.