Abstract Background The national Public Health Practice Evaluation Scheme (PHPES) is a response-mode funded evaluation programme operated by the National Institute for Health Research School for Public Health Research (NIHR SPHR). The scheme enables public health professionals to work in partnership with SPHR researchers to conduct rigorous evaluations of their interventions. Our evaluation reviewed the learning from the first five years of PHPES (2013–2017) and how this was used to implement a revised scheme within the School. Methods We conducted a rapid review of applications and reports from 81 PHPES projects and sampled eight projects (including unfunded) to interview one researcher and one practitioner involved in each sampled project (n = 16) in order to identify factors that influence success of applications and effective delivery and dissemination of evaluations. Findings from the review and interviews were tested in an online survey with practitioners (applicants), researchers (principal investigators [PIs]) and PHPES panel members (n = 19) to explore the relative importance of these factors. Findings from the survey were synthesised and discussed for implications at a national workshop with wider stakeholders, including public members (n = 20). Results Strengths: PHPES provides much needed resources for evaluation which often are not available locally, and produces useful evidence to understand where a programme is not delivering, which can be used to formatively develop interventions. Weaknesses: Objectives of PHPES were too narrowly focused on (cost-)effectiveness of interventions, while practitioners also valued implementation studies and process evaluations. Opportunities: PHPES provided opportunities for novel/promising but less developed ideas. More funded time to develop a protocol and ensure feasibility of the intervention prior to application could increase intervention delivery success rates. Threats: There can be tensions between researchers and practitioners, for example, on the need to show the 'success’ of the intervention, on the use of existing research evidence, and the importance of generalisability of findings and of generating peer-reviewed publications. Conclusions The success of collaborative research projects between public health practitioners (PHP) and researchers can be improved by funders being mindful of tensions related to (1) the scope of collaborations, (2) local versus national impact, and (3) increasing inequalities in access to funding. Our study and comparisons with related funding schemes demonstrate how these tensions can be successfully resolved.