ESRC big ideas pipeline

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has introduced a big ideas pipeline to collect ambitious and transformational ideas from the social science community and beyond.

Big ideas are those that aim to address a major challenge, infrastructural or capacity building need at scale. They are hard to achieve, require significant support to deliver and, if successful, will have significant impacts.

Big ideas encourage interdisciplinary approaches (across but also beyond the social sciences) and international partnerships, and are expected to attract significant public, government, industry or third sector interest.

This is not a call for proposals and there is no dedicated funding currently within ESRC aligned to this activity.

Big ideas demand a level of support and development that cannot be delivered through current ESRC funding mechanisms. We are aiming to generate and prioritise a repository of ideas which can be taken forward as funding opportunities arise. Ideas may also be used in the development of future research or infrastructure strategy.

What is a Big Idea?

Through the pipeline ESRC hopes to collect innovative, adventurous and challenging ideas which:

  • are forward-thinking and would transform research, innovation, infrastructure and/or training for the social sciences
  • focus on broad research areas or infrastructure needs that represent a potential step change in knowledge but could not be tackled through conventional funding mechanisms
  • require interdisciplinary approaches or new ways of collaborative working to be delivered
  • could be developed into compelling future business cases or large-scale programmes
  • outline distinctive and well-defined challenges requiring new impetus to tackle.

Who can submit a Big Idea?

Anyone from the social science community and beyond. We welcome submissions from individuals and groups from academia, industry and third sector bodies (not just research organisations and independent research organisations) and government. We strongly encourage you to discuss your idea with other interested parties prior to submission.

Assessment criteria

Ideas will be assessed according to the following criteria.


  • Does the idea move beyond a project, programme or infrastructure that is currently able to be delivered through existing mechanisms?
  • Does it require significant support at scale, in terms of both the value of investment and the number of people who will need to be involved to achieve it?
  • What big challenges will the idea address?
  • Will the idea be transformative for research, innovation, infrastructure or training if successful?
  • How does the idea relate to what is already being done?
  • Will the big idea interest government, business, the third sector and the public?


  • Is this idea likely to lead to significant impact, for example through knowledge, people, society, economy? Are the expected benefits clearly and plausibly described?
  • Will organisations such as those in industry or third sector support the idea, and want to partner, co-invest or otherwise be involved?


  • Does the idea represent a time-limited opportunity (to be started within the next one to two years)?
  • Is now the right time to take it forward?
  • Is the research, data or infrastructure landscape at a stage to make the idea increasingly likely or possible?
  • What would happen if we did not support the idea?


  • Are the underpinning challenges relating to research, innovation, infrastructure or training clear?
  • Will the idea inspire people to work together in an interdisciplinary way and with other sectors to realise the opportunities presented?
  • Does the UK have the capacity and infrastructure needed to address the idea (for example disciplines, people and skills, data skills and infrastructure, methods)?
  • Are international partnerships needed to deliver the idea or would successful delivery of the idea attract international interest and partnerships?

What happens next?

After submission, your idea will be looked at internally for fit to the big ideas pipeline and ESRC strategy. It will then be assessed by reviewers, who will prioritise the idea using the assessment criteria above. Ideas will then be ranked by a big ideas advisory group, and the top ideas will be developed further.

Once an idea has been submitted you are giving ESRC permission to develop the idea in any way we see fit. This may include further development by ESRC staff and inviting other people to be involved in its development. Should this lead to a funding call informed by the idea, submissions to the call will be assessed in open competition.

Further information


Last updated: 31 March 2022

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