Where next for arts and humanities research?

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Announcing the re-launch of our ‘Where Next?’ scheme

AHRC is a learning organisation

“Change is already happening. My children and grandchildren will grow up on a radically different planet” writes Vanessa Nakate in ‘A Bigger Picture’. “Their realities and the choices they’ll be able to make will be very different from ours – and, unless we act now, their options are likely to be much worse and fewer. The question is not whether we act, but how.”

For us as a research council too, the how is as important as what we fund, and we are transforming our organisation through listening and learning, acting with care, and empowering people. We have set this out clearly in our strategic delivery plan under objective 6: ‘A world-class organisation.’ We are committed to using better evidence and insights and a wider, more inclusive approach to engagement to improve what we do, how we do it, and empower our community in transparent ways to drive forward the best research.

We believe that knowledge thrives in a diverse research ecosystem, an ecosystem where the broadest range of people are invited to contribute, and the boldest, most innovative ideas can come to the fore. We want to learn from those we fund, those we partner with, and the people that we would like to work more with, through regular, open, and constructive dialogue.

We are pleased to announce that, as part of these efforts to explore new ways of engaging with our community to shape our future direction, we are re-launching the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Where Next? scheme for submissions in January 2023.

The scheme

In 2020 we launched the original Where Next? pilot scheme, inviting applicants to apply for funding to support interdisciplinary scoping studies, which would form part of the AHRC ideas pipeline. This was our first step towards being radically open to ideas from our communities and drew on similar schemes across UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The 6 projects funded through this pilot, which finished in early 2022, reflected some of the most forward-thinking and innovative research within and between disciplines. Their findings are informing our work, helping frame funding opportunities, contributing to internal analysis and planning, and supporting our engagement and collaboration with government departments to secure further funding.

Based on our learning from the pilot, we are making the following key adjustments to the scheme:

  • the submission process will be simpler and quicker, through a short webform
  • submissions can be made at any time during the year and are not restricted to a specific application window
  • submissions are open to everyone, and we mean it, you do not need to be eligible for AHRC funding. However, we trust you will have a sense of familiarity with UKRI and the principles behind public funding of research. In turn, we hope you will trust us with your ideas
  • we are removing the requirement to demonstrate interdisciplinarity. We are open to hearing great ideas from within our core disciplines, as well as those that span disciplinary boundaries
  • we are removing the direct funding element to allow us to respond more flexibly and responsibly, and for submissions to be viewed noncompetitively

Ultimately, not every idea can be taken forward and we recognise that the sharing of ideas is fundamentally about trust. We will be responsible with all ideas that are submitted, and in judging the potential and fit of submissions, we will remain agnostic of who is submitting them. We will work closely with those whose ideas do progress.

A successful ‘Where Next?’ idea is not a research proposal. It may highlight a gap in our funding, or it may point us to a new frontier. It may suggest a new bold debate, or an innovative way for us to enable the right people to engage with it. We expect ideas will vary in scale: some will require large scale or recurrent multi-year funding, others may result in a single scoped opportunity. Some ideas may shape our policy or ways of working, while yet others may aggregate to help us identify a larger infrastructure requirement.

We want to hear from you

This is just 1 opportunity to help shape AHRC’s current and future priorities. We expect to see transformative ideas emerging that demonstrate the diversity, vibrancy, imagination and creativity of the arts and humanities research community.

We will be hosting an event in January for people to find out more about the submission process for this scheme, how we will process submissions and how we will develop ideas. We are still working on the agenda, but we expect there to be an opportunity to discuss ideas as well. You can find more information and sign up to join the event at AHRC ‘Where Next?’ launch event.

Nakate closes her book with a simple yet forceful call “…share your idea, and believe in your power”. We hope to see you at our event in the new year.

Top image:  Credit: Elen11, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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