About the centre
We are looking to fund a centre that is focused on supporting and strengthening connectedness and participation in place-based communities across the UK.
The centre will bring together the right people, disciplines, institutions, and infrastructure to provide the evidence needed for this challenge within a 5-year timeframe.
When participation is low, communities can struggle to mobilise social capital and coordinate to identify and address challenges. Strengthening connectedness within and between communities can play an important role in reducing the social and economic marginalisation of individuals, groups, and areas.
There is still much to understand about how disparity in opportunities and outcomes, attachment to place, and external pressures intersect at the community level, and what this can mean for community connectedness and levels of participation. There also remains a lack of evidence on the impact of interventions designed to strengthen community:
- social capital
Evidence is needed at a local, regional, and national level to ensure that decision makers understand the causal relationships between place-based disparities and community connectedness and can draw upon clear strategies that support community efforts to address these disparities.
We expect this evidence and research centre to bring together research disciplines that span UKRI’s remit, for example, but not limited to:
- data science
- the environmental and health sciences
The aim is to deliver cutting-edge interdisciplinary research that supports decision makers in understanding, developing and testing approaches that strengthen:
- social connectedness
- community and civic participation
- pride in place
- interpersonal and institutional trust
- community resilience
This interdisciplinary centre will advance understanding of the factors and conditions that affect levels of community connectedness and cohesion within and across areas and extrapolate learning about the transferability of these lessons.
The successful applicants will have to demonstrate that their ambitions for the centre go beyond describing barriers and enablers to delivering impactful solutions within the lifetime of the award.
The centre will need to demonstrate a strong commitment to working with community partners – collaborating with communities in specific locations to understand how contextual factors and the actions of local, regional, and national institutions and actors combine and relate to levels of community connectedness and participation.
Applicants should demonstrate the wider applicability of, and capacity to scale, their community-level work.
The centre must also undertake broader activity such as the collection and use of data to build a comprehensive evidence base that has national-level relevance.
The centre’s objectives will be to:
- understand the factors and conditions that affect levels of community connectedness and cohesion within and across areas. A particular focus should be placed on examining how some communities have achieved high levels of social capital and connectedness, and what we can learn about the transferability of these lessons
- develop new interdisciplinary approaches to measuring connectedness and participation that allow local and national decision makers to understand the impact of different policies and practices
- work with a coalition of partners – including governments, community groups, people with lived experience, and the business community – to co-produce a programme of work that tests different approaches to strengthening social connectedness, community and civic participation, pride in place, and interpersonal and institutional trust. Wherever possible this should enable the identification of causal mechanisms
- work with, and be responsive to, the needs of UK-based decision makers, with a specific focus on supporting the evidence needs of local and national decision makers and enabling the scaling of effective practices
- remain responsive to national and global events relevant to community connectedness and resilience that emerge during the lifetime of the centre
- engage with relevant UKRI investments, including maximising the use of existing data resources and identifying opportunities to collaborate and coordinate with other investments working in related areas
We invite applications that focus on a range of different topic areas relevant to community connectedness and participation. Examples of potential topics could include:
Metrics and measurement
Developing new approaches to measuring community participation and connectedness that would allow for the impact of interventions to be evaluated. For example, the use of machine learning for social network analysis.
Architecture and the built environment
Advancing understanding of people’s psychological and behavioural responses to their built environment and the impact on community behaviours. For example, public order, local consultation.
Culture, heritage, environment, and community
Understanding how cultural, heritage, environmental assets (for example, museums, waterways, and parks) and other public or private spaces affect, and can be used to strengthen, community connectedness and participation.
Engagement and ethics
Developing community engagement methodologies that account for the ethical issues that arise in testing the effectiveness of approaches to strengthening community connectedness and participation. For example, from public trust to the representativeness of community-level organisations, groups, and networks.
Harnessing insights from data
Using existing local, regional, or national administrative data to address the centre’s aims. This could also include drawing upon existing UKRI data collections and infrastructure as appropriate, for example:
- Cohort and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources (CLOSER)
- Understanding Society: The UK Household Longitudinal Study
- European Social Survey
- World Values Survey
- International Social Survey
- Administrative Data Research UK
- the UK Data Service
The centre will advance understanding of how communities can achieve high levels of connectedness, social capital and participation and extrapolate learning about the transferability of these lessons.
Key outcomes should include:
- enabling the identification and scaling of support infrastructure, activities, and policies that strengthen participation and connectedness within and across communities, in collaboration with communities, policy makers, businesses. This work will take account of multiple layers of potential intervention, from the macro to local levels
- the development of new interdisciplinary approaches to measuring connectedness and participation that allow decision makers and communities to understand the impact of new infrastructure, activities, and policies
- the creation of new data resources and tools made available to a new generation of researchers, decision makers, communities and practitioners to understand and enhance social capital and connectedness
- local and national decisionmakers using evidence generated and shared by the centre to inform their approach to supporting community connectedness
- a network of communities brought together by the centre to co-develop and deliver a cohesive work programme, which will take an inclusive approach to further connections and engagement
- enhanced cross-sector capacity to understand and tackle barriers to community connectedness by co-developing work programmes with communities and key stakeholders, including local, regional, and national policy makers
- new interdisciplinary and cross-sector networks and partnerships that build the capacity of the research and innovation system to develop an inclusive understanding of the topic and bring together the skills and experience needed to advance communality and community participation research in the UK
Applicants will develop and add to this agenda and can propose a title for this UKRI centre in line with the focus described here. Successful applicants will need to seek approval for a new title for this centre from the UKRI Creating Opportunities, Improving Outcomes Programme Board.
We expect to fund a single centre through this funding opportunity.
You must demonstrate that your centre will deliver:
High-quality, interdisciplinary, internationally recognised research findings to address unanswered questions about a defined challenge to our society, economy or both.
In this case, the centre will need to articulate how the proposed programme of work will increase understanding of, and develop and test approaches that strengthen, community connectedness and participation.
Significant economic and societal impact, demonstrating that the centre is responding to their specified challenge.
Impact should be a major consideration throughout the scoping of a proposal, and during and beyond the lifetime of a centre. Research users should be engaged from the initial planning phases through to the end of an award.
The resources needed to become a centre of excellence that adds value to the wider community. This will include developing the people, producing the data and creating the infrastructure needed to respond to their specified challenge, as well as making use of existing datasets and infrastructure.
Career and skills development
You should clearly articulate your plans for career development.
UKRI is a signatory to the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, and the Technician Commitment, through these UKRI commits to support the professional and career development of researchers and technicians through its funding opportunities. You are encouraged to consider both leadership development and capacity building in your plans.
Leadership development skills should be considered at all career stages to equip researchers in the centre with the leadership skills needed to be able to design, lead and deliver large and complex or interdisciplinary projects and teams.
Research leadership should go beyond project management to include a capacity to enthuse, ignite and sustain an intellectual vision that is inclusive, flexible and open to challenge. The report fit for the future: research leadership matters gives insight into the skills related to research leadership at different career stages and some preliminary suggestions for how those skills might be supported across the career life-course.
You should also demonstrate how you plan to build capacity among decision makers to use evidence as well as building skills in academia, policy and industry engagement among research staff and technicians at all career levels, from PHD students to early and mid-career academics to established professors.
Up to 3 associated studentships may also be included in this application, for those Doctoral Training Partnerships eligible to receive studentships from 2024.
Centres should maximise the use of relevant existing data resources in the first instance, as well as (where appropriate) producing data that responds to their proposed challenge and is of value to the wider community.
Data collection and management should be in accordance with our research data policy.
UKRI funds a range of data infrastructures that are available and free to use for all bona fide researchers (subject to appropriate data sharing considerations).
Management and structure
You should consider the structure of your proposed centre to ensure it can successfully deliver the objectives of the funding opportunity, whether through a consortium approach or single institution.
The successful centre will be required to partner, collaborate and engage with a wide range of stakeholders and disciplines to agree priorities and deliver key activities.
Partnerships with non-higher education institutions organisations across government, industry and civil society, as well as internationally are encouraged where appropriate.
You must include a brief management plan in your case for support, demonstrating:
- how you will provide leadership across the collaborators involved in the application
- how the management of the centre and its activities will be carried out, including details of project management and administration resource
You should also include details of any advisory group that will be appointed to oversee the development of the centre.
ESRC will work with the appointed centre on their governance arrangements to ensure suitable representation from government departments and representation from the UKRI creating opportunities, improving outcomes theme (see the ‘additional information’ section).
You are also expected to indicate your plans for monitoring progress against your logic model, and any plans for self-evaluation throughout the lifetime of the award.
The successful centre will be allocated an ESRC investment manager who will work with their centre to agree a monitoring and evaluation plan in the starting phase of the award. This will include submitting quarterly updates on progress to UKRI’s creating opportunities, improving outcomes programme board and regular reporting and meetings between ESRC and the centre, for the centre to update ESRC on activities, outputs, outcomes and impacts as well as spend and any key challenges or concerns.
We will be looking for evidence of long-term strategic and financial institutional commitment to the proposed centre, above the required 20% (as UKRI funds at 80% FEC). This should be through the provision of grant-associated parallel activities. Examples include but are not limited to:
- summer schools
- refurbishment of facilities for the centre
- provision of equipment
- new lectureships
Outline proposals must include an institutional letter of support from the pro-vice chancellor of research (or equivalent role) from the lead organisation that confirms the research organisation’s commitment to the centre application.
If the application is from an existing UKRI investment then this should be noted in the letter of support.
You must ensure that the proposed research will be carried out to a high ethical standard.
You must clearly state how any potential ethical, safeguarding and health and safety issues have been considered and will be addressed, ensuring that all necessary ethical approval is in place and all risks are minimised before the award commences.
All proposals must comply with the ESRC framework for research ethics.
Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)
Promoting EDI is an integral part of UKRI’s vision to deliver new knowledge and an enriched, healthier, more sustainable and resilient society and culture, and to contribute to a more prosperous economy.
You are expected to demonstrate throughout your proposal how you will consider EDI during the centre’s lifetime.
UKRI recognises that we must embed environmental sustainability in everything we do.
You are expected to consider the environmental impact of the centre’s activities and to put in place actions that encourage sustainability and mitigate any risk of environmental harm.