This opportunity falls under UKRI’s “Creating Opportunities, Improving Outcomes” strategic theme, which seeks to improve outcomes for people and places across the UK by identifying solutions that promote economic and social prosperity.
The UKRI Creating Opportunities Trial Accelerator Fund is aimed at enabling the research and innovation community to test interventions that will spread opportunities and reduce spatial disparities in economic, health and social outcomes for people and places across the UK by using, primarily, robust counterfactual impact evaluation methods.
In doing so, grant holders will help address gaps and weaknesses in the existing evidence base underpinning the thematic areas covered by the UKRI “Creating Opportunities, Improving Outcomes” strategic theme.
The overarching objectives are to:
- generate causal evidence on what works to spread opportunities and reduce spatial disparities in outcomes for people and places across the UK
- accelerate the development of innovative and ethical methods for robustly testing and evaluating the impact of interventions related to the thematic areas outlined below
- build the capacity of the research and innovation system to forge interdisciplinary collaborations and lasting partnerships with local communities (including those with lived experience) in designing and delivering robust research trials and related evaluation activity
- provide actionable evidence that responds to the needs of decision makers and informs policy or practice at a local, regional, national, or international scale
Proposals will be required to address one or more of the following three thematic areas:
- sustainable economic growth and innovation: addressing long-standing regional economic disparities and delivering solutions that focus on sustainable, inclusive growth and innovation
- Place-based health inequalities: identifying sustainable and cost-effective solutions to address spatial disparities in population health across the UK; the term “health inequalities” is used to refer to varying definitions of inequality and inequity, including the unfair and avoidable differences in health across different groups
- community connectedness: strengthening civic engagements, relationships, trust, and local pride to reduce the social and economic marginalisation of groups and areas
In addressing one or more of the above themes, you will need to consider the role of place and the implications that the proposed activity will have on spatial inequalities, as explained below in the sub-section “Place”.
The fund will support research trials that have the potential to deliver a step-change in approaches to reducing place-based inequalities. Therefore, proposals must demonstrate how the role of place has been considered.
For example, you could evaluate place-focused interventions or place agnostic interventions involving individuals, groups or organisations that have clear implications for addressing place-based inequalities.
You must provide a rationale for your approach to defining the geography most relevant to your proposed activity and explain how the proposed activity could support the reduction of place-based inequalities.
You should consider the potential to extrapolate learning from your proposed research trials to address placed-based inequalities in other areas of the UK. If research trials are conducted in a single locality or small number of research sites, you should set out how your findings will be applicable to other areas.
To support a focus on place, successful applicants will be expected to engage with a strategic coordination hub that will be commissioned to support grant holders via a series of grant holder workshops and events to showcase findings. Projects should budget sufficient travel and subsistence costs to attend at least four one-day programme events based in the UK.
Employing experimental and quasi-experimental approaches
The fund will support ambitious research trials that are focused on tackling urgent local and regional inequalities within the UK under one or more of the above themes (see ‘Thematic areas’). We will primarily fund research trials, which:
- use experimental approaches such as randomised control trials (RCTs) where participants are allocated prospectively and randomly to treatment groups that receive interventions and control or comparison groups that do not
- where random allocation is not possible, practical, or ethical, use quasi-experimental approaches to compare outcomes for groups that have been exposed to an intervention or policy and estimate an appropriate comparison group
We will fund trials at a variety of scales. This includes:
- pilot studies where an intervention is at an early stage of development. Evaluation activity would be focused on developing and refining the approach and testing the feasibility of the intervention. Initial, indicative data would be collected to assess the intervention’s potential to improve outcomes
- efficacy trials where an intervention or programme is tested under controlled conditions. Evaluation activity would be focused on assessing the impact of the intervention on outcomes of interest, supported by an implementation and process evaluation to identify delivery challenges
- effectiveness trials that test a scalable intervention under everyday conditions. Evaluation activity would be focused on assessing the impact of the intervention on outcomes of interest, supported by an implementation and process evaluation to identify the challenges for delivery at scale
(This categorisation is based on the Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) ‘Pipeline of EEF trials’: Pipeline of EEF trials | EEF (educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk)
You may propose a single trial (including multiarm trials that test multiple interventions or variations of an intervention) or a programme of trials.
If proposing a programme of trials, individual trials can run concurrently or be sequenced. If you propose undertaking pilot studies, there is an expectation that proposals also include plans to test the intervention under controlled conditions if found to be feasible.
Proposals are also welcome from applicants proposing to conduct rapid RCTs or the use of rapid-cycle RCTs.
For some interventions it may not be possible to use either experimental or quasi-experimental approaches.
Although the primary aim of this fund is to support experimental and quasi-experimental impact evaluation approaches, we may also fund projects that partially or largely employ alternative methods such as theory-based approaches to impact evaluation providing that clear justification has been provided for employing these methodologies.
Further guidance on designing an evaluation using experimental, quasi-experimental or theory-based approaches can be found in HM Treasury (2020) The Magenta Book: Guidance for Evaluation, The Magenta Book – GOV.UK.
Proposals should also address the following requirements:
Proposals must clearly identify a specific intervention or series of interventions they intend to evaluate. This could include interventions that are already being delivered on the ground but have not previously been robustly evaluated or testing and evaluating new interventions.
You should explain the rationale for the intervention(s), what is being delivered, and how it links to outcomes of interest.
You should clearly set out how the outcomes being measured relate to one or more of the three thematic areas of this opportunity, as set out in the ‘Thematic areas’ section.
Proposals should also demonstrate how the intervention(s) and approach to evaluation address an evidence gap for decision makers and practitioners involved in policymaking or the delivery of services including, where possible, how the evaluation proposed will help to inform and improve the delivery of the intervention.
Impact evaluation designs
This funding opportunity is primarily aimed at supporting research trials that use experimental or quasi-experimental methods.
Proposals should describe appropriate methodological approaches and techniques that will be used for the impact evaluation, including where appropriate:
- how randomisation will be achieved
- how comparison groups will be established to enable a valid comparison of outcomes
- what outcomes will be captured and the rationale for these
- datasets or instruments that will be used to measure these
- how data will be collected, including capitalising where appropriate on existing data to reduce costs and the burden on participants; and
- how data will be analysed to deliver against the research objectives and provide robust findings
Applicants proposing to partially or largely use alternative methods such as theory-based approaches to impact evaluation should explain why these methods are appropriate.
Supporting impact evaluations with an implementation and process evaluation
To ensure that the causal factors and mechanisms for the impact of an intervention are also captured and well understood, applicants are strongly encouraged to include, where appropriate, an evaluation of the delivery of the intervention paying attention to issues of compliance and programme fidelity.
Where an implementation and process evaluation are included in a proposal, you should provide a clear rationale and description of your intended methodological approach.
Building interdisciplinary collaborations and partnerships
This funding opportunity aims to harness the knowledge and expertise of the various research communities supported by UKRI and enable working across disciplines to leverage knowledge and expertise in addressing its objectives. We particularly welcome interdisciplinary collaborations that build the capacity of a broad range of disciplines to use experimental and quasi-experimental methods in understanding what works to spread opportunities and reduce spatial disparities in outcomes for people and places across the UK.
To ensure proposals are feasible and grounded in local priorities, you are strongly encouraged to engage community partners and those with lived experience in the development of bids. Engagement with communities must be equitable and your plans must demonstrate that you have identified their needs and interests, and the ways in which they will positively benefit from participating in the project.
The funding available can only be used for evaluation purposes and not for the delivery of the interventions. Therefore, partnerships with non-academic organisations that will be funding or delivering the intervention will be essential to a competitive proposal.
You should demonstrate that an equitable and sustainable partnership with co-creation and co-delivery at its heart has been established.
A non-exhaustive list of the type of non-academic organisations that could be involved in projects include:
- local authorities
- healthcare delivery organisations
- regional or local industrial bodies
- community groups
- schools and colleges
- government departments
- devolved administrations
- other public sector organisations
- private sector partners
More information on including project co-leads and partners can be found in the ESRC Research Funding Guide.
Ethical and data management considerations
We require that the research we support is designed and conducted in such a way that it
meets ethical principles and is subject to proper professional and institutional oversight in terms of research governance. We have agreed a Framework for Research Ethics that all submitted proposals must comply with. Read further details about the Framework for Research Ethics and guidance on compliance.
Grant holders will be expected to follow good practice in producing trial or research protocols that set out the key features of their research plan following appropriate guidance prior to the start of funded trials. We also strongly recommend that trials are registered in an appropriate register (e.g., ISRCTN, AEA, IGL database). You can include any registration costs in your requested budget.
Data collection and management should be in accordance with ESRC research data policy.
Results of the studies, whether positive or negative, must be published or made publicly available within 24 months of the end of the study or trial. Publications must cite the grant reference number.
You must ensure plans to meet these ethics and transparency requirements are included in their proposal.
A list of additional guidance on good practice can be found in the ‘Related Content’ section.
Using existing datasets
UKRI supports a range of data resources. Where relevant, we encourage applicants to consider whether the use of these resources could add value to the project.
Please find more details about the datasets available across the UK on Facilities and resources:
Facilities and resources – BBSRC – UKRI
Facilities and resources – EPSRC – UKRI
Facilities and resources – ESRC – UKRI (including ADR UK)
Facilities and resources – MRC – UKRI
Facilities and resources – NERC – UKRI
Facilities and resources – STFC – UKRI
Details of any datasets and infrastructure to be used in your project should be given in the Facilities section.
A related funding opportunity
The UKRI Creating Opportunities Trial Accelerator Fund is one of two funding opportunities focused on supporting evaluation activity under UKRI’s “Creating Opportunities, Improving Outcomes” strategic theme.
The second opportunity is for the UKRI Creating Opportunities Evaluation Development Fund, which will be open during the same period. Although both opportunities have the same thematic focus, the duration, funding available, and requirements differ.
You cannot submit the same or similar proposals to both funding opportunities. Applicants that submit the same or a similar proposal to both will be withdrawn from the UKRI Creating Opportunities Evaluation Development Fund.
Projects should last for between 13 months and 48 months. Grants should start by 1 July 2024.
Applicants wishing to undertake projects lasting 12 months or less should review details of the UKRI Creating Opportunities Evaluation Development Fund.
The full economic cost of your project can range from £1,000,000 to £2,500,000.
UKRI will fund 80% of the full economic cost.
What we will fund
You can request funding for costs primarily relating to undertaking the evaluation activities:
- a contribution to the salary of the project lead and project co-leads
- support for other posts such as research, technical, project management, and administration
- research consumables
- travel costs, including costs of participating in workshops and showcase events with other grant holders
- data preservation, data sharing and dissemination costs
- trial registration costs
- estates and indirect costs
What we will not fund
We will not fund:
- the delivery of the interventions; the cost of an intervention should be met by the organisation that provides that intervention
- clinical research
- unspecified research work
- research already carried out
- writing up previous research
- literature surveys
- conference attendance, other than within an award
- travel for general study
- requests to hold conferences, workshops or seminars
- preparation of books and publications
- preparation and production of materials such as curriculum materials and software development where these constitute the primary project component
Associated studentships cannot be funded under this funding opportunity.
Team project partner
You may include project partners that will support your research project through cash or in-kind contributions, such as:
- staff time
- access to equipment
- sites or facilities
- the provision of data
Supporting skills and talent
We will be looking for evidence of a strong commitment to supporting the development of researchers at all stages of their career. We encourage you to follow the principles of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers and the Technician Commitment. We expect this to include a strong career development programme, shaped to suit the stage of the researchers’ career and providing increased opportunities for professional development.
This should include, but not be limited to, the early career stage. Increasing capacity contributes to the quality and impact of the research. We encourage you to consider how you can support capacity building for all members of the project team.
Impact, innovation and interdisciplinarity
We expect you to consider the potential scientific, societal and economic impacts of your project. Outputs, dissemination and impact are a key part of the assessment criteria. We also encourage applications that demonstrate innovation and interdisciplinarity (projects combining approaches from more than one discipline).
Knowledge exchange and collaboration
We are committed to knowledge exchange and encouraging collaboration between researchers and the private, public and civil society sectors. Collaborative working benefits both the researchers and the individuals or organisations involved.
Through collaboration partners learn about each other’s expertise, share knowledge and gain an appreciation of different professional cultures. Collaborative activity can therefore lead to a better understanding of the ways that academic research can add value and offer insights to key issues of concern for policy and practice.
Knowledge exchange should not be treated as an ‘add-on’ at the end of a project but considered before the start and built into a project.
If your application includes international applicants, project partners or collaborators, visit Trusted Research for more information on protection of those working in our thriving and collaborative international research and innovation sector.