Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Deliver foundations for a transformation in digital footprint data

The closing date for this opportunity is now 20 July 2023.

Apply for funding to undertake innovative research and proof of concept work to transform how digital footprint data (DFD) is created, accessed and used for the public good.

To apply to this DigitalFootprints Accelerator Scheme you must be based at an organisation eligible for ESRC funding. Individual eligibility criteria applies.

This is the outline proposal stage.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £500,000 for a period of up to 12 months. ESRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Who can apply

Standard ESRC eligibility rules apply.

Proposals are welcome from individual researchers from eligible research organisations:

  • UK higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)-approved independent research organisations
  • eligible public sector research establishments.

Check if you are eligible to apply for research and innovation funding.

You must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • are based at an eligible organisation
  • have an agreement with an eligible organisation to work there and have access to the appropriate research facilities for the duration of the grant.

What we're looking for

This opportunity is ESRC’s DigitalFootprints Accelerator Scheme. Through this opportunity we are looking to fund innovative, proof of concept projects that will provide the foundations and knowledge for a transformational shift in how DFD is created, accessed and used.

Proposals can draw from the wider sciences, but the social sciences must represent more than 50% of the research focus and effort.

Foundational aspects which could be developed through this opportunity include, but are not limited to:

  • methodological development: addressing major challenges around the interpretation and status of DFD, and looking at their strengths and weaknesses in the wider repertoire of social science research methods. For example, this could be with regard to:
    • representativeness
    • uncertainty and provenance
    • bias and understanding of latent and proxy measures or causal insights
  • innovative and high impact social science research, using DFD that contributes towards a deeper understanding of using these data
  • outreach, promotion and policy engagement at a strategic level, working across government and the wider landscape to influence relevant regulation, policy and strategy
  • ethics, and legal development and support
  • work to deliver findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable DFD
  • training and networking, with outcomes that contribute towards the transformational shift in capability
  • work to establish a sustained critical mass of interdisciplinary professional and research capacity, and skills in the management, development and analysis of DFD
  • activities enabling the exchange of knowledge between stakeholders, with an interest in using DFD for the public good.

Proposals must:

  • articulate the challenge that needs to be addressed to contribute towards the transformational shift in the access to, and creation and use of DFD, and how the proposed activities will achieve this
  • evidence how the proposed investment builds or sustains the long-term foundations for research using DFD
  • demonstrate how the work proposed is relevant, ethical and appropriate, and answers important questions that benefit the public
  • where appropriate, articulate how the work aligns with, builds upon and supports broader programmes of work across ESRC and UK Research and Innovation, for example the training and development offered through the National Centre for Research Methods and ESRC’s Doctoral Training Network
  • meet the key aims of the ESRC data strategy.

It is an essential requirement that your primary research area is in the social sciences. We strongly encourage inter or multidisciplinary working both within and beyond the social sciences, as long as at least 50% of the proposed programme of research is within ESRC’s remit.

Funding and duration

Grants can be up to a total of £500,000 at the full economic cost. ESRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost of projects. The research organisation must agree to cover the remaining balance.

Funding can be for a period of up to 12 months.

All projects must start by 1 March 2024 at the latest.

How to apply

There are two application stages for this opportunity:

  • expression of interest
  • full proposal.

Full applications will not be accepted from any applicant who has not submitted an expression of interest. Your expression of interest will be checked for eligibility to the scheme. If eligible, you will be invited to submit a full proposal.

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

You can find advice on completing your application in the:

We recommend you start your application early.

Your host organisation will also be able to provide advice and guidance.

Submitting your application

Before starting an application, you will need to log in or create an account in Je-S.

When applying:

  1. Select ‘documents’, then ‘new document’.
  2. Select ‘call search’.
  3. To find the opportunity, search for: DF Accelerator 2022.

This will populate:

  • council: ESRC
  • document type: outline
  • scheme: Outline Proposal
  • call/type/mode: DF Accelerator 2022.

Once you have completed your application, make sure you ‘submit document’.

You can save completed details in Je-S at any time and return to continue your application later.


ESRC must receive your expression of interest by 20 July 2023 at 16:00.

You can apply at any time while the expression of interest stage is open. Please consider the timing of your application, as large volumes of applications for one assessment round may reduce the success rates.

Please note that, due to the specific nature of this opportunity, ESRC reserves the right to close it earlier than the proposed end date if required.

You will not be able to apply after the deadline. Please leave enough time for your proposal to pass through your organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date.

You should ensure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.


Expressions of interest should include:

  • outline costs
  • a case for support of no more than one side of A4.

Full proposal stage

Applicants invited to submit full proposals must submit these within three months of being invited to do so. Full proposals must include the following mandatory attachments:

  • case for support
  • justification of resources
  • data management plan (for grants planning to generate data)
  • curriculum vitae (CV) or CVs.

How we will assess your application

Outline assessment

Applications will be reviewed based on eligibility to the opportunity. Eligible applications will be invited to submit a full proposal. Reviewer feedback may be provided to eligible proposals based on the content of the expression of interest, but feedback will not be provided to applications that are deemed ineligible.

Full proposal assessment

Full proposals will be assessed against the following criteria:

Foundational infrastructure

Assessment is based on whether the proposed investment:

  • contributes towards a transformational shift in the access to, and creation and use of DFD
  • builds or sustains the long-term foundations for DFD research.


We will assess whether the proposal supports innovation or the development of innovative practices.


We will assess whether the proposal:

  • can demonstrate how the work proposed is relevant, ethical and appropriate, and answers important questions that benefit the public
  • demonstrates potential to deliver impact and long-term public benefit with a clear mechanism for how this will be achieved.


We will consider the extent to which the proposal supports collaboration by bringing together relevant stakeholders such as:

  • researchers
  • policy makers
  • technologists
  • data stewards
  • citizens.


We will assess whether the:

  • methods and resources are appropriate for the objectives proposed
  • risks to delivery and robust mitigation plans are clearly identified.

Management and governance 

We will assess whether the plans to monitor milestones and deliverables are appropriate for the scale of activity proposed.

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal, please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

DigitalFootprints team


We aim to respond within three working days.

Get help with applying through Je-S



01793 444164

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Additional info


People’s interactions with the world and each other are increasingly digital. These interactions create DFD, including:

  • internet and social media
  • geospatial
  • commercial and transactional
  • sensor
  • image.

They can be harnessed to understand and address key research, business and policy questions about our increasingly digital society. The government’s National Data Strategy highlights significant opportunities for such data to increase the speed, efficiency and scope of research alongside its value for society and the economy.

DFD cannot currently be used to its full potential. Researchers are limited by a number of challenges including:

  • insufficient data access and infrastructure
  • underdeveloped methodology and theoretical development
  • opaque ethical procedures.


This opportunity forms part of the first phase of a long-term programme called DigitalFootprints.

ESRC’s vision for DigitalFootprints is to provide the leadership, skills, coordination and data infrastructure to deliver a transformational shift in the access to, and creation and use of DFD. The intent of this programme is to:

  • foster long-term strategic partnerships with data owners
  • provide access to hundreds of diverse new and linked datasets
  • address areas of national and international interest where access to, and creation and use of DFD is critical.

The first phase of DigitalFootprints is comprised of three main components:

  • digital footprint data services delivered by the Consumer Data Research Centre and Urban Big Data Centre
  • this DigitalFootprints Accelerator Scheme
  • an ESRC DigitalFootprints Advisory Team.

The first phase of DigitalFootprints launched in April 2022 and is due to close in September 2024.

Phase one is focused on laying the foundations for much larger investment in DigitalFootprints by:

  • testing frameworks and approaches
  • supporting experimentation and innovation
  • exploring and developing partnerships
  • developing and testing business models
  • developing and testing principles and policies.

Phase two is scheduled to start in 2023 and end in 2029. It is subject to business case approval to release funding from the UK Research and Innovation Infrastructure Fund.


We recently held a webinar for potential applicants to hear more about the scope of the opportunity and to ask any questions they had.

Watch a recording of the webinar on Zoom (passcode: $W5TC5#t)

Related opportunities

Embedding methodological development in social science research: 2022

Proposals funded through this opportunity will refine methodological approaches developed since March 2020 to enable them to be fully embedded in research practice, maximising their contribution to social science research.

Many of the adaptations and innovations that occurred across a range of methodologies during the pandemic will offer long-term benefits to the community. This opportunity aims to maximise the impact of these by providing an opportunity for researchers to consolidate and refine methodological approaches to ensure they represent good practice and are accessible widely across social science research.

Proposals can draw from the wider sciences, but the social sciences must represent at least 50% of the research focus and effort.

The full economic cost of each project can be up to £1 million. ESRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Funding is available for up to three years. The opportunity is open for applications until 25 October 2022.

Read the full Embedding methodological development in social science research: 2022 opportunity.

Supporting documents

Je-S guidance for applicants (PDF, 231KB).

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