Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Design Exchange Partnerships: design the green transition

Apply for funding to develop design-led solutions to specific challenges facing UK coastal and island communities in relation to realising green transition goals.

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for AHRC funding.

We are particularly keen to receive applications from multidisciplinary design researchers.

Your project could focus on one or more of these areas, but is not limited to:

  • human
  • technical
  • economic or commercial
  • structural.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £40,000, plus a five to 10% non-academic partner organisation contribution. AHRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Who can apply

Modified from the highly successful Knowledge Transfer Partnership model, each project must involve:

  • one early career arts and humanities design research associate (including those undertaking doctoral studies in an arts and humanities design-led discipline)
    • for this opportunity, we are taking a flexible approach to defining early career, and will accept proposals including research associates at other career stages who can justify the value of this project to their own development. This position is open to job share arrangements
  • at least one academic supervisor
  • at least one non-academic organisation with a specific challenge relevant to the overarching theme of ‘design the green transition’, which can be addressed through the ongoing application of design-led research carried out by the research associate.

Researchers and supervisors must be based at a UK research organisation that is eligible for UK Research and Innovation funding.

Check if you are eligible for research and innovation funding.

While the supervisor will have oversight of the project and will be the principal investigator for the purposes of administering the award, we expect the majority of intellectual leadership to come from the research associate. This must be demonstrated in the proposal and throughout the course of the award, if successful.

Non-academic partners must be either a:

  • micro or small and medium-sized enterprise-sized, UK registered business, charity or not-for-profit
  • similarly sized department of a public sector organisation.

Subcontractors are not eligible for this funding opportunity.

Part-time applicants (minimum of 0.6 full-time equivalent) are welcome.

Job share applications for the research associate will be considered provided:

  • both candidates can demonstrate a suitable arts and humanities-led design research background
  • both associates participate to an equal extent in all aspects of the project
  • clear and robust handover and communication arrangements are in place.

The lead research organisation may make multiple applications for this programme, but each application must be substantively different in both partnership team and project objectives.

The named research associate and supervisor may participate in only one application for this programme.

The non-academic partner may participate in only one application for this programme.

What we're looking for

Building on the success of the 2021 pilot round, AHRC is inviting proposals to the scaled-up Design Exchange Partnership (DEP) scheme, part of our Future Observatory: design the green transition programme.

DEPs will connect directly with the wider Future Observatory: design the green transition programme, including but not limited to the engagement hub based at the Design Museum.

DEPs are three-way collaborative projects which seek to demonstrate tangible impact on local communities by stimulating the real-world application of high quality arts and humanities-led design research to address challenges related to achieving green transition goals. DEPs aim to:

  • stimulate strategic partnerships that support career development and the development of hybrid skills
  • increase the diversity of voices and actors consulted in and contributing to addressing the climate crisis
  • enable the development of new products and services that have a positive impact in the real-world.

For this round, we are focusing on the green transition challenges faced by the UK’s island and coastal communities. In particular, we are keen to see this in places where investment can make the biggest difference to everyday life, for example, areas that experience high levels of poverty and deprivation, or that otherwise suffer from:

  • stunted productivity
  • lack of employment opportunities
  • poor community cohesion
  • lack of local agency.

For the purposes of this opportunity, a coastal community may be interpreted to include any coastal settlement within a UK local authority area whose boundaries include UK foreshore, including local authorities whose boundaries only include estuarine foreshore. Coastal settlements include seaside towns, ports and other areas that have a clear connection to the coastal economy.

Projects may focus on any challenges or areas that will support progress towards green transition goals, including but not limited to any combination of:

  • human, such as improving the design and delivery of green initiatives to more effectively support behaviour change
  • technical, such as design or development of new low or zero carbon building solutions
  • economic or commercial, such as redesign of markets to reduce costs
  • structural, such as infrastructure planning and decarbonisation provision.

We welcome proposals for, and will support a diverse portfolio showcasing, a range of different types of design intervention, from product or service level innovation through to strategic, systems-level design thinking.

The project should demonstrate human-centred design research processes. You can include activities to:

  • develop high-value innovation opportunities and define what makes a desirable, fit-for-purpose solution
  • create ideas for new or significantly improved products or services
  • test and improve ideas by using fast, low-cost visuals, prototypes or simulations
  • clearly communicate ideas ready for further investment, and research and development activity
  • understand human motivations and behaviour through, for example, observation, interviews, role-play and workshops.

Projects should demonstrate clear pathways to measurable outcomes of benefit to all partners both within the 12-month project period and beyond.

In scope

A range of different types of design intervention can be supported, from product or service level innovation through to strategic, systems-level design thinking.

Individual project objectives might be:

  • the design of an everyday product from sustainable materials
  • devising a new form of service delivery that supports the business’s growth while reducing its overall carbon footprint
  • identifying user needs for low carbon products and services
  • the development of roadmaps towards circular business models.

Whilst the theme of this round of DEPs specifically addresses the challenges faced by coastal and island communities, the programme is not limited to universities and non-academic partners based in these areas.

Project proposals must clearly demonstrate how they intend to generate impact for either individual coastal and island communities or for coastal and island communities across the UK. Proposals should also show how the project team will engage with these communities in assessing and addressing their specific needs.

Out of scope

For this opportunity, we are not seeking proposals based solely in technical design disciplines such as engineering design and design for manufacture, although creatively-led projects incorporating technical aspects are welcome.

We are not seeking proposals aimed at creating visual identity elements, graphics or style guides, unless these are essential to the creation of a new product or service.

Projects that do not engage directly with coastal and island communities or seek to develop a generic approach to a wider net zero plus challenge without addressing the specific needs of these communities will be considered outside of the scope of this opportunity.


Projects may start from 1 February 2023 but must commence no later than 14 February 2023. All projects must be concluded no later than 31 January 2024.

Projects will be funded at 80% of the full economic cost (fEC) with a minimum non-academic partner contribution of 10% of the fEC (5% for micro organisations, defined in the GOV.UK Department for International Trade small and medium-sized enterprises action plan. Part of this contribution can be in-kind, up to 5% of the fEC.

How to apply

All applications must be submitted on the Design Exchange Partnerships (DEP) application portal, hosted by the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN).

Application form

The DEP application form has been developed specifically for this programme, and comprises eight sections.


1. Applicants’ information

This includes:

  • project title
  • lead research organisation
  • academic supervisor
  • research associate
  • non-academic partner.
2. Project summary

This includes:

  • duration of project (up to 12 months at minimum 0.6 full time equivalent)
  • public description (up to 50 word lay summary)
  • project overview (summary of vision and focus areas)
  • project aims and objectives.
3. Resources

This includes:

  • project costs (including research associate and supervisor time, and travel and subsistence)
  • non-academic partner contributions (cash or in-kind).
4. Case for support

This includes:

  • problem statement and need for design research intervention
  • strategic fit and alignment with the aims of the DEP scheme
  • strategic fit and alignment with non-academic partner’s organisational strategy
  • strategic fit and alignment with the lead research organisation’s institutional or departmental objectives.
5. Outcomes and impacts

This includes:

  • intended academic impacts, including career development and contribution to advancing knowledge and understanding in the fields
  • intended environmental, economic and societal impacts, including specific benefits to the community or focus areas
  • theory of change or logic model.
6. Delivery

This includes:

  • appropriateness and relevance of individual project team members
  • complementarity of collective skills and expertise
  • approach to project (for example, organisation and research methods)
  • approach to community or stakeholder engagement and knowledge exchange.
7. Work plan

This includes a Gantt chart or similar visualisation showing timeline of project delivery with milestones and deliverables.

8. Partnership commitment

This includes:

  • how the partnership model will work in practice
  • statement of support from all partners involved in the project including (independent) research organisations and non-academic partners.

Named applicant

The named applicant must be the named academic supervisor, who must evidence institutional support for the project.

This may be demonstrated in the application form’s ‘partnership commitment’ section. Assessors will need to see evidence of support from all stakeholders in the project, including all higher education institutions (including research finance and enterprise offices or equivalent), non-academic partners and individual staff attached to the project.

Research associate

The application should demonstrate how the research associate will benefit from the project from a skills development perspective. The associate must be named in the application at the time of submission (they cannot be recruited to the project post-award) and their research background, interests and qualifications must be central to the project partnership and development.


AHRC, KTN and the Future Observatory will provide enhanced support to applicants through the following optional events.

Although these events will be beneficial in addressing any queries and uncertainties you may have, they are not compulsory and will not form part of the assessment or decision-making process.

Programme launch workshop (September 2022)

This will provide an opportunity to hear more about the aims of DEP, and the overall ‘Future Observatory: design the green transition’ programme.

You will be able to:

  • identify whether the scheme is a good fit for your project or partnership
  • hear more about the opportunities and common pitfalls of academic, industry or public sector collaborations
  • receive in-depth guidance on the application process.

A recording of this event will be hosted on Future Observatory’s website and linked on the application portal.

Application development surgeries (November 2022)

Delivered by AHRC and KTN, these 15-minute sessions will provide an opportunity for you to talk through your proposed project and partnership and receive pre-application feedback and suggestions.

How we will assess your application

Assessment will be undertaken by AHRC peer reviewers and Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) assessors on the basis of the following criteria:

  • the quality and applicability of the research involved
  • whether the proposed project complements and supports the non-academic partner’s current organisational or departmental strategy
  • the appropriateness of the proposed project team’s composition in terms of experience, interests, strategy and overall aims
  • the likelihood of successful delivery in a relatively short project period
  • clear outcomes of benefit to all partners, and measurable environmental and social impacts. Applications may also demonstrate commercial outcomes and impacts, but environmental and social benefits should be foregrounded
  • a clear relevance and fit to the aims and theme of the Design Exchange Partnerships programme
  • a clear and deliverable work plan, including appropriate supervisory and collaboration arrangements
  • a clear and justified breakdown of the proposed use of funds.

All other assessment criteria being equal, AHRC will take funding decisions to ensure a balanced and representative portfolio of projects.

You should expect to receive notification of a decision by 21 December 2022, with project start dates no later than 14 February 2023.

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

Alistair Oakley, Investment Manager


Include ‘DEP Application Query’ in the subject line.

We aim to respond within five working days.

Additional info

Programme launch workshop

We are running a free workshop on 12 September 2022 at 10:00 UK time. This workshop will enable you to:

  • identify whether the scheme is a good fit for your project or partnership
  • hear more about the opportunities and common pitfalls of academic, industry or public sector collaborations
  • receive in-depth guidance on the application process
  • ask the panel questions (including representatives from AHRC, Future Observatory and the Knowledge Transfer Network).

Register for the workshop on Eventbrite.


The UK government has now set in law the world’s most ambitious climate change target, cutting emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels. It aims to bring the UK more than three-quarters of the way to net zero plus by 2050.

Realising this ambition requires targeted innovation across a multidisciplinary sectorial spectrum. There is a growing recognition of the role of design-led solutions and the role of design researchers as facilitators of the necessary multi and interdisciplinary innovation.

UK Research and Innovation’s current priority of building a sustainable, productive net zero economy provides an opportunity to both inform research in this area and to demonstrate the value of design research in driving innovation to support progress towards green transition goals.

AHRC is seeking to explore the potential of design thought leadership for the green transition through the establishment of a national Design Exchange Partnerships (DEPs) network. Building upon the successes of the pilot cohort, the first full round of DEPs will comprise up to twenty distinct but complementary design-led projects addressing specific challenges in the context of coastal and island communities.

The challenges presented in making progress towards green transition goals impact the day-to-day lives of people and communities across the UK. We actively encourage DEP proposals that seek to demonstrate tangible impact on these local communities. In particular, we are keen to see this in places where investment can make the biggest difference to everyday life.

Coastal and island communities are especially vulnerable to climate change because of rising sea levels, wave heights and accelerated coastal erosion. They are also disproportionately impacted by:

  • low and highly seasonal employment
  • low skill levels and educational attainment
  • social immobility
  • ageing and transient populations
  • physical isolation
  • poor public health outcomes.

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has found that by 2050, more than a billion people worldwide will be put at direct and significant risk from coastal-specific climate hazards with more than $14 trillion of infrastructure assets severely exposed by 2100.

Severely accelerated sea level rises resulting from rapid continental ice mass-loss could bring these impacts forward by decades. Adaptation will need to occur much faster and at a much greater scale than ever done in the past. A mix of infrastructural, nature-based, institutional and socio-cultural interventions are needed to reduce the multifaceted risk facing these communities.

Coastal and island communities also form a key demographic when addressing wider structural inequalities. A 2019 report by the Social Market Foundation consistently showed disproportionately high numbers of coastal and island communities amongst those local authorities with the worst outcomes on:

  • average pay
  • unemployment
  • health
  • per capita economic output.

Meanwhile, Office for National Statistics data about Coastal towns in England and Wales (ONS, 2020) shows that the gaps between these communities and the rest of the country have grown over the last decade.

Realising green transition goals under such circumstances poses a unique challenge which will require a range of specific solutions. A mix of infrastructural, nature-based, institutional and socio-cultural interventions are needed to reduce the multifaceted challenges facing these communities.

Future Observatory

Future Observatory is a new national programme of research, debate and training to show how design research can drive Britain’s future prosperity.

With a dedicated team and using the Design Museum as its hub, the programme brings design researchers together with the partners who can help them have an impact on achieving the nation’s environmental goals. Using design as its engine, this major programme aims to set the agenda for social and technological change in Britain.

Future Observatory will act as the engagement hub for DEPs, providing opportunities for showcasing research, running events for award holders as well as networking opportunities and the chance to help shape the conversation around the UK’s green transition.

Innovate KTN

Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) exists to connect innovators with new partners and new opportunities beyond their existing thinking, accelerating ambitious ideas into real-world solutions.

Innovate UK KTN is part of the Innovate UK Group, the UK’s innovation agency. With almost 50 years of experience delivering Innovate UK’s flagship knowledge exchange scheme, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, KTN has played a key role in shaping DEPs.

Its advisors will form part of the ongoing support and engagement with DEP projects, sharing their considerable expertise on academic-business partnerships and developing hybrid skills for researchers.

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