Develop digital economy research communities with NetworkPlus

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Apply for funding to build digital economy and manufacturing research communities. These must address one of the EPSRC digital economy theme priority areas.

The following can apply:

  • UK higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • UKRI-approved independent research organisations
  • public sector research establishments
  • NHS bodies with research capacity.

Your institution can only submit one lead application. Your application can have a maximum of five investigators. Each investigator can only be included on one bid. Investigators must be based in the UK.

You can apply for up to £2.6 million. We will fund this at 80% full economic cost.

Projects can last up to five years.

Who can apply

The NetworkPlus investments should be national in reach.

We encourage submissions from consortiums of research organisations to ensure the team has the appropriate depth, expertise and coverage across the full spectrum of the topic. However, if the appropriate breadth expertise is present in one research organisation that would be acceptable.

The principal investigator (PI) of the proposal should have a collaborative mindset, alongside excellent leadership and management abilities.

Individuals based in non-UK countries that can contribute to the NetworkPlus can be involved in the grant as project partners, members of the management or advisory boards and so on. However, they are not eligible to be investigators.

Only one lead application is permitted from a PI’s institution. Maximum of five investigators (including PI and co-investigators (Co-I)) per application. Involvement as an investigator on a NetworkPlus grant is a significant commitment, therefore PI and Co-I can only be named investigators on one application.

Research grants are open to:

  • UK higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • UKRI-approved independent research organisations
  • public sector research establishments
  • NHS bodies with research capacity.

Read guidance on institutional eligibility.

You can apply as an investigator if you are a resident in the UK and meet at least one of the bullets below:

  • are employed at the submitting research organisation at lecturer level or equivalent
  • hold a fixed-term contract that extends beyond the duration of the proposed project, and the host research organisation is prepared to give you all the support normal for a permanent employee
  • hold an EPSRC, Royal Society or Royal Academy of Engineering fellowship aimed at later career stages
  • hold fellowships under other schemes (please contact EPSRC to check eligibility, which is considered on a case-by-case basis).

Holders of postdoctoral level fellowships are not eligible to apply for an EPSRC grant.

Start date

The NetworkPlus investment that addresses the trust, identity, privacy and security priority area will have a fixed start date of 1 June 2023. This is because the digital economy theme has a live NetworkPlus investment which is currently addressing this priority area: (SPRITE+: The Security, Privacy, Identity, and Trust Engagement NetworkPlus), it is scheduled to end in August 2023. The successful trust, identity, privacy and security priority area NetworkPlus is expected to initially work with SPRITE+ to facilitate a smooth transition.

The NetworkPlus investments that address the following priorities will not have a fixed start date:

  • beyond a data driven economy
  • content creation and consumption
  • equitable digital society
  • sustainable digital society.

Catapult centres are not eligible to apply for funding. However, they can be involved as collaborators on the application, for example, as a named contractor, project partner, members of management boards or advisory boards.

What we're looking for

The EPSRC digital economy theme, working in partnership with the manufacturing the future theme, aims to support five ‘NetworkPlus’ grants to stimulate development of digital economy research and communities. Each funded NetworkPlus must address only one of the digital economy theme five priority areas which reflect the theme’s long-term strategic goals:

  •   beyond a data driven economy
  •   content creation and consumption
  •   equitable digital society
  •   sustainable digital society
  •   trust, identity, privacy and security.

Find out more about the digital economy theme research priority areas (EPSRC).

Find out more about the manufacturing the future theme priority areas (EPSRC).

Each proposal must explain the fit to the chosen digital economy theme priority area and demonstrate evidence of how they will connect with on-going excellent research in the UK to grow and develop the network. There is no requirement for the proposal to align with manufacturing the future theme priority areas.

We recognise that each of the digital economy priority areas are very broad with many challenges. We expect each NetworkPlus to broadly cover the whole of one priority area, helping to catalyse change by bringing new people together to co-create new ideas that lead to future research projects or innovations. The NetworkPlus will not be able to solve all the research challenges within the area, but it will enable a step change in the way academia, industry, users, policy makers and other stakeholders engage and interact.

The digital economy NetworkPlus investments will aim to bring together relevant research disciplines and stakeholders of the interdisciplinary digital economy communities in order to:

  • build new communities or create new links between different existing communities
  • bring focus to the relevant research area, identifying research challenges, opportunities, and priorities
  • improve knowledge exchange
  • support initial testing of new ideas and kick-start new collaborations
  • grow the areas of research for the benefit of the UK
  • facilitate impact and advance policy.

The NetworkPlus investments can undertake a variety of activities including workshops, events, feasibility studies, secondments, and horizon scanning. It is essential that user engagement is considered in the wider network membership. Applicants are encouraged to tailor their activities to the needs of the area and to be innovative in their approach.

Network activities should be UK-wide and should involve a broad range of disciplines and non-academic stakeholders from relevant sectors such as:

  • manufacturing
  • creative industries
  • financial services.

It is essential to involve expertise in computer science, engineering or mathematical sciences. It is expected that other relevant disciplines such as manufacturing, social sciences, economics, arts and humanities, as well as non-academic stakeholders, will be involved in order to provide the expertise required to co-create and implement novel, people-centred digital technology solutions which incorporate legal and ethical considerations.

Ultimately, the NetworkPluses must identify ambitious ‘real-world’ challenges within their priority areas which require a multidisciplinary approach and form an agenda for future research in the area.

NetworkPlus proposals should complement current research activities and existing networks and may build on new opportunities highlighted by previous networking activities.

For more information about the portfolio and strategies of EPSRC and the digital economy theme see our website:

Additional grant conditions (AGCs)

In addition to the standard term and conditions for grants, successful applicants will be required to fulfill the following additional grant conditions. Please ensure that this is resourced for accordingly in the application.

Fixed start date – trust, identity, privacy, security NetworkPlus only

Notwithstanding RGC 5.2 starting procedures, this grant has a fixed start date of 1 June 2023 if aligning with trust, identity, privacy, security priority area. Expenditure may be incurred prior to the start of the grant and be subsequently charged to the grant, provided that it does not precede the date of the offer letter.

Community network expectations

This grant is awarded on the understanding that the project will undertake a wider networking role with the research and user community outside its membership. This may involve coordination of activities such as meetings, workshops or seminars on behalf of EPSRC. A dedicated website must be set up within six months of the start of the grant and regularly maintained to provide a resource for engagement with the wider community.

This grant is expected to further develop the network, including its academic and user (such as policy, business, non-governmental organisations) membership, throughout the period of funding in order to maximise its impact on a wide range of disciplines. As part of the grant networks must identify ambitious ‘real-world’ challenges, which require a multidisciplinary approach and form an agenda for future research in the area.

User engagement strategy

You must develop and execute a strategy for engaging with potential users of the research funded in the project. This strategy should be reviewed and updated regularly as part of the formal management and reporting process agreed for this grant.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

In addition to RGC 3.4, you are expected to prepare a full equality, diversity and inclusion plan for the duration of this grant to demonstrate best practice in equality, diversity and inclusion throughout the lifetime of this funding award. This must be recorded through the grant reporting process.

Project officer appointment

We will nominate a member of EPSRC staff (the project officer) who will be your primary point of contact. The project officer will ensure that the project is being run in accordance with the terms and conditions and in line with financial due diligence. The project officer(s) should have access to all documentation of governance and reporting bodies, in so far as it relates to the administration and application of the grant. As funding administrators, all UKRI staff have agreed to maintain the confidentiality required by all parties involved in EPSRC funded research.

Advisory board appointment

This grant must establish and run an independent advisory board, or equivalent body, to oversee the running of the project and provide advice on the strategic direction and activities of the project. The terms of reference and membership of this group (at least 50% independent membership and an independent chair) should be agreed with EPSRC. The EPSRC project officer will also be expected to attend and participate in advisory board and other appropriate meetings for the duration of the grant.

It is expected the first advisory board meeting will be held within four months of the start date of the project and there will two meetings a year with contact outside of the meeting when appropriate.

Flexible funds

Notwithstanding standard grant condition RGC 4.4, the sum awarded under the heading of ‘flexible funds’ can include both directly incurred and directly allocated expenditure. These funds must be reported on the final expenditure statement (FES) as awarded on the offer letter and a breakdown of the expenditure must be submitted along with the FES. If a breakdown of this expenditure is not received the final expenditure statements will be returned. Standard grant conditions apply to all other funds awarded on this grant.

Publicity and branding

In addition to RGC 12.4 publication and acknowledgement of support, you must make reference to EPSRC and UKRI funding and include the UKRI logo and relevant branding on all online or printed materials (including press releases, posters, exhibition materials and other publications) related to activities funded by this grant.

Progress reports

In addition to the requirements set out in RGC 7.4.3, you are responsible for providing annual progress reports against non-financial performance metrics. A detailed list of performance metrics and instructions for reporting will be agreed with the grant holder and advisory board upon commencement of the grant.

Funding available

The digital economy theme, working in partnership with the manufacturing the future theme, wishes to support five NetworkPlus investments, and there is up to £13 million available in total (at 80% FEC). An award will be made for between 48-60 months duration.

Funding requested under the directly allocated cost heading may include:

  • investigators’ salaries – the PI and up to four Co-Is can request funds to cover their salary costs for the time spent on setting up and leading the NetworkPlus. The salary costs of NetworkPlus participants should not be included in the proposal and we would not expect these individuals to be Co-Is. Please note that individuals listed as PIs and Co-Is can only be included on one bid.

Funding requested under the directly incurred cost heading may include:

  • travel and subsistence – travel and subsistence enabling members of the NetworkPlus to meet to exchange ideas and expertise. This may include visits by or to experts overseas. This may also include travel and subsistence costs to support secondments. Where possible, collaborators should meet their own travel costs
  • administrative support – a sufficient level of administrative support should be requested to ensure the coordination, management and smooth running of the NetworkPlus. Reasonable costs for monitoring and dissemination of the network’s output can also be included
  • organisation of activities – funding can be requested for costs involved in running activities such as networking events, expert working groups, debates, online discussion forums, lectures, seminars, problem-solving workshops etc. Applicants are encouraged to think creatively about the range of activities that could support the delivery of the NetworkPlus goals
  • research – research activity to support the research strategy developed within the NetworkPlus. Funds can be requested for PDRA staff, consumables, travel and subsistence and any other costs eligible under ‘directly incurred’ headings. This is likely to include a budget for feasibility studies (but not to demonstrator phase or beyond TRL 4) that can be allocated to researchers at other universities. We expect this to be a nationwide effort involving the best people. Applicants will need to think carefully about how this feasibility studies budget will be commissioned, processes for the allocation of funds must be fair and transparent. Please note that the feasibility funds will be restricted to EPSRC current research organisation eligibility, but will not be bound by standard EPSRC investigator eligibility criterion. It is the PI’s responsibility to ensure on-going governance to ensure correct usage and accountability of the funds. EPSRC would expect some examples of the types of projects at the application stage, but the research challenges should evolve during the course of the network activities and should be co-created and collaborative in nature.

Funding can also be requested for:

  • activities to identify and disseminate key research challenges in the area, for example horizon-scanning studies
  • activities to facilitate impact and advance policy, such as reports, websites and briefings
  • secondment support, including scoping of potential opportunities, travel and subsistence etc.
  • activities to support career development
  • activities to connect users, industry and other stakeholders with the research base
  • communication costs and for additional equipment such as personal computers and web servers
  • equipment to support networking, events and communication.

Equipment over £10,000 is not available through this opportunity. We will not be funding laboratory or research equipment for this opportunity. We will only support equipment to facilitate communication, networking and events. We welcome innovative and creative thought.

Please note: project partners cannot receive funding directly from the grant. The only exception to this is where a project partner is providing services or equipment that will go through a formal procurement process audited by the host research organisation. The project partner cannot receive any other funds from the grant, such as travel and subsistence.

Responsible innovation

EPSRC is fully committed to developing and promoting responsible innovation. Research has the ability to not only produce understanding, knowledge and value, but also unintended consequences, questions, ethical dilemmas and, at times, unexpected social transformations. We recognise that we have a duty of care to promote approaches to responsible innovation that will initiate ongoing reflection about the potential ethical and societal implications of the research that we sponsor, and to encourage our research community to do likewise.

Responsible innovation creates spaces and processes to explore innovation and its consequences in an open, inclusive and timely way, going beyond consideration of ethics, public engagement, risk and regulation. Innovation is a collective responsibility, where funders, researchers, interested and affected parties, including the public, all have an important role to play. Applicants are expected to work within the framework for responsible research and innovation (EPSRC).

Applicants should consider responsible innovation throughout the research project, and include, for example, details of anticipatory work and stakeholder inclusion plans in the proposal.

How to apply

Applicants should ensure they are aware of and comply with any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place. You should prepare and submit your proposal using the research councils’ Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S).

When adding a new proposal, you should go to documents, select ‘New Document’, then select:

  • ‘create new document’
  • council: ‘EPSRC’
  • document type: ‘standard proposal’
  • scheme: ‘network’
  • on the ‘project details’ page you should select the ‘digital economy network plus’ opportunity.

After completing the application:

  • you must ‘submit document’ which will send your application to your host organisation’s administration
  • your host organisation’s administration is required to complete the submission process. Applicants should allow sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process between submitting your proposal to them and the closing date.

EPSRC must receive your application by 16:00 on 29 July 2021.

As well as the Je-S application form, the following documents must be submitted:

  • case for support: eight pages – two on your track record and six on the scientific case
  • workplan: one page
  • justification of resources: two pages
  • CVs: up to two A4 sides each only for named postdoctoral staff, researcher co-investigators (research assistants who have made a substantial contribution to the proposal and will be employed on the project for a significant amount of time), and visiting researchers
  • letters of support from all project partners included in the Je-S form: no page limit
  • letters of support (up to three) are permitted in exceptional circumstances that do not meet the requirement for project partner letters of support : no page limit
  • host organisation letter of support from the PI’s institution: two pages
  • cover letter: optional attachment, no page limit, not seen by peer review.

Your case for support should include:

  • track record of core NetworkPlus team (two pages). This should include evidence of relevant experience and expertise the applicant team has in running networks or complex activities requiring comprehensive management
  • how the proposed NetworkPlus aligns with one of the digital economy priority areas
  • scientific or technological basis for the NetworkPlus, including in the context of current and previous international research in the field
  • details of initial membership and contributions
  • scientific, technological and management benefits and any additional benefits over the work of existing researchers or networks. Targets and performance indicators should be given that allow the project to be evaluated at its end in the longer term (five years from start)
  • details of activities
  • details of plans for the feasibility studies funds, including the commissioning and on-going governance to ensure correct usage and reporting
  • plans to disseminate the network’s outputs
  • potential for collaboration within the network and how this might lead to support for new research in emerging fields
  • plans for self-sufficiency beyond the end of the project.

Your host organisation letter of support should include:

  • recognition of the fact that the host organisation will be responsible for administering the grant for these national networks on behalf of all NetworkPlus partners and members
  • details of specific support that will be given to the applicant team (including investigators, management team and administrators) in managing the NetworkPlus budget, commissioning the funds and on-going governance to ensure correct usage and accountability.

You should attach your documents as PDFs to avoid errors. They should be completed in single-spaced Arial 11 font or similar-sized sans serif typeface.

Read our advice on writing proposals (EPSRC).

EPSRC will not fund a project if it believes that there are ethical concerns that have been overlooked or not appropriately accounted for. All relevant parts of the ethical information section must be completed.

See further guidance on completing the Je-S form (Je-S).

EPSRC guidance can be found under additional information.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

Any proposals that do not fit the remit of the opportunity will be rejected prior to peer review. Please note that the proposal must be at least 50% in EPSRC remit and each network must align to one of the digital economy theme priority areas.

NetworkPlus full proposals will be assessed against the assessment criteria by postal peer review. If reviews are sufficiently supportive, proposals will be prioritised by a panel of experts resulting in five rank ordered lists, one for each of the priority areas. The highest ranked applications will be invited for interview.

Applicants will be assessed at an interview panel early December 2021. The PI should attend along with up to two other members of the team (this could include project partners). There will be five lists, each proposal will be prioritised and ranked on the identified priority area list. If of sufficient quality, the highest ranking NetworkPlus application on each list will be funded. A funding decision is expected by the end of December 2021.

In the event of this opportunity being substantially oversubscribed as to be unmanageable, EPSRC reserve the right to modify the assessment process.

Assessment criteria

Fit to call (primary)

Making reference to:

  • strength of alignment to one of the digital economy theme priority areas
  • potential to stimulate the development of emerging research areas and build research collaborations
  • potential to identify ambitious ‘real world’ research challenges within their priority areas between users and academia
  • potential for the network to advance the UK’s capabilities in the selected digital economy theme priority area, as well as the UK’s economy and society
  • extent to which the NetworkPlus complements other UK funded research activities and existing networks in the area, including any relationship to the EPSRC portfolio
  • sustainability of the activity after the lifetime of the grant.

Quality (primary)

The research excellence, making reference to:

  • the ambition, adventure, transformative aspects or potential outcomes
  • the suitability of the proposed membership and activities. Applicants are encouraged to tailor their activities to the need of the area and be innovative in their approach. Activities should reflect the aims of the opportunity
  • appropriate engagement and dissemination plans to accelerate impact and form an agenda for future research in the area.

Applicant and partnerships (secondary)

The ability to deliver the proposed project, making reference to:

  • track record of the PI in relevant research, leadership and management of complex activities
  • evidence of thought leadership, responding to strategic and policy drivers
  • sufficient administrative support for managing the NetworkPlus
  • appropriate range of expertise of core NetworkPlus members
  • appropriateness of the track record of the applicant(s)
  • evidence of user engagement, co-creation and support (financial cash or in-kind) and ability to engage with users
  • evidence of host institution support, specifically focusing on support given to the applicant team in managing the NetworkPlus budget, commissioning feasibility funds and on-going governance to ensure correct usage and accountability.

Resources and management (Secondary)

The effectiveness of the proposed planning and management and whether the requested resources are appropriate and have been fully justified, making reference to:

  • the appropriateness of the requested resources
  • the effectiveness of the proposed management structure and plans
  • appropriateness of the commissioning of funds for feasibility studies and on-going governance to ensure correct usage and accountability
  • appropriate resources have been requested to support community building, responsible innovation and public engagement.

Feedback

Feedback will consist of reviewers’ reports and, if they are sufficiently supportive the ranking position at the prioritisation panel. If invited to interview, feedback will be provided. The final rank ordered list will be available on the EPSRC grants on the web system when applicants are informed.

Nominating reviewers

As part of the application process you will be invited to nominate up to three potential reviewers who you feel have the expertise to assess your proposal. Please ensure that any nominations meet the EPSRC policy on conflicts of interest (EPSRC).

For more information about the reviewer selection process please see the related content links.

Guidance for reviewers

Please review the opportunity details on this webpage.

Find out more about the peer review process and guidance for reviewers (EPSRC).

See the guidance for reviewing standard grants (EPSRC).

Contact details

Any queries regarding the submission of proposals through Je-S should be directed to the Je-S helpdesk:

Staffed Monday to Thursday 08:30 to 17:00 and Fridays 08:30 to 16:30 (excluding bank holidays and other holidays).

Additional info

The digital economy theme seeks to rapidly realise the transformational impact of digital technologies on aspects of community life, cultural experiences, future society, and the economy. It seeks to bring together researchers in ICT, mathematical sciences, engineering, social sciences, economics, arts and humanities with stakeholders in different application domains to create digital technologies, platforms and solutions that are designed with and for users of the digital technology.

Find out more about the digital economy theme strategy (EPSRC).

The manufacturing the future theme has key interlinking priorities with digital economy, including our specific digital manufacturing priority.

Digital manufacturing involves the use of digital technologies to optimise the design process, allow for simulation and visualisation of processes and enable fast and responsive control and connectivity of manufacturing systems and their supply chains.

Digital manufacturing can also include elements of security and authenticity in dealing with manufacturing data and the use of digital technologies in supply chain sustainability. This priority is relevant to a wide range of sectors and industries and one of the key challenges in this area, as with many digital economy priorities, is enhancing multidisciplinary collaborations.

Previous joint funding between the manufacturing the future and digital economy themes include the digital economy centre (DIGIT centre). This joint funding highlighted the potential interlinking priorities between the manufacturing the future theme and the digital economy theme and led to the partnership between the two themes for this opportunity.

Find out more about the manufacturing the future theme strategy (EPSRC).

The digital economy theme previously funded five NetworkPlus awards, which are coming to an end in 2021-2023. These networks have helped to engender the digital economy mindset and have created a focal point for the interdisciplinary research addressing key challenges. They have had successes in creating new collaborations, grant applications, feasibility studies, secondments, and IP generation.

Lessons learned from the previous NetworkPlus activities include:

  • a clear, well-defined topic for the network is needed to focus plans and activities. The portfolio of grants needs to be regularly reviewed
  • sufficient administrative and host university support for the network is vital, in order to support activities such as feasibility studies and dissemination activities
  • different scales of feasibility study funding are appropriate for different research topics or disciplines
  • different scales of feasibility study may require different assessment processes to reflect the value that is being requested
  • expectation and arrangements for full economic costing of network activities need to be clear across all parties
  • advertising of events needs to be included in the budget
  • long-term plans for the legacy and sustainability of the network need to be considered early on.

Webinar

A webinar will be held to discuss the NetworkPlus opportunity on 27 May at 10:00. The webinar will include a panel session to allow possible applicants to ask questions about the opportunity to EPSRC and previous NetworkPlus grant holders.

If you would like to attend, please register by 12 May 10:00.

Attendance is not a pre-requisite to applying to the opportunity and a report from the day (including frequently asked questions) will be published on the EPSRC website as soon as possible following the event.

Supporting documents

Equality impact assessment – NetworkPlus (PDF, 228KB)

Equality impact assessment – NetworkPlus webinar (PDF, 225KB)

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