Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Digital technologies to open up environmental sciences

Update: you can now apply to be a technical mentor for hackathon teams.

Update: applications for the hackathon are closed and Je-S proposal submissions will only be accepted from those who applied for the hackathon prior to the 22 September deadline.

Apply to be part of a three-week online ‘hackathon’ event. During the event, teams develop ideas for digital technologies that improve equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the environmental sciences.

You could be:

  • part of a team developing an idea
  • a mentor paid £2,000 to help teams fully consider EDI or to provide them with technical advice.

Anyone can apply for the hackathon.

At the end of the event, teams can apply for pilot project funding to develop their idea.

The person submitting the proposal for your pilot project must be eligible for NERC funding.

The pilot’s full economic cost can be up to £50,000. NERC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Who can apply

Digital sprint teams

Anyone is eligible to be part of a team in the three-week hackathon activity.

If you need to find a team to join, find potential team mates using the NERC EDI digital sprint forum.

Digital sprint mentors

You can apply to advise the hackathon teams. You must be either a:

  • a specialist in equality, diversity and inclusion
  • a technical specialist, for example advising teams on using a specific platform.

The deadline for mentor applications is 15 September.

Those who apply as mentors are not eligible to be part of a hackathon team.

Pilot project eligibility

Follow-on pilot projects will have normal individual eligibility which can be found in section C of the NERC research grant and fellowships handbook.

NERC research and fellowship grants for all schemes may be held at approved:

  • UK higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • independent research organisations
  • public sector research establishments.

Check if you are eligible for research and innovation funding.

Investigators may be involved in no more than two proposals submitted to this opportunity and in only one of these may they be the lead principal investigator.

What we're looking for

Environmental science needs to be more equal, diverse and inclusive for underrepresented communities. This ‘digital sprint’ activity will leverage cutting edge digital technology and methods to support solutions and methods for opening up environmental science for a broader community. The digital sprint activity includes all stages from collaboration development through the hackathon to funded pilot projects.

Team activities for the hackathon should focus on one or more of the following, and complement NERCs commitment to responsible research in the context of the NERC remit:

  • which underrepresented communities are those who will most greatly benefit from digital approaches and which specific digital approaches benefit which under-represented communities?
  • what digital technologies and methods exist for making environmental science more equitable and accessible?
  • what might prevent people from engaging with these currently?
  • what are the best practices for using digital technology for broadening access and addressing EDI in environmental science?
  • what methods can be used to assess the impact, whether positive or negative, of digital technologies and methods on EDI?

You may wish to consider how the COVID-19 pandemic has catalysed the broader use of digital technologies.

Outcomes may be generated in the form of or supported by apps, software development platforms, for example:

  • GitHub repositories
  • notebooks
  • websites or other open digital platforms.

All outcomes should be open and shareable.

Outcomes from the hackathon will not be a fully polished solution but will showcase the capability of the research. If funded to pilot project phase, teams will continue to develop these outcomes further to a demonstrable solution.

Once submitted and assessed by the panel, the highest ranked pilot project applications will be funded up to £40,000 (80% full economic cost) for up to six months. Projects must begin by 1 December 2021.

No studentships should be included in pilot proposals.

Activities should consider responsible research practices, and this should be indicated in proposals for pilot funding. The assessment panel will consider whether applicants have shown they have considered the material impact of their work or taken practical action to minimise harm or maximise benefit proportional to the size and nature of the proposals.

Activity format

This funding opportunity will take a ‘digital sprint’ format designed to generate outcomes throughout the stages and ultimately fund a number of small pilot projects coming out of a hackathon event. This is the format of the ‘digital sprint’ with information for each step.

Collaboration development

We anticipate teams will be composed of those specialising in EDI, environmental science and digital technologies in some capacity.

In order to support collaborations across disciplines we have established the NERC EDI digital sprint forum.

Please use this to help find teammates, develop ideas and share contact information for the hackathon and resulting proposals.

Use of this tool to develop collaborations is not mandatory but is encouraged.

Please note this forum will be public so please only share information you are willing to make publicly available.

Please note NERC will monitor the forum for inappropriate material but does not endorse the material within the forum.

NERC values EDI across all its funding programmes, and actively encourages teams to be made up of diverse groups of researchers.

Team sign up

All teams must have signed up for the hackathon by 15 October 2021 at midnight.

Note that taking part in the hackathon is a prerequisite for pilot submission.

Information sharing

Once the deadline to sign up has closed NERC head office will share more information regarding taking part in the hackathon and the process for submitting subsequent proposals for pilot projects.

We will also release a list of mentors who can support activities throughout the hackathon period.

Collaborative solution development: hackathon

Over the course of three weeks teams will work on solutions to the challenge presented around EDI in environmental science, and the potential for use of digital technologies in opening it up for underrepresented communities.

The hackathon should be a condensed time period for collaboration to develop a digital solution. To some extent this replaces the period of time spent developing a proposal for a traditional grant round.

Outcomes focused on supporting greater EDI in environmental science may be generated in the form of, or supported by:

  • apps
  • software development platforms, for example, GitHub repositories
  • notebooks
  • websites
  • other open digital platforms.

All outcomes should be open and shareable.

While the hackathon focuses on the development of your ideas, you can submit an accompanying proposal to try and secure pilot project funding to further develop those ideas, solutions, methods or tool.

Submission of hackathon outcomes and pilot project proposals

Submission of outcomes from the hackathon and the relevant proposal for one of the follow-on projects will take place via Je-S by 15 October 2021.

The proposal is a shortened version of the typical NERC funding application, given the timeframe, and allows NERC to ensure we have the appropriate information we require for funding.

Assessment and funding for pilot projects

Submitted outcomes and accompanying proposals will be assessed by a panel of experts to be appointed by NERC.

Highest ranking teams will be awarded a £40,000 (80% full economic cost) research project to develop their ideas from the hackathon into a presentable solution or method.

UKRI standard terms and conditions will generally apply with some variation due to the method of payment (purchase order or invoice).

Time commitment

This activity will be exclusively virtual. We do not expect 100% time commitment over the three weeks for this hackathon. Teams should self-organise the time they require to work on their activity depending on the time they are willing and able to commit.

Facilitated sessions through Slack

So as to not disadvantage anyone by holding events at specific times, that not everyone will be available for, we’ve established a Slack channel.

The Slack channel will be available at all times, and include short facilitated sessions organised at a range of times of day so that anyone can engage. Content from these sessions will be retained so anyone can engage at a later date. Use of this technology is optional as it will require individuals to have named accounts.

How to apply

Stage one: hackathon


Initial sign up for the hackathon component of this activity should be completed by midnight on 15 October 2021.

Sign up as a hackathon team (SurveyMonkey).

Teams will assign themselves a name for ease of referencing.

Please limit to one sign up per team.

You will need to include:

  • a list of those participating (being as comprehensive as possible)
  • a team name
  • a brief overview of planned activity (200 words)
  • whether you plan to submit a pilot proposal at the end of the hackathon.

Individuals may be involved in more than one team but please bear in mind that NERC regulations state investigators may be involved in no more than two proposals submitted to this funding opportunity and that in only one of these may they be the lead principal investigator.

The team member list will be used to check eligibility for the pilot funding source, but the brief statement will not be used to exclude at this stage, it will be used to help NERC head office establish an appropriate panel.

To support collaborations across disciplines and help you form teams, we have established the NERC EDI digital sprint forum.

Please note this forum will be public so please only share information you are willing to.

Please note NERC will monitor the forum for inappropriate material but does not endorse the material within the forum.

Mentor for EDI or technical advice

Sign up to be a mentor (SurveyMonkey).

You will be paid £2,000 for the three-week hackathon via your lead institution to support teams.

Please include a brief overview of your expertise (maximum 200 words). Mentors must be independent of hackathon teams. You cannot both be part of a team and a mentor.

Stage two: pilot project proposals

By the end of the hackathon on the 21 September 2021 16:00 all outcomes should be submitted, along with a proposal for a pilot project (should you wish to apply for the £40,000 (80% full economic cost)) via the Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S).

When applying select:

  • council: NERC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: directed
  • call/type/mode: EDI Digital Sprint 2021.

This Je-S form will not be available until the hackathon has commenced.

We ask that there be no joint proposals. Please include all participants and organisations on one single form.

Please include in the completed proposal form:

Case for support


  • hackathon outcomes (up to three sides of A4), please include a brief report on your hackathon activities and include links to all relevant online open outputs
  • project delivery plan (up to two sides of A4), please include a Gantt chart.

Justification of resources

Up to two sides of A4.

Please provide full details and a justification for all costs requested. A grant of up to £50,000 at 80% full economic cost is available from NERC for a maximum period of six months. The grant will run between November 2021 and April 2022. The funding can be used for any of the following:

  • indirect costs
  • estates
  • staff time and administration support
  • communication support and networking
  • appropriate travel and subsistence
  • development of outcomes from the hackathon.

It is not anticipated that equipment will be funded through this opportunity.

No studentships should be included in proposals.

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Up to one side of A4 per CV.

CVs must be included for the principal investigator and any co-investigators.

Data management plan

Up to two sides of A4.

The NERC data policy must be adhered to, and a NERC outline data management plan produced as part of proposal development.

NERC will pay the data centre directly on behalf of the programme for archival and curation services, but applicants should ensure they request sufficient resource to cover preparation of data for archiving by the research team.

Please provide details of data management processes.

The data management plan should be uploaded on Je-S as document type ‘Other attachment’.

Up to two additional attachments

Up to two sides of A4.

Extra attachments should be uploaded on Je-S as document type ‘Other attachment’.

Bids should state the partner organisations being engaged and include the nature of the contribution to the project. Letters of support from project partners are required.


Applicants should leave enough time for their proposal to pass through their organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date. Any proposal that is incomplete or does not meet NERC’s eligibility criteria or follow NERC’s submission rules (see NERC grants handbook), will be rejected by the office and will not be considered.

All attachments, with the exception of letters of support and services, facilities and equipment quotes, submitted through the Je-S system must be completed in single-spaced typescript of minimum font size 11 point (Arial or other sans serif typeface of equivalent size to Arial 11), with margins of at least 2cm.

Please note that Arial narrow, Calibri and Times New Roman are not allowable font types and any proposal which has used either of these font types within their submission will be rejected. References and footnotes should also be at least 11-point font and should be in the same font type as the rest of the document. Headers and footers should not be used for references or information relating to the scientific case.

Applicants should ensure that their proposal conforms to all eligibility and submission rules, otherwise their proposal may be rejected. More details on NERC’s submission rules can be found in the NERC research grant and fellowships handbook and in the NERC submission rules.

Please note that on submission to council all non-PDF documents are converted to PDF, the use of non-standard fonts may result in errors or font conversion, which could affect the overall length of the document.

How we will assess your application

Pilot project proposals will be assessed at a NERC assessment panel in October 2021, although this date may change subject to the availability of participants. The funding decision will be announced in November 2021 with projects beginning as soon as possible following announcement. All projects must have commenced by 1 December 2021.

The assessment criteria to be used will be as follows:

  • research excellence
  • fit to scheme.

The benefit of hackathon outcomes and proposed pilot projects for underrepresented communities in opening up environmental sciences will be considered by the panel when scoring and ranking.

Feedback from the panel will be provided to the lead researcher from each team for both successful and unsuccessful applications, summarising the reasons why the application was successful or unsuccessful. No further feedback will be available.

NERC will use the recommendations of the assessment panel along with the overall opportunity requirements and the available budget in making the final funding decisions.

Activities should consider responsible research practices and this should be indicated in proposals for pilot funding. The assessment panel will consider whether applicants have shown they have considered the material impact of their work or taken practical action to minimise harm or maximise benefit proportional to the size and nature of the proposals.

NERC values EDI across all its funding programmes, and actively encourages teams to be made up of diverse groups of researchers. The make up of teams will be considered during panel assessment.


UKRI recognises that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities and are committed to ensuring that individual applicants and their wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to their career such as:

  • breaks and delays
  • disruptive working patterns and conditions
  • the loss of on-going work
  • role changes that may have been caused by the pandemic.

Panel members will be advised to consider the unequal impacts of the impact that COVID-19 related disruption might have had on the track record and career development of those individuals included in the proposal and will be asked to consider the capability of the applicant and their wider team to deliver the research they are proposing. Where disruptions have occurred applicants can highlight this within their application, if they wish, but there is no requirement to detail the specific circumstances that caused the disruption.

Contact details

Get help with Je-S

Any queries regarding the submission of proposals through Je-S should be directed to Je-S help desk.



01793 444164

Ask about this funding opportunity

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Additional info

NERC will use the digital technologies and methods generated during the hackathon and  pilot projects to make environmental science more equal, diverse and inclusive.

Responsible research

Through our funding processes, we seek to make a positive contribution to society and the environment, not just through research outputs and outcomes but through the way in which research is conducted and facilities managed.

All NERC grant holders are to adopt responsible research practices as set-out in the NERC responsible business statement.

Responsible research is defined as reducing harm or enhancing benefit on the environment and society through effective management of research activities and facilities. Specifically, this covers:

  • the natural environment,
  • the local community, and
  • EDI.

Grant holders should consider the responsible research context of their project, not the host institution as a whole and take action to enhance their responsible research approach where practical and reasonable.

The good research resource hub can be used as a resource to support development of responsible research.


Successful projects will be expected to engage with NERC head office throughout the project.

Successful applicants will be required to report research outcomes via the NERC biannual reporting mechanisms (once during and once following) the project.


Successful pilot projects will be funded via a one-off payment. Lead institutions must invoice NERC for the cost of the project by 14 January 2022 to ensure payment. Lead institutions will be responsible for distributing the finance to other organisations involved where necessary.

It is important to highlight that any UK research organisation awarded a grant is responsible for the conduct and administration of that grant. It is accountable for the effective use of public funds and must therefore ensure that all grant monies are subject to proper financial management processes. It is the research organisation’s responsibility to ensure that expenditure on collaborations in the UK and abroad is subject to robust controls to ensure value for money and propriety and that all costs should be fully vouched and maintained for possible inspection and checks by, or on behalf of, UKRI.

Supporting documents and links

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