Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Becoming the programme director for Enabling a Responsible AI Ecosystem

Apply for funding to become the programme director for Enabling a Responsible AI Ecosystem in collaboration with the Ada Lovelace Institute.

You must:

  • be based at a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)-eligible research organisation
  • have experience working across sectors and at the intersection of humanities, social science and science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) disciplines in relation to artificial intelligence (AI) and data-driven technologies.

Your proposal must involve the Ada Lovelace Institute as the programme’s collaborating partner.

£3.5 million is available to deliver your programme over three years. AHRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Who can apply

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for UKRI funding. That organisation will be responsible for submitting the grant application to UKRI.

We welcome applications from individuals with a strong track record of post-doctoral research working in any discipline, including those whose home discipline is outside of the AHRC’s usual remit. However, standard AHRC eligibility rules apply.

Check if you and your organisation are eligible for funding.

The primary classification of your application must be at least 50% within the AHRC’s remit.

Time commitment

We expect the programme director’s time commitment to be at least 0.6 full time equivalent.

We will accept applications involving two co-applicants in a proposed principal investigator job share.

Job share applications should demonstrate a clear rationale and explanation of how work will be managed between the two people if they were to be successful. Co-applicants do not need to be in an existing job share relationship to apply on this basis.

What we're looking for

We want the development and deployment of AI and related data-driven technologies to be responsible, ethical, and accountable by default.

This means that the regulations, standards and policies that govern them need to incentivise these practices in ways that:

  • foster innovation
  • deliver benefit to UK plc and its publics.

AHRC is establishing a new collaborative programme, Enabling a Responsible AI Ecosystem, and is seeking a leader to drive the delivery of this ambition.

About you

AHRC is looking for a programme director to lead Enabling a Responsible AI Ecosystem.

You and your team will work closely with the Ada Lovelace Institute as the collaborating partner. You will also work with AHRC and other stakeholders, to drive, oversee and coordinate the delivery of this new collaborative programme.

You will need to be able to demonstrate considerable strengths and expertise at the intersection of humanities, social science, and STEM disciplines in relation to AI and data-driven technologies.

You must also have experience working across sectors to enhance and advance research translation and impact.

Collaborative partnership

The programme will be delivered with the collaborating partner, the Ada Lovelace Institute, and represents a strategic investment that will:

  • bring together new research communities
  • identify, prioritise, and address existing and emerging challenges
  • build sustained engagement and collaboration in relation to AI and data-driven technologies.

The role of the programme director

As the programme director, you will be the public face of the programme.

You will provide the vision for how the UK’s research strengths in responsible AI can support an environment in which responsible and ethical approaches to AI enable innovation, stimulate economic growth and deliver wider public benefit.

You will be positioned to effectively engage with and influence policy, industry, civil society and others to realise the desired outcomes.

We expect programme director applicants to establish a team with complementary expertise, including the Ada Lovelace Institute.

Your team will:

  • provide intellectual and strategic leadership, visibility and clarity of focus across the programme, with a focus on adding value to the existing landscape
  • provide thought leadership for the AHRC and UKRI on topics related to responsible AI
  • identify and fill gaps in knowledge and skills necessary to further develop the AI ecosystem
  • coordinate the programme, ensuring coherence across core activities as well as work delivered by partners and through future programme funding opportunities
  • lead programme-level engagement with policy and industry stakeholders, drawing on their expertise to define programme priorities that align with benefits
  • lead engagement with different, sometimes disparate, intellectual and professional communities and support the establishment of new projects and partnerships at the interfaces between them
  • energise and cultivate the research base, engaging with different, sometimes disparate, intellectual and professional communities to support diverse and well-informed cohorts of prospective applicants to future funding opportunities
  • conduct interventions grounded in research, engagement, and knowledge exchange to support the AI ecosystem
  • ensure effective and timely delivery of the programme
  • support AHRC with the development, delivery, and evaluation of programme opportunities
  • support AHRC with the effective control of programme delivery
  • work with AHRC on securing a longer-term funding horizon and ensuring sustainability of programme outcomes.

Programme director and team specification

AHRC recognises the challenges of identifying a single candidate with all of the skills, knowledge and experience required to direct complex and multifaceted programmes.

While we expect the programme director to bring a base-level of competency across all of the criteria below, we also anticipate that they will establish a team possessing complementary expertise to include the Ada Lovelace Institute.

Collectively the core team should meet this specification.


You and your proposed team will need to demonstrate:

  • credibility at the intersection of humanities, social science and STEM disciplines in relation to AI and data-driven technologies
  • strategic thinking with a clear vision for the programme and the ability to work with and develop thinking across a range of stakeholders
  • a track record of delivering complex programmes to time and budget
    an in-depth knowledge of the current landscape of AI ethics research, policy and industry practices and perspectives
  • a track record of research excellence in any subject, not limited to the arts and humanities
  • an understanding of the wider research and development funding landscape related to AI, including government allocated funds
  • an aptitude for identifying, exploring and developing broad ideas and opportunities that a wide range of researchers and other stakeholders can respond to, particularly but not exclusively funding opportunities
  • excellent leadership skills, including the ability to coordinate a team and the ability to offer broader leadership across the programme.

Communication and engagement

Collectively, you and the team you put together will also need to demonstrate:

  • strong communication skills, including the ability to engage with a range of different audiences within and beyond academia, including policymakers
  • that you have, or are capable of cultivating, relevant productive networks that support collaboration across academia, public, private and third sector
  • a proven ability to develop and manage effective stakeholder relationships and work with people across all backgrounds, levels, sectors and disciplines
  • the ability to guide and inspire others, drawing together a cohort of award holders arising from future funding opportunities to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and expertise and build a network working towards a common purpose
  • the ability to assemble key information across disciplines to build a compelling narrative and communicate this effectively to the right stakeholders at the right time.

Coordination and delivery

You should have:

  • a realistic appreciation of what can be achieved over the timescale, including strategies for overcoming key barriers and management of risks
  • experience of project management through the successful delivery of multifaceted programmes or projects, to budget and completing all reporting requirements
  • a clear understanding of how existing responsibilities and activities will be managed during the period of the directorship
  • familiarity with UKRI and AHRC’s mission and strategy and with the broader funding and policy landscape
  • experience advising and influencing stakeholders and policymakers.

The role of the Ada Lovelace Institute

Since 2019 the Ada Lovelace Institute has been providing strategic advice and expertise to AHRC about how the emerging AI ethics field can be best supported through effective targeting of research funding.

Activities have included co-funding the JUST-AI network and associated visiting fellowships, as well as a series of exploratory research projects.

In recognition of the Ada Lovelace Institute’s unique, independent position in the UK landscape and the alignment between the Ada Lovelace Institute strategy 2021 to 2024 (PDF,424KB) and the AHRC’s programme objectives, the programme will include core activities co-designed and co-delivered by the programme director and the Ada Lovelace Institute.

The Ada Lovelace Institute will work with the programme director and team to:

  • define and shape the overall programme, including priority themes, topics and sectors
  • define and deliver ecosystem support activities, including research synthesis and project delivery
  • define the scope and content of programme opportunities
  • create opportunities for convening and influencing policy and practice
    satisfy other aspects of the programme’s execution as agreed with the successful programme director.

Programme ambition

Our vision is to create a virtuous circle which connects policy and practice through collaborative research, incentivising responsible and ethical innovations in the development, deployment and use of AI and data-driven technologies to increase public understanding, trust and acceptance.

Through programme activities we will realise the ambition of an AI ecosystem that supports the UK’s transition to an AI-enabled economy, resulting in growth, prosperity and mutual benefit for sectors and publics.

This programme addresses the AHRC vision objective, ‘contemporary challenges, and strategic delivery plan priority, interdisciplinary responses to national priorities’.

The National AI Strategy notes key differences between AI technologies and other technologies and digital advancements in three areas:

  • regulation, fairness and transparency
  • infrastructure and systems
  • skills and commercialisation.

The programme objectives have been developed to align with the recommendations of the National AI Strategy and we anticipate that they will specifically support actions emerging from the Office for Artificial Intelligence’s forthcoming white paper.

Expected programme outcomes

By the end of the funding period, we expect the programme to have enabled a step change in how responsible and ethical approaches to AI and data-driven technologies are perceived.

We also expect the programme to have enabled a step change in how they are applied to positively transform commercial, business-led, and public-facing endeavours.

This will result in:

  • a larger and more diverse community with knowledge and understanding of responsible and ethical approaches to AI and data-driven technologies and the skills necessary to apply them in multidisciplinary and multisectoral contexts
  • new capabilities being developed at the interface between AI and policy to support AI governance and accountability, including but not limited to regulation and standards
  • AI regulation, standards and governance mechanisms that support and incentivise responsible and ethical innovation
  • strategies and mechanisms for promoting, supporting and incentivising self-regulation across the AI lifecycle, recognising that different approaches may be more or less effective in different contexts
  • an increase in public understanding, trust and acceptance of AI and data-driven technologies as a result of greater confidence in how they are developed, deployed, used and governed
  • an increase in adoption and diffusion of responsibly developed and deployed AI and data-driven technologies, driven by consumer acceptance, demand and uptake.

Your proposal should detail your vision for achieving these outcomes with the available resource over the funding period and how you intend to track and measure progress.

Programme delivery

Programme activities will harness the UK’s existing strengths across the disciplinary and sectoral landscape in responsible AI, from humanities, arts and social sciences, through to engineering and computer science.

They will:

  • support cutting-edge research, bringing fresh perspectives to inform the regulations, standards and policies that govern AI and related data-driven technologies
  • ensure that responsible approaches are reflected in industry practices around their design, development, deployment and on-going audit.

Working with the Ada Lovelace Institute, you will be responsible for delivering activities that support the AI ecosystem.

These activities should be focused on catalysing and convening to:

  • foster partnerships
  • inform policy and practice
  • surface novel or emerging ethical issues
  • create space for knowledge exchange and engagement.

It will be up to the successful programme director and team to define priorities and to design appropriate mechanisms for delivering activities either directly, with or through the Ada Lovelace Institute or other partners.

This might include:

  • convening diverse communities to foster successful collaborative partnerships
  • responding to consultations and inquiries
  • carrying out deep dives and evidence synthesis
  • developing resources to support training and capacity building
  • engaging with or consulting with stakeholders, including the public
  • building international connections
  • communicating about the programme.

This list is illustrative, not exhaustive.

AHRC encourages creativity and innovation in the delivery of ecosystem support and will consider any activities that applicants can demonstrate will add value to the wider UK landscape and further the impact and reach of the programme.

This is the first of several programme funding opportunities anticipated over the coming three years.

AHRC will hold additional budget for:

  • around 20 collaborative research fellowships, undertaken by academic researchers working in partnership with at least one non-academic organisation (industry, public sector, third sector or civil society) to broaden the available research evidence on key issues in the ethics and responsible innovation agenda
  • around five ethical AI demonstrator projects, de-risking the integration of ethics researchers into technical teams, to co-develop and co-deliver a larger-scale project funded by another part of UKRI or another agency.

Funding opportunities for these activities will be shaped by you as the programme director in collaboration with the Ada Lovelace Institute and AHRC.

Reporting framework and governance

You will be required to produce a delivery plan within the first three months of the start of your award. This will include working with AHRC to develop a logic model that will form the basis of the annual reporting framework.

It is expected that the programme director will establish an advisory group comprising suitable expertise to support the programme’s development.

About your proposal

The Ada Lovelace Institute is the collaborating partner on the programme and must be included in all programme director proposals as a project partner.

The term ‘collaborating partner’ reflects the Ada Lovelace Institute’s fundamental role in the programme, recognising the organisation’s unique independent position in the landscape.

Proposals can also include:

  • eligible international co-investigators
  • co-investigators from UK business, policy or civil society
  • eligible public sector research establishments and independent research organisations as project partners.

What your proposal must demonstrate

We are looking for proposals that clearly convey the strengths you possess and how they will be applied to deliver the programme’s ambition.

Specifically, you should detail:

  • how you and your proposed team meet the ‘programme director and team specification’ set out above. You should provide proposed team and advisory structures that will enable you to deliver the programme’s objectives effectively
  • how you will manage a successful partnership with the Ada Lovelace Institute set out in a ‘management and coordination’ section within your case for support
  • how your proposal aligns with or complements the Ada Lovelace Institute 2021 to 2024 Strategy set out in a ‘strategy and research context’ section within your case for support
  • your vision for achieving the programme’s outcomes, including proposals for activities that you and your team will deliver directly and how you will provide coherence to activities ultimately delivered by others. As part of this vision, we expect to see clear plans for how you will:
    • define and deliver the programme in line with the principles of managing public money, monitoring and measuring progress
    • engage with stakeholders, including regulatory bodies, standards organisations, policymakers, industry (especially small and medium sized enterprises and micros), and the public
    • work across and reconcile the varied goals and paces of different sectoral actors
    • develop the pipeline of people engaged in and practicing responsible AI, including re-orientation of more researchers at all career stages towards this work
    • ensure the inclusivity of the programme, with a particular emphasis on maximising the programme’s diversity of contributing voices and equality of access
    • build public understanding and trust where it is justified.

What we will fund

The available programme director budget is £3.5 million over three years.

AHRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Allowed costs include:

  • directly incurred costs: those explicitly identifiable as arising from the conduct of the project, for example:
    • staff
    • travel and subsistence
    • equipment costing up to £10,000
  • directly allocated costs: resources used by a project that are shared by other activities, for example:
    • investigators
    • estates
    • support staff
  • indirect costs: non-specific costs charged across all projects, for example:
    • research organisation administration
    • library services
  • exceptions: this includes directly incurred costs that will be funded at 100% full economic cost.

For detailed descriptions of these costs see page 47 of the AHRC research funding guide.

Your grant will include a minimum of £288,000 per year ringfenced for the Ada Lovelace Institute as ‘exceptions’.

Working with AHRC

As programme director, you will be required to work closely with AHRC and will be expected to meet regularly with staff responsible for the programme. AHRC will convene regular meetings with you to ensure a coordinated strategy and plan to deliver the wider programme.

Programme start date

The start date of your proposal must be no later than 14 November 2022.

All team members named in your proposal must be available to begin their roles on the start date. This may be at a reduced time commitment for up to three months.

Additional team members may be recruited in due course.

Your work with AHRC will be governed by terms of reference that now apply to all programme director roles, as well as the usual UKRI grant terms and conditions.

How to apply

We recommend that you read the supporting documents in the ‘additional info’ section below before applying.

Forming the partnership with the Ada Lovelace Institute

This funding opportunity requires all applications to involve the Ada Lovelace Institute as the collaborating partner. Only proposals submitted with a letter of support from the Ada Lovelace Institute will be accepted.

The process for engaging with the Ada Lovelace Institute regarding a potential collaborative partnership includes a light-touch expression of interest process and is outlined in the ‘expression of interest process’ document which you can download from the ‘additional info’ section.

We encourage you to submit your expression of interest form using the link above as soon as possible.

All expressions of interest must be received by 16:00 on 15 June 2022.

Writing your full proposal

A full proposal is required for this funding opportunity.

Your full proposal must consist of:

  • a case for support (up to seven sides of A4) detailing how you meet the specification and will deliver the programme objectives
  • a justification of resources (up to two sides of A4) detailing how you will allocate funds
  • a work plan (up to two sides of A4) detailing your timeline and key milestones
  • narrative curriculum vitae (CV) for all principal investigators, co-investigators and any named research assistants (up to two sides of A4 per CV)
  • a letter of support from your organisation
  • letters of support from the Ada Lovelace Institute as the collaborating partner and any other project partner
  • ethical information
  • a data management plan.

In your case for support, justification of resources and work plan, you should consider and address the assessment criteria set out in the ‘how we will assess your application’ section below.

How to apply

All expressions of interest must be received by 16:00 on 15 June 2022. This will allow you to complete the process of forming the partnership with the Ada Lovelace Institute.

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

Applying using Je-S

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

When applying, select ‘new document’ then:

  • council: AHRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: large grant
  • call/type/mode: Responsible AI director 26 July 2022.

Once you have completed your application, make sure you ‘submit document’. This will send your application to your host organisation’s administration.

You can find advice on completing your application in the Je-S handbook.

Your host organisation will also be able to provide advice and guidance on completing your application.

Your host organisation’s administration is required to complete the submission process. You should allow sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process between submitting your proposal to them and the funding opportunity closing date.

AHRC must receive your application by 16:00 on 26 July 2022.

You will not be able to apply after this time.

You are encouraged to complete the optional equality, diversity and inclusion section of the application in Je-S, in order to support AHRC’s evaluation of the programme.

Read the AHRC research funding guide for general guidance on these materials and the entire application process.

How we will assess your application

Applications will be subject to a two-stage assessment process:

  • review and shortlist by a panel of experts
  • interview by a subgroup of the panel.

A representative from the Ada Lovelace Institute will participate in the panel.

Assessment criteria

Proposals will be assessed based on:

  • the degree to which the proposed activities are of enduring benefit in building a responsible AI ecosystem in the UK
  • the degree to which the programme director or directors and team meets the person specification detailed in ‘what we’re looking for’ section
  • the degree to which the case for support, justification of resources and work plan maximise the opportunities provided through the collaborating partner, the Ada Lovelace Institute
  • the quality of your strategy for working across academia, industry, and policy
  • how the proposed activities will help overcome key gaps or barriers
  • how the programme will build public understanding and trust of AI technologies, where this is justified
  • the degree to which the proposed programme of activities seems likely to develop the pipeline of researchers engaged in responsible AI
  • the quality of your plans for maximising the programme’s diversity of contributing voices and equality of access
  • the clarity of aims and objectives and coherence as a package of work, including a vision for providing coherence across the wider programme
  • the appropriateness and feasibility of the proposed approach
  • whether the skills and disciplines involved are appropriate to the aims and objectives
  • project management, risk mitigation and decision-making approaches, community consultation and the inclusion of stakeholders
  • value for money and potential for impact.

Contact details

Ask about this funding opportunity

AHRC AI and design team


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Additional info

Defining AI

For the purposes of this funding opportunity, we take an expansive view of what counts as AI, including those computational systems that aim to reproduce or surpass human abilities via:

  • learning and adaptation
  • sensory understanding and interaction
  • reasoning and planning
  • search and optimisation
  • autonomy and creativity.

Defining the AI ecosystem

For the purposes of this funding opportunity, the AI ecosystem refers to those researching, developing, working with or using AI technologies across a number of areas, such as:

  • research and innovation
  • skills
  • data, infrastructure and public trust
  • national, cross-sector adoption.

This definition draws upon the AI Council’s AI roadmap.

Background to the programme

The National AI Strategy, launched in September 2021, sets out three pillars of activity that will support delivery of the outcomes and impacts required to achieve the vision for the UK to remain an AI and science superpower fit for the next decade.

The pillars are:

  1. investing in the long-term needs of the AI ecosystem
  2. ensuring AI benefits all sectors and regions
  3. governing AI effectively.

As a long-term action, pillar one commits to the launch of a UKRI-led national AI research and innovation programme with five key objectives:

  • discovering and developing transformative new AI technologies: leading the world in the development of frontier AI and the key technical capabilities to develop responsible and trustworthy AI
  • maximising the creativity and adventure of researchers and innovators: building on the UK’s strengths and developing strategic advantage through a diverse range of AI technologies
  • building new research and innovation capacity to deliver the ideas, technologies, and workforce of the future: recruiting and retaining AI leaders, supporting the development of new collaborative AI ecosystems and developing collaborative and multidisciplinary teams
  • connecting across the UK AI research and innovation ecosystem: building on the success of the Alan Turing Institute as the National Centre for AI and Data Science, and building collaborative partnerships nationally and regionally between and across sectors between diverse groups of AI research and innovation stakeholders
  • supporting the UK’s AI sector and the adoption of AI: connecting research and innovation and supporting AI adoption in the private sector.

It notes key differences between AI technologies and other tech and digital advancements in four areas:

  • regulation
  • fairness and transparency
  • infrastructure and systems
  • skills and commercialisation.

This reflects the findings of the UKRI AI review, transforming our world with AI, which highlighted ‘delivering responsible AI’ as central to UKRI’s approach, and noted the interdisciplinary collaboration required to achieve it.

The Enabling a Responsible AI Ecosystem programme aligns with the National AI Strategy, delivering against the pillars ‘investing in the long-term needs of the AI ecosystem’ and ‘governing AI effectively’:

  • the Build Back Better plan for growth and UK Innovation Strategy, which recognise the need to develop a diverse and inclusive pipeline of AI professionals with the capacity to supercharge innovation
  • the integrated review, to find new paths for UK excellence in AI to deliver prosperity and security at home and abroad and to shape the open international order of the future
  • the National Data Strategy, aligning visions to harness the power of responsible and ethical data use to boost productivity, stimulate the emergence of new businesses and jobs, improve public services, support a fairer society and drive scientific discovery
  • the forthcoming update to the National Cyber Strategy, to continue the drive for securing emerging technologies and build security into the development of AI
  • the forthcoming digital strategy, which will build on Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s ten tech priorities to further the UK’s ambitions in the digital sector.

Programme scope

Enabling a Responsible AI Ecosystem will include four pillars of activity:

  • the appointment of a programme director (supported by this grant and in partnership with the Ada Lovelace Institute), providing intellectual and strategic leadership, visibility and clarity of focus
  • ecosystem support (supported by this grant and in partnership with the Ada Lovelace Institute), identifying and filling gaps in knowledge and skills to further develop the impact and reach of the programme
  • grants for collaborative research fellowships (delivered by future funding opportunities), seeking to broaden the available research evidence on key issues in the ethics and responsible innovation agenda
  • funding for ethical AI demonstrators (delivered by future funding opportunities), embedding ethical and responsible approaches at the earliest stages of the AI research and development pipeline to positively transform industry practices.

Supporting documents

Expression of interest form

Expression of interest process (PDF, 137KB)

Enabling a Responsible AI Ecosystem virtual information session slides (Powerpoint, 4MB)

Ada Lovelace Institute background and role in the AI ecosystem programme (PDF, 237KB)

Equality impact assessment (PDF, 282KB)

Frequently asked questions (PDF, 190KB)

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