The EPSRC digital economy theme is seeking high-quality multidisciplinary, sociotechnical and co-created projects aimed at building activities in the equitable digital society priority area.
Projects should explore human-centred, transformational digital technologies and services to achieve an equitable digital society. Projects should not, however, solely explore digital equitability without generating novel technical outputs. Proposals addressing the breadth of the priority area are welcomed.
This opportunity is funded by the EPSRC digital economy theme, which supports research to rapidly realise the transformational impact of digital technologies on aspects of:
- community life
- cultural experiences
- future society
- the economy.
This call aims to support novel, adventurous multidisciplinary, sociotechnical and co-created research to create an equitable digital society.
All research should be grounded in an understanding of:
- human-centred design of digital technologies
- equity, fairness, inclusivity, and barriers to equitability in the digital economy
- the nature of inclusion in digital environments
- the nuanced experience of marginalised groups online
- the intersectional effects of the digital economy on people’s welfare.
Proposals spanning the breadth of the equitable digital society priority area are welcomed. Potential research topics could include, but are not limited to:
- novel, transparent and accountable digital tools, processes and methods for the protection of citizens’ rights and for individuals to make informed decisions (for example, related to financial and legal matters)
- creation of digital tools, processes and methods to enhance equity
- one or more areas relating to EDI in the digital economy, for example:
- understanding and addressing harmful algorithmic biases, including their social origins
- facilitating inclusion and agency through design of usable and accessible digital applications and services
- understanding the digital needs of disenfranchised communities and developing accessible tools to allow their integration into the digital economy
- understanding future digital literacy needs, and developing tools for education and professional development to equip communities with the skills to thrive in the digital economy
- alternatives to the current designs of digital spaces and data economic models, and blueprints for next generation digital platforms and services (for example, financial services).
There is scope for projects with an international dimension. One of the key assessment criteria for proposals is ‘national importance’. The purpose of the national importance assessment criteria is to encourage applicants to articulate why it’s important for their research to be supported by the UK taxpayer so that the UK remains internationally competitive. As long as this is clearly articulated, projects are welcome to incorporate an international dimension or a comparative element between the UK and other countries.
At its core, the equitable digital society priority area and the wider digital economy theme is about improving people’s lives.
Projects should seek to benefit marginalised and vulnerable people and groups, clearly identify citizens’ needs, and explain how these will be addressed as an outcome of the research.
Projects should partner with the third sector, as well as (where relevant) industry, government and other organisations to define and achieve a shared vision for an equitable digital society.
Research undertaken must be interdisciplinary and sociotechnical in nature, and include researchers from across a range of disciplines, balanced across the technical and social sciences, and the humanities.
Projects are expected to:
- have a multidisciplinary team of researchers from at least two disciplines across the EPSRC, ESRC and AHRC portfolio
- be at least 50% within EPSRC’s remit to qualify for funding.
- include at least one early-career researcher at lecturer level as principal or co-investigator, and at least one researcher co-investigator at postdoctoral level, clearly justifying their roles on the team
- demonstrate a commitment to EDI in both the project team and the work undertaken
- embed responsible innovation throughout the project, ensuring research is carried out in a sustainable, equitable and ethical way, and promotes sustainable, equitable and ethical outcomes
- involve a clear stakeholder and meaningful community engagement element, and integrate co-creation into the heart of the research methodology (for example, incorporating adequately resourced participatory research methods)
- provide a clear plan for achieving sustained benefits to society beyond the lifetime of the grant, for example by incorporating a separate phase of the project focusing exclusively on sustaining impacts after the completion of the initial research phase, with appropriate time and resources allocated for this
- demonstrate a clear methodological approach
- involve one or more third sector partners
- allocate budget for engagement and networking with the cohort of projects funded through this call, and provide a comprehensive plan for these activities.
Types of project that would not be eligible for this call are:
- projects solely addressing the technological design of digital technologies and services, with no stakeholder engagement
- projects solely exploring digital equitability, without generating novel technical outputs.
Commitment to sustainable, equitable and responsible research practices
Projects are required to:
- demonstrate a commitment to integrating EDI into their programme of work
- present a plan for responsible research and innovation, in your proposal please refer to the AREA framework (EPSRC).
Projects will be expected to provide plans for ensuring the sustainability of the research impacts beyond the lifetime of the grant.
Projects should consider how the work undertaken can be undertaken in an environmentally sustainable way, referencing any actions undertaken to ensure taken to reduce the potential environmental impacts of the project.
Applicants are encouraged to think creatively about their research methodologies, and consider incorporating elements such as:
- knowledge exchange
- public engagement
- participatory research methods
- “research in the wild” (research which identifies a genuine user need, exposes potential research ideas to beneficiaries and co-creates solutions with users).
Projects are expected to involve project partners from third sector organisations, and (if relevant) industrial or government partners.
Charity partners are welcomed. An organisation or individual can act as both a project partner and subcontractor, however this must be fully justified and will be subject to peer review. Please refer to ‘Who can apply’ section for further detail.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is interested in the ‘equitable digital society’ initiative and is open to having discussions with academics on their approaches and potential collaborations.
If interested, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com for further information.
Funding will support five to 10 interdisciplinary, sociotechnical, co-designed projects addressing research to create an equitable digital society. Successful proposals will be funded at 80% FEC.
Projects may be of any duration.
Proposals should give due consideration to ensuring sustainability of research impacts and ongoing community benefits after the completion of the grant.
Equipment over £10,000 in value (inclusive of VAT) is not available through this call. Smaller items of equipment (individually under £10,000) should be in the Directly Incurred – Other Costs heading.
For more information, please see EPSRC equipment funding guidance.
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:
- ethical dilemmas
- 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 EPSRC Framework for Responsible Innovation.
Applicants should consider responsible innovation throughout the research project, and include, for example, details of anticipatory work and stakeholder inclusion plans in the proposal.