We are looking for centres that deliver challenge-led research, bringing together the right people, disciplines, institutions and infrastructure to respond to that challenge within a 5-year timeframe.
At least 50% of the proposed programme of research must fall within ESRC’s remit.
Challenges addressed through successful centres will be critical to the future of our society or the economy, or both. Research will address a gap that is not being addressed elsewhere that can be delivered within a 5-year timeframe. You should describe the challenge that your centre is responding to as part of your case for support and outline:
- what the challenge is and how it is currently affecting society or the economy, or both
- the geographic scale and demographic focus of the challenge
- why the research needs presented by the challenge are currently unmet
You must demonstrate that your centre will deliver high-quality, interdisciplinary, internationally-recognised research findings to address unanswered questions about a defined challenge to our society or economy, or both.
Applications are expected to set out their proposed programme of research and how they will drive forwards innovations in social science theory and the development and application of novel research methods.
Applicants should justify their proposed geography, whether local, national or international. Where research focuses on a geographically defined community, wider scale up and applicability must be demonstrated.
You must demonstrate that your centre will deliver significant economic and societal impact, demonstrating that the centre is responding to its specified challenge.
Impact should be a major consideration throughout the scoping of a proposal, and during and beyond the lifetime of a centre.
Impact should be multisectoral, with evidence of user engagement from inception throughout all stages of the planned timeframe for the award.
Centres should consider other ESRC investments in terms of adding value to their centres, for example maximising opportunities through Impact Acceleration Accounts.
You must include a logic model in your case for support demonstrating the changes the centre will bring about to respond to the challenge, and how and why your programme of research will bring about those changes.
Further resources to support the development of a logic model can be found under ‘Supporting documents’ in the ‘Additional information’ section.
You must demonstrate that your centre will deliver the resources needed to become a centre of excellence that adds value to the wider community. This includes developing the people, producing the data and creating the infrastructure needed to respond to their specified challenge.
Career and skills development
You should clearly articulate your plans for career development.
UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is a signatory to the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, and the Technician Commitment. Through these UKRI commits to support the professional and career development of researchers and technicians through its funding opportunities. You are encouraged to consider both leadership development and capacity building in your plans.
Leadership development skills should be considered at all career stages to equip researchers in the centre with the leadership skills needed to be able to design, lead and deliver large and complex or interdisciplinary projects and teams.
Research leadership should go beyond project management to include a capacity to enthuse, ignite and sustain an intellectual vision that is inclusive, flexible and open to challenge. The ESRC-commissioned report ‘Fit for the future: research leadership matters’ gives insight into the skills related to research leadership at different career stages and some preliminary suggestions for how those skills might be supported across the career life-course.
You should also demonstrate how you plan to build capacity. For example through the development of both academic and non-academic skills for research staff and technicians at all career levels, from PHD students to early and mid-career academics to established professors.
Up to 3 associated studentships may also be included in this application, for those Doctoral Training Partnerships eligible to receive studentships from 2024.
Centres should maximise the use of relevant existing data resources in the first instance, as well as (where appropriate) producing data that responds to their proposed challenge and is of value to the wider community.
Data collection and management should be in accordance with the ESRC research data policy.
ESRC funds a range of data infrastructures that are available and free to use for all bona fide researchers (subject to appropriate data sharing considerations). Data collections include:
These all cover a wide range of topics.
Data services enabling data access, discovery, user support and training include:
Management and structure
You should consider the structure of your proposed centre to ensure it can successfully deliver the objectives of the funding opportunity, whether through a consortium approach or single institution.
Partnerships with non-higher education institutions across government, industry and civil society are encouraged where appropriate.
International collaboration is also encouraged to:
- develop international datasets
- promote knowledge exchange and international impact
- enhance social science conceptual development on an international scale
You must include a brief management plan in your case for support, demonstrating:
- how you will provide leadership across the collaborators
- how the management of the centre and its activities will be carried out, including details of project management and administration resource
You should also include details of any advisory group that will be appointed to oversee the development of the centre.
You are also expected to indicate your plans for monitoring your progress against your logic model, and any plans for self-evaluation throughout the lifetime of your award.
All successful ESRC centres will be allocated an ESRC investment manager who will work with their centre to agree a monitoring and evaluation plan in the starting phase of the award.
We will be looking for evidence of long-term strategic and financial institutional commitment to the proposed centre, above the required 20% (as ESRC funds at 80% FEC). This should be through the provision of grant-associated parallel activities. Examples include but are not limited to:
- summer schools
- refurbishment of facilities for the centre
- provision of equipment
- new lectureships
Outline proposals must include an institutional letter of support from the pro-vice chancellor of research (or equivalent role) from the lead organisation that confirms the research organisation’s commitment to the centre application.
If the application is from an existing ESRC centre then this should be noted in the letter of support.
You must ensure that the activities and research of the centre will be carried out to a high ethical standard.
You must clearly state how any potential ethical, safeguarding and health and safety issues have been considered and will be addressed, ensuring that all necessary ethical approval is in place and all risks are minimised before the project commences.
All proposals must comply with the ESRC framework for research ethics.
Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)
Promoting EDI is an integral part of UKRI’s vision to deliver new knowledge and an enriched, healthier, more sustainable and resilient society and culture, and to contribute to a more prosperous economy.
You are expected to demonstrate throughout your proposal how you will consider EDI during the centre’s lifetime.
UKRI recognises that we must embed environmental sustainability in everything we do.
You are expected to consider the environmental impact of your centre’s activities and to put in place actions that encourage sustainability and mitigate any risk of environmental harm.