Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: ESRC policy fellowships 2021

Apply to spend up to 18 months collaborating with a UK or devolved government host organisation.

You will:

  • co-design research with the host organisation to inform policy on a priority policy area
  • help improve the exchange of knowledge between policy and academic institutions.

Depending on the fellowship, you can be either a researcher in the economic and social sciences or in the arts and humanities.

You must:

  • be based at an organisation eligible for UKRI funding
  • have a PhD or equivalent experience.

The full economic cost of the fellowship is £135,000. We will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

This fellowship is available on either a full-time or part-time basis.

Who can apply

This opportunity is open to early to mid-career academics who hold a PhD or equivalent research experience. As well as relevant subject matter or methodological expertise, experience of working in a policy and knowledge exchange context is beneficial. You cannot apply if you hold a professorship.

Please see the full list of specific fellowship opportunities in ‘additional information’.

These include full details on policy areas and relevant disciplines as well as eligibility and other requirements for each fellowship, including security clearance for some opportunities. You must ensure that you are able to meet these requirements when submitting an application.

Person specification

You must:

  • be an economic or social science-focused researcher
    • arts and humanities researchers are also eligible to apply for the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) fellowships only
  • be based at an eligible UKRI research organisation
  • hold a PhD or equivalent research experience
  • be an early to mid-career researcher
  • meet any additional eligibility criteria for the specific fellowship opportunity you are applying for (see ‘additional information’)
  • have subject matter and analytical expertise and skills relevant to the specific fellowship you are applying for (see ‘additional information’)
  • be able to work effectively at pace to deliver expected outcomes, including working as part of a team on shared goals
  • have excellent written and verbal communication skills, with the ability to translate complex information into meaningful narrative that is accessible to a non-academic audience.

In addition, we welcome applications from individuals who can demonstrate:

  • excellent stakeholder engagement and collaboration skills
  • insight into working in a governmental context
  • the ability to design and lead on knowledge exchange activity between research, policy and funder communities

Opportunity requirements

All fellows will be required to:

  • sign a secondment agreement between ESRC (and AHRC for FCDO), the government host (the partner) and the relevant research organisation (the employer).
  • meet the security checks and other clearance and declaration of interest processes required by the host (see specific opportunity descriptions)
  • observe the provisions of the Civil Service Code (GOV.UK) and the Official Secrets Act 1989
  • complete a ‘conflict of interest’ form before being appointed. It is a condition of the secondment that the secondee ensures to the best of their ability that in the course of their duties for the department or government there will be no conflict of interest or perception of such that will or may cause either embarrassment to, or difficulties for, the employer or the department.

Attendance and location requirements are set out in the specific descriptions of each opportunity in ‘additional information’.

In addition, fellows will be expected to undertake and travel for knowledge exchange activities and will be asked to attend events with the wider ESRC policy fellow cohort. Not all these activities can be planned in advance of starting the fellowship. By applying to the fellowship, you are acknowledging and agreeing to this possibility of additional travel.

The applicant’s research organisation must:

  • commit to supporting any additional costs agreed as part of the inception phase through an appropriate full economic cost contribution (see ‘what we’re looking for’)
  • provide mentorship support for early career researchers, including but not limited to generic project development, engagement and dissemination support, and (if necessary) project-specific thematic, methodological or data support (see ‘what we’re looking for’).

What we're looking for

Apply for funding to spend up to 18 months as an ESRC Policy Fellow, collaborating with a UK or devolved government host.

You will:

  • provide research and expert advice on the host’s policy priority areas, including co-designing and delivering research projects and activities
  • engage in knowledge exchange (KE) activities across government and academia
  • join a cohort of fellows to build longer-term networks across research and policy

This first opportunity of a new ESRC policy fellowship scheme offers an exciting opportunity to develop your career and enhance your understanding of applying research in government contexts.

Fellows will be uniquely positioned to build connections between the policymaking and research communities, as well as to generate and share new knowledge and insights on effective policy collaboration with the wider research community and with funders of this opportunity including ESRC and the AHRC.


Addressing the challenges and opportunities facing citizens, society and the economy requires an integrated, thriving and inclusive research-policy system that can act as a catalyst for innovation, social and institutional change. Central in this is enabling researchers and policy-makers to collaborate and build relationships that are rich, deep and can be sustained.

Opportunities that help people move between research and policy communities to share and develop their knowledge and capabilities are a key mechanism to help develop this collaborative, connected system.

ESRC, in partnership with a range of government hosts and research funders, wishes to fund a cohort of policy fellows to provide research and expert advice on the host’s policy priority areas, and to support wider knowledge exchange between government and academia.

Fellowships are available with:

  • Cabinet Office – on evaluation, and on national security
  • Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) – on net zero
  • Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) – on net zero and on waste
  • Department for Transport (DfT) – on transport use, on connectivity and levelling up, and on decarbonisation
  • Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) (co-funded with AHRC) – on geographic regions, on disinformation, on international trade law, on national security and on non-proliferation
  • Home Office – on cyber crime and on economic crime
  • Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) – on climate change policy
  • Ministry of Justice (MoJ) – on experimentation and evaluation, and on evidence
  • the Scottish government – on health inequalities, on social care, and on equality data
  • the Welsh government – on sustainable futures, on environment and rural affairs, and on education.

Each fellowship opportunity focuses on a key policy priority area for the host, set out in detail in the attachments below. Fellowships cover a variety of topics and policy areas. These include COVID recovery, net zero, inequalities and levelling up, crime and justice, health and social care, national security and foreign policy. Some also have a specific methodological or disciplinary focus, such as evaluation and experimentation, data analysis, or behavioural science.

For full details about each fellowship available, see the documents in ‘additional information’.

These include full details on policy areas and relevant disciplines as well as eligibility and other requirements for each fellowship, including security clearance for some opportunities.

This high-profile initiative provides a route for you to bring your expertise to bear on critical policy challenges at the heart of government across the UK, as well as to generate new knowledge about effective collaboration that will shape your career as well as support wider change.

These fellowships are demanding and intellectually stimulating roles, providing an exciting opportunity to combine your specialist knowledge and research expertise with the opportunity to inform decision-makers at the heart of policymaking.

Each fellowship will last up to 18 months to cover a three-month inception phase for set up activity, followed by a 6 to 12-month placement with the host organisation, and concluding with an impact phase lasting up to three months.

Fellows will co-design projects and activities with their host and produce analysis to inform government decision-making across a range of policy priorities. The specific focus for each fellowship opportunity is set out in the attachments below.

If successful, during the inception stage of the fellowship, you will work with your host to refine the focus and priorities for your placement. Alongside these specific activities, during your placement you will also engage across the host organisation, building effective working relationships and supporting wider knowledge exchange with researchers. This will be supported through your embedded role within the host organisation, including line management support.

You will also be supported to network and collaborate with fellows in other government departments and to connect with relevant research communities, with dedicated time within the placement with the host reserved for activities that strengthen engagement between government and academia, and for engagement with the ESRC’s wider policy fellow cohort.

Fellows will also be supported for an additional period after the main placement of up to three months to complete agreed knowledge exchange, publication and impact activity.

Objectives and expectations of fellows

Fellows will:

  • scope and lead research-related activity with the host
  • work closely with hosts to ensure alignment of priorities and that analysis is as robust and useful as possible in driving decisions
  • provide advice and peer review to other aspects of the host’s work
  • support capability building within host in your area of expertise
  • strengthen engagement between government and academia through activities such as:
    • connecting with related UKRI and ESRC (and AHRC for FCDO), research portfolios, acting as a pipeline for knowledge exchange between them and government hosts
    • publishing outputs from analysis produced, subject to clearance processes
    • knowledge exchange activities with academic institutions and other analytical and policy teams within government
  • support hosts and funders of this opportunity in the evaluation of the fellowship programme and improvement of future schemes.

Benefits for fellows

As a successful fellow, your benefits will include:

  • undertake cutting edge research, further scientific knowledge and potentially access new and novel data
  • opportunity to inform decision-making on the most pressing policy problems of our time
  • a better understanding of government analysis, operations, policymaking, data usage, and priority areas for research
  • ability to build your network of policy and analytical professionals within government
  • opportunity to join a cohort of academic researchers across government working to address complex policy questions
  • potential to influence future policy-academia collaborations
  • opportunity for publication across policy and academia, subject to clearance processes.

During your placement you will have line management and support from the host organisation, and throughout your fellowship you will also regularly engage with and receive support from ESRC.

In addition, if you are an early career researcher you will benefit from funded mentorship support from a more senior researcher in your organisation.

Fellows will also be able to access funding for additional project-specific training or mentorship requirements identified during the inception phase.

Fellowship phases and milestones

Your fellowship award will last up to 18 months and cover:

  • inception phase for project set up, three months
  • placement with host, between six and 12 months
  • impact phase, up to three months.

Inception phase

The inception phase will commence between December 2021 and February 2022 (see specific fellowship for requirement). This will be used to co-produce your final fellowship scope with your host, other preliminary activity required to support this such as data access and accreditations, for induction into the cohort of policy fellows, and for security clearance.

Your expected time commitment during this period is up to 0.2 full-time equivalent (FTE). During this period, you will remain based at your home institution but will join in-person or virtual inception meetings with your host and ESRC or AHRC as required, subject to COVID-19 restrictions.

Through close collaboration with your host, you will:

  • develop full project or activity proposals for your main placement
  • prepare, submit applications for and receive the necessary level of security clearance. Please note that in some cases obtaining security clearance may take longer than the inception period, check specific opportunities for more detail on these requirements.

During this phase, once the final focus of the placement is agreed you will also be able to apply for up to £10,000 (full economic cost) in further funding to support additional placement-specific travel and subsistence costs, placement-specific mentorship and/or specific training requirements that were not included in your original application.

Placement with hosts

All fellows are expected to start the main placement with their host in spring 2022, once the project scope has been agreed and the opportunity requirements met (including security clearance). You can undertake this secondment full or part time (0.5 FTE minimum) for up to 12 months. Further details on time commitments and duration of the placement are included in the specific opportunity descriptions.

Line management and support will be provided by the host and each host will have their specific requirements in regards to place of work (see opportunity descriptions).

During this period, you will also be expected to take up opportunities for connection with ESRC and the wider cohort of fellows (and AHRC for FCDO fellows).

Knowledge exchange and impact

After the placement completes, you will return to your home institution, and will be supported for an additional period to maximise knowledge exchange and impact through agreed wider engagement and publication activity. You can apply for funding to cover a period of up to three months at up to 0.2 FTE maximum commitment, to undertake this activity.

Your plan for activities for this period will be further defined and agreed with your host and the ESRC (and AHRC for FCDO), during the first half of the fellowship and you will be able to apply for up to £5,000 (full economic cost) additional funding to support these activities. Further details will be shared with successful applicants.

During this period you will also be expected to take up opportunities for connection with ESRC and the wider cohort of fellows (and AHRC for FCDO fellows). After your fellowship award completes, you will join an alumni network to support ongoing opportunities for networking and knowledge exchange.

Outputs and reporting

You will be expected to produce outputs for academic and non-academic audiences based on your work as agreed during the inception phase.

Please note that in some cases published outputs will be subject to clearance by your host, but that all hosts are committed to supporting opportunities for fellows to publish as part of this fellowship.

In addition to standard ESRC reporting requirements, you may also be asked to submit additional information to support wider ESRC strategic objectives and scheme evaluation.

How to apply

Applications will be made through the Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S). To be able to do this your host organisation must be registered for Je-S, and you must hold a Je-S account. If you are unsure about this you should contact your research organisation’s research office for further guidance.

Please see the Je-S guidance attachment (PDF, 260KB) for in-depth information about the application process.

When applying select:

  • council: ESRC
  • document type: Fellowship
  • scheme: Research Fellowship
  • call/type/mode: ESRC Policy Fellowships 2021

Mandatory attachments:

  • case for support
  • CV, including a one-page publication summary list
  • justification of resources
  • Head of Department statement
  • mentor CV (if applicable).

You can only submit one application to one specific opportunity within this scheme.
However, applicants can indicate in their case for support whether they agree to the assessment panel reallocating their application to an alternative fellowship opportunity if this is considered appropriate at review stage.

Please note that ESRC ran webinars for potential applicants for this opportunity in the week of 26 July 2021. Please see webinar presentation slides in the supporting documents section for more information.

How we will assess your application

Assessment will have two stages. All applications will be assessed and shortlisted by a panel of academic and non-academic experts. A shortlist of applicants will be invited to attend an interview with expert panel members.

Interviews are expected to take place in October 2021 via an online communications platform. When the call closes, all applicants will be informed of the final interview dates and when we expect to inform you if you have been shortlisted. We expect the funding decision will be communicated by end of October 2021.

The panel will assess the quality of your written application and your interview performance against the following criteria:

  • understanding of the analytical needs of the host and an ability to grasp and respond to these effectively at pace
  • subject matter or methodological expertise relevant to the requirements of the specific fellowship
  • the ability to translate complex information and analysis into meaningful narrative for a non-academic audience, verbally and in writing
  • an understanding of the challenges and opportunities of co-production and collaboration including with non-academics
  • the ability to design and lead activity that supports effective knowledge exchange between research, policy and funder communities
  • value for money across all budget areas requested, including where relevant for wider institutional mentorship and support.

Contact details

Ask about this opportunity

The opportunity is managed by ESRC’s Public Policy and Engagement team.

Please do not contact the fellowship hosts directly. All enquiries should be sent to ESRC.


Additional info

Fellowship description documents

Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)

BEIS Net Zero Behavioural Science fellowship (80KB, PDF)

Opportunity to use behavioural science skills to improve policy making on net zero across government.

BEIS Net Zero Digital or Data Social Science fellowship (84KB, PDF)

Net zero digital or data social scientist working closely with net zero policy teams and social research.

Cabinet Office

CO Evaluation Task Force fellowship (160KB, PDF)

Opportunity to shape a reform programme at the heart of government, to drive a step change in evaluation, evidence-based decision-making and outcomes for the public.

CO National Security fellowship (88KB, PDF)

Design and conduct a gap analysis across national security and international policy with the aim of developing meaningful research questions, contributing to the NSS Areas of Research Interest, and to be effectively engaged with by academics and industry.

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

DEFRA Behavioural science and Net Zero fellowship (88KB, PDF)

This fellowship will explore which individual or societal behaviour change approaches Defra should prioritise to deliver the largest greenhouse gas benefits, alongside wider environmental benefits.

DEFRA Waste Behaviour fellowship (80KB, PDF)

This fellowship will explore behaviour change within product consumption, identifying where consumers would be most amenable to changing the way they consume.

Department for Transport

DfT Connectivity Levelling Up fellowship (112KB, PDF)

Opportunity to provide theoretical and applied economic analysis to the question of how transport can best support the economic and social levelling-up of places.

DfT Covid Recovery User Focus fellowship (92KB, PDF)

Opportunity to help DfT to better use evidence and analysis to help meet its strategic priority to ‘improve transport for the user’.

DfT Decarbonising Transport fellowship (100KB, PDF)

To investigate and build an evidence base related to an intervention that would reduce carbon emissions from the transport sector.

Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) (co-funded with AHRC)

FCDO Foreign Policy and Disinformation fellowship (68KB, PDF)

Foreign policy fellowship with focus on disinformation in the context of international geopolitics.

FCDO Geographical Focus fellowship (68KB, PDF)

Foreign policy fellowships with geographic focus on either Indo-Pacific, Middle-East and North Africa (MENA) or Europe.

FCDO International Trade Law fellowship (92KB, PDF)

Foreign policy fellowship on international trade law.

FCDO National Security and the international digital and telecoms environment fellowship (80KB, PDF)

FCDO foreign policy fellowship on national security and ethics, values and law in the developing international digital and telecoms environment.

FCDO Non-Proliferation fellowship (92KB, PDF)

Foreign policy fellowship on non-proliferation and arms control.

Home Office

HO Cyber Crime fellowship (76KB, PDF)

Evaluating the impact of cyber security behaviour change interventions.

HO Economic Crime fellowship (84KB, PDF)

Developing the evidence base on economic crime.

Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government

MHCLG Climate Change fellowship (60KB, PDF)

Opportunity for a behavioural scientist to work on individual and community behaviours in relation to net zero.

Ministry of Justice (MoJ)

MoJ Experimentation and Evaluation fellowship (80KB, PDF)

Utilising technical expertise and innovation in experimentation and evaluation methodology to support justice policy and practice.

MoJ Evidence fellowship (60KB, PDF)

Harnessing interdisciplinary expertise to push the boundaries in the use of evidence for justice policy and practice.

Scottish Government

SG Equality Data fellowship (76KB, PDF)

This role will lead on aspects of the Scottish government’s Equality Data Improvement programme, strengthening Scotland’s equalities evidence base for better policy-making and outcomes.

SG Health Inequalities fellowship (96KB, PDF)

Advocate and support evidence-based change to reduce health inequalities and improve women’s health in Scotland.

SG Social Care fellowship (76KB, PDF)

Research to underpin social care policy development and implementation for the National Care Service.

Welsh Government

WG Sustainable Futures fellowship (108KB, PDF)

Policy development and strategic foresight associated with the drivers and trends affecting Wales achievement of the national well-being goals under the Well-being of Future Generations Act.

WG Environment and Rural Affairs fellowship (112KB, PDF)

Apply behavioural science to policy development and implementation and develop a bespoke research programme in climate change and food systems.

WG Skills, Higher Education and Lifelong Learning (SHELL) fellowship (104KB, PDF)

To review and analyse the evidence base for policy designed to limit the impact of COVID-19 controls and changed education methods on learner attainment and well-being.

Supporting documents

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