Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Establish an advisory team for the Digital Footprints programme

Apply for funding to establish an advisory team for the Digital Footprints programme.

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for ESRC funding.

The team will:

  • provide ESRC with scientific, strategic and technical advice to support the development and delivery of the Digital Footprints programme
  • champion the Digital Footprints programme, engaging with stakeholders across policy, business, civil society and academia
  • help shape related long-term programmes of work within and beyond ESRC.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £650,000. ESRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

We will award one grant to fund a team for two years.

Who can apply

We are seeking to appoint a team, led by a principal investigator based at an eligible UK research organisation. That organisation will be responsible for submitting the grant application to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Eligible organisations include:

  • UK higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • UKRI-approved independent research organisations.

Check if you are eligible for research and innovation funding.

The team must be social science-led and reflect a broad range of experience and expertise. The principal investigator for the grant must allocate a minimum of 0.2 full-time equivalent.

At minimum, the team must include someone of international standing and experience but, may also include early and mid-career researchers.

UK co-investigators across different sectors (business, third sector and government body organisations) and international academic co-investigators are welcome.

What we're looking for

People’s interactions with the world and each other are increasingly digital. These interactions create Digital Footprints Data (DFD). This data includes:

  • internet and social media
  • geo-spatial
  • commercial and transactional
  • sensor and image.

They can be harnessed to understand and address key research, business and policy questions about our increasingly digital society.

However, DFD cannot currently be used to its full potential. Researchers are limited by a number of challenges including insufficient data access and infrastructure, underdeveloped methodology and theoretical development and opaque ethical procedures.

The team

We wish to appoint a team to provide high-quality, systematic and sustained strategic advice and support to ESRC on the development of Digital Footprints. Digital Footprints is a £60 million programme of work focused on providing the leadership, skills, coordination and data infrastructure to deliver a transformational shift in the creation, access and use of DFD. See ‘Additional info’ for further details.

The team will be required to:

  • work with new and existing investments
  • bring together world-leading experts that have the skills, networks and capabilities to develop an on-going dialogue with a broad range of stakeholders focused on delivering a transformational shift in creation, access and use of DFD.


Your team must deliver the following objectives:

  • provide ESRC with expert scientific, strategic and technical advice to support the development and delivery of the Digital Footprints programme and approval of phase two’s business case
  • establish and run an expert network to support the provision of expert scientific, strategic and technical advice. It is envisaged that running the network will involve a series of engagement activities, for example workshops, events or meetings. The number of engagement activities depends on the scale and scope proposed but we would expect eight activities as a minimum
  • the provision of at least four papers for discussion at the Digital Footprints strategic advisory group, which draws on, synthesises and analyses advice received through the expert network. Advice should seek to ensure Digital Footprints builds on and integrates with existing and future capability within the landscape. Papers will be commissioned around key aspects for Digital Footprints, for example:
    • requirements and options appraisal for the development and delivery of phase two’s digital research infrastructure (priority)
    • requirements and options appraisal for the delivery of capacity building at the intersection between social science and DFD
    • analysis of areas of national and international interest that illustrate and focus Digital Footprints’ role, including identification of partnership opportunities with relevant programmes of activity across and beyond UKRI
    • legislative and policy interventions required to support the development and delivery of Digital Footprints
  • contributions to synthesis, reviews and any other activities to add value to the Digital Footprints programme and business case
  • engagement with key stakeholders across policy, business, civil society and academia, helping to champion Digital Footprints, build enduring connections and setting the foundations for the transformational shift in creation, access and use of DFD.

Proposal requirements

You should propose your own operating delivery model to meet the objectives above. Proposals are required to set out:

  • a description and structure of the team, including roles and responsibilities, and how this will enable the team to deliver the aims of the opportunity as set out above
  • a clear plan in the ‘case for support’ for how the proposed team will deliver the objectives of the opportunity
  • a description of how the team will work collaboratively to co-produce and deliver a programme of activities, developing strong links at national and international scales with policy, business, and the third sector
  • a description of how the team will champion existing and future Digital Footprints activity commissioned by ESRC and UKRI in order to add value and achieve greater impact
  • how delivery will be integrated with existing UKRI strategic programmes, champions and co-ordinators, and work closely with UKRI staff throughout the programme.

This is not a research grant. Some research activity, such as research synthesis, may be proposed if they contribute to delivering the objectives of the opportunity.

Management and governance

The successful proposal will be required to work in partnership with ESRC, UKRI partners, and existing and future investments to deliver the objectives.

The grant is intended to complement existing and future investments and the team will be required to work closely with ESRC.

ESRC will retain overall responsibility for the governance of Digital Footprints, including the development and delivery of the case for longer term funding for Digital Footprints. The team will be accountable to an ESRC Director and will be expected to provide ESRC with an update on activities on a monthly basis.

Successful applicants will also be expected to:

  • develop and implement a stakeholder engagement strategy
  • develop a monitoring and evaluation framework with annual reporting of outcomes to ESRC.

A member of the Digital Footprints strategic advice team will be required to attend the quarterly meetings of the Digital Footprints:

  • programme board (as an observer)
  • strategic advisory group (as an observer)
  • management group (as a member).

They should also attend other ESRC and UKRI advisory or governance groups as necessary.

As the Digital Footprints programme will overlap with the Future Data Services programme, the team will also be expected to work with the Future Data Services senior strategic fellow and the Future Data Services strategic fellow.

To avoid a conflict of interest, the principal investigator for the Team should not already be a principal or co-investigator on an existing UKRI data services infrastructure investment.

Funding available

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £650,000. ESRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

The principal investigator for the grant must allocate a minimum of 0.2 full-time equivalent.

The budget should include costs for travel and subsistence (maximum £40,000), including costs to cover a minimum of four trips to Swindon, travel restrictions permitting.

We strongly advise you to ensure sufficient administrative support is included to deliver the objectives of the opportunity.


We will award one grant to fund a team for two years. Your start date must be no later than October 2022.

How to apply

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

You can find advice on completing your application in the:

Your host organisation will also be able to provide advice and guidance.

Submitting your application

Before starting an application, you will need to log in or create an account in Je-S.

We recommend you start your application early.

When applying, select ‘new document’, then:

  • council: ESRC
  • document type: grant
  • scheme: research grant
  • call/type/mode: ESRC DigitalFootprints Advisory Team Commissioning 2022.

Once you have completed your application, make sure you ‘submit document’.

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


ESRC must receive your application by 9 August 2022 at 16:00.

You will not be able to apply after this time. Please leave enough time for your proposal to pass through your organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date.

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


There will be no opportunity to change your proposal through Je-S once submitted. If your proposal exceeds specified page limits, additional pages will be discounted.

If your application omits any required documents, the proposal will be judged only on the information provided.

If additional material is provided, the commissioning panel will be instructed to ignore it.

Proposals that do not meet the criteria will be rejected.

How we will assess your application

Your application will be assessed against the following criteria by an assessment panel.

Your proposal must demonstrate the following:

  • a thorough understanding of the digital footprints data (DFD) landscape, both within the UK and internationally, through a breadth of expertise that harnesses digital data and methods
  • a track record of relevant data driven research and impacts encompassing a broad range of social science disciplines and approaches
  • relevant experience in shaping and successfully leading a research programme or related research endeavours
  • the vision and ability to understand the big picture
  • the ability to map how various components of the landscape can fit together, including how Digital Footprints can build upon and integrate with existing and future capability
  • proven experience of working with a wide range of data providers and data owners across government and industry
  • an excellent track record of building effective relationships at senior levels between academia, government, industry and the third sector, and the ability to identify and understand user needs
  • outstanding communication skills, suitable for engagement and building constructive relationships with a range of different audiences within the interdisciplinary academic community, business, government and the third sector
  • thorough understanding of the sensitivities around the use of DFD for research and the different approaches for managing these
  • a clear vision for how funds will be utilised to deliver the objectives.

If your application is assessed as successful, and fully demonstrates all of the assessment criteria, you will be invited to interview.

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal, please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

Thomas Graham, Caroline Curtis and Bruce Jackson


Get help with applying through Je-S



01793 444164

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Additional info

Digital Footprints programme

Digital Footprints will be delivered in two phases.

Phase one

Phase one was launched in April 2022 and is set to end in 2024. The phase is comprised of three main components, amounting to £10 million. This includes:

  • Digital Footprints Data (DFD) services: delivered through the Consumer Data Research Centre and Urban Big Data Centre, enabling access, creation and use of DFD that delivers against national priorities and needs for the social sciences
  • Digital Footprints Accelerator scheme: supporting innovative proof of concept projects that meet challenges in the Digital Footprints landscape
  • ESRC strategic advice team.

Phase two

Phase two is part of UKRI’s £481 million investment in major research and innovation infrastructure. Phase two is scheduled to start in 2023 and intends to end in 2029.  Digital Footprints will see an investment (subject to business case approval) of £49.3 million from the UKRI Infrastructure Fund.

Digital Footprints will:

  • work with bodies to design and deliver a unified network of Digital Research Infrastructure supporting sustainable and appropriate access to hundreds of diverse, open-access and linked datasets
  • lead cross-cutting and coordinated data-focused infrastructure programmes to support the creation, access and use of DFD, by:
    • creating long-term strategic partnerships with data owners, developing frameworks for sharing and documenting data, analytics, methods, software and template datasets
    • delivering findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable DFD
    • embedding active and meaningful citizen centred involvement and engagement throughout Digital Footprints
    • providing leadership and strategy, positioning Digital Footprints as a world-leading programme for the creation, access and use of DFD
    • supporting programmes of methodological and theoretical development
    • engaging in outreach, promotion and policy engagement at a strategic level, working across government and the wider landscape to influence relevant regulation, policy and strategy
    • establishing an ‘Ethics and Legal Hub’ providing community-level support
    • establishing hands-on training and relationship-building activities all career stages
    • establishing mechanisms of bi-directional knowledge transfer to other areas of UKRI investment
  • focus on areas of national and international interest that illustrate and focus Digital Footprints’ role. This will include supporting and encouraging rapid research to address questions of significant policy and practice interest, where creation, access and use of DFD is critical.


We recently held a webinar for potential applicants to hear more about the scope of the opportunity and to ask any questions they had.

Watch the recording of the webinar.
Webinar passcode: DH%%%h^7

Supporting documents

Je-S guidance (PDF, 208KB)
Equality impact assessment (PDF,  259KB)

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