Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Evaluating the benefits, costs and utility of synthetic data

Funding is available for three complementary projects to explore the benefits, costs and utility of low-fidelity synthetic versions of securely held datasets. You can apply for one or more of the projects which must focus on the impacts for either researchers, data managers, or the public.

The total funding is £375,000 for 12 months. Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and ADR UK will fund 80% of the full economic cost (FEC), up to £300,000 total. Each project will receive around one third of the total fund available.

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

Who can apply

Before applying for funding, check the following:

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has updated the Individual Eligibility Policy and has introduced new role types for funding opportunities being run on UKRI’s new Funding Service

For full details, visit Eligibility as an individual.

Who is eligible to apply

Proposals are welcome from individual researchers or small teams from eligible research organisations:

  • UK higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • UKRI-approved independent research organisations
  • eligible public sector research establishments

Check if you are eligible to apply for research and innovation funding.

We are looking for demonstrable experience of mixed-methods evaluations, together with a willingness to engage with data owners, academic and non-academic researchers, trusted research environments (TREs) across the ADR UK partnership and beyond, and with the public.

Experience in generating or using synthetic data is not necessary, however, we will be looking for use cases and for expertise to evaluate its utility to researchers and to TREs using real-world examples.

International applicants

Project leads from non-UK organisations are not eligible to apply for funding for this opportunity.

Project co-leads based in non-UK organisations can be included in research grant applications, unless otherwise stated within this opportunity. Read project co-lead (international) policy guidance for details of eligible organisations and costs.

Business, third sector or government body project co-leads

Business, third sector or government body project co-leads based in the UK can also be included on research grant proposals as a Project co-lead. Read guidance on including project co-leads from business, third sector or government bodies for details of eligible organisations and costs.


We will not accept uninvited resubmissions of projects that have been submitted to UKRI or any other funder.

Find out more about our resubmissions policy.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

We are committed to achieving equality of opportunity for all funding applicants. We encourage applications from a diverse range of researchers.

We support people to work in a way that suits their personal circumstances. This includes:

  • career breaks
  • support for people with caring responsibilities
  • flexible working
  • alternative working patterns

Find out more about equality, diversity and inclusion at UKRI.

What we're looking for


Specific objectives of this funding opportunity

The vision of this funding opportunity is to collect evidence and insights on the benefits, costs and utility of low-fidelity synthetic data, including public understanding of and attitudes towards it. Low-fidelity synthetic data is defined as artificial data that has been created to reflect the format of the original data (its layout and the types of information it contains) but without preserving any relationships between variables. This means it contains no data about real individuals. It can typically be generated quickly and can be used for training and to develop and test analysis code. The evidence and insights from this project will inform recommendations for operationalising scaled production and sharing of synthetic data in a way that is efficient and acceptable to the public, data owners and to researchers.

The funding will be divided into roughly equal portions (this is flexible) to support the three complementary projects. Each project will consider the perspective of a key stakeholder group around low-fidelity synthetic data. The three projects are:

  • mixed methods research which considers the perspective of researchers
  • mixed methods research which considers the perspective of data owners and trusted research environments (TREs)
  • a qualitative study to assess public understanding of and attitudes to synthetic data for research

You can apply for funding to work on one or more of these projects but should note that each project will only be funded once to ensure that each aspect of the project is covered. If you are applying for multiple projects, it will be necessary to submit an individual application for each project. Please note that the creation of new synthetic data is not the focus of this funding opportunity.

The following existing synthetic datasets should be used as a foundation for this work, although the inclusion of others in addition to these is welcome:

  • Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE)
  • Grading and Admissions Data for England (GRADE)
  • Criminal Justice (magistrates’ and Crown Court) datasets
  • Hospital Episode Statistics (HES)
  • the National Pupil Database (NPD) and Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) (expected to become available early 2024)

Proposals should also consider how they could include insights on synthetic data from survey data, longitudinal populations studies and smart data, as well as secure administrative data.

The objectives and outputs of each of the three projects are set out below.

Project 1 (approx. £125,000 FEC): Benefits, costs and utility of low-fidelity synthetic data for researchers

The grant holder for this project will be responsible for delivering on the following objective:

Objective 1: Evaluate the impact of these (and other) low-fidelity synthetic datasets on researchers’ experiences of carrying out research using secure data, including but not limited to:

  • utility of the synthetic data for researchers to understand the data and scope research questions, in advance of applying for access to the real data
  • impact on quality of applications to access data, for example, success rate of project applications submitted through the UK Statistics Authority Research Accreditation Service (RAS), project approval times, and any other impacts on the project accreditation process
  • utility of the synthetic data to develop and test code outside of the secure environment, either while waiting for access to the real data, or after access has been granted
  • benefits and costs to the researcher of using a ‘remote execution’ model. This is where the researcher develops their code using synthetic data before remotely submitting it to the TRE. The code is then run on the real data and outputs supplied are to the researcher.

Outputs will include:

  • an evaluation of the utility and value of these (and other) synthetic datasets to researchers
  • recommendations for future provision of synthetic data for researchers including:
    • where and how it is available to them
    • use cases demonstrating its utility
    • the level of fidelity necessary for it to be useful in learning about the real data and preparing to use it

You will also be expected to engage with those undertaking projects 2 and 3 to share findings.

Project 2 (approx. £125,000 FEC): Costs and benefits of low-fidelity synthetic data for data owners and trusted research environments (TREs)

The grant holder for this project will be responsible for delivering on the following objectives:

Objective 2: Evaluate the broad set of costs to data owners and TREs associated with creating low-fidelity synthetic data, using different models. This includes initial costs related to data production (time spent, skills needed, and costs incurred); and ongoing costs (for example, updates).

Objective 3: Evaluate different models for sharing synthetic data, including implications for data owners or data providers in making it available and accessible for users. This could include (but is not limited to): ingest and curation procedures; metadata sharing; and discoverability of synthetic data through the use of existing data catalogues.

Objective 4: Evaluate improvement in efficiency for data owners and TREs when synthetic data is available, including but not limited to:

  • impact on the data owner and TRE resources, for example time spent responding to researchers’ requests for information about the real data
  • impact on the secure environment, for example usage load, run times
  • uptake of different synthetic datasets by researchers, and influence this has on the demand for the real data

The grant holder should also consider the ease of access to the synthetic data and how this impacts on its use. For example, access can be managed by the data owner directly, or via a trusted research environment licensing agreement; can the synthetic data be downloadable from a website.

Outputs will include:

  • an evaluation of the overall efficiencies and costs to data owners and TREs in providing low fidelity synthetic data for use by researchers
  • recommendations for further scaled production and sharing of low-fidelity synthetic data which are acceptable to data owners, including identifying opportunities for automation to increase efficiency

You will also be expected to engage with those undertaking projects 1 and 3 to share findings.

Project 3 (approx. £125,000 FEC): Public understanding of and attitudes towards low-fidelity synthetic data

We are committed to meaningful public involvement and engagement. This research area of the funding opportunity complements the other two by seeking a deeper understanding of public attitudes to the development and use of synthetic data. Synthetic data has been briefly explored in a small number of ADR UK-led public engagement exercises. The results of these engagements highlight the need to further explore public understanding and acceptability of synthetic data.

The grant holder for this project will be responsible for delivering on the following objective:

Objective 5: To design and run a public consultation on understanding of and attitudes towards synthetic data, to include:

  • public understanding of the concept of synthetic data and relevant terminology
  • public understanding of the potential uses of synthetic data
  • exploration of types of synthetic data, including how it is created and stored
  • public perception of the risks of synthetic data, including any particular areas of concern
  • recommendations for governance structures that would increase the acceptability to the public of synthetic data
  • recommendations for public messaging that could be used for synthetic data

Outputs will include:

  • a series of workshops with the same members of the public to develop understanding and produce nuanced recommendations
  • thematic analysis of workshop discussions
  • a final report of the public consultation, including references to projects 1 and 2
  • a list of nuanced and practical recommendations as developed by the public and relevant to the findings of projects 1 and 2

For this project, you will need to consider sample size and representation of the public, including participation from across the UK.

You must demonstrate strong expertise in public engagement within data research. Applications should include a plan for recruitment and renumeration of participants, workshop outlines, and justification for the public engagement approach. For this research area you will be expected to engage with those undertaking projects 1 and to share findings. You will also be supported by the ADR UK Public Engagement Steering Group (PESG) and an existing oversight group led by the ADR UK Senior Public Engagement Manager, which includes representatives from NHS England, Smart Data Research UK, DARE UK, Research Data Scotland, and Future Data Services (you are encouraged to expand this group to include others with relevant expertise).

The purpose of these groups is to ensure key stakeholders, particularly those who will make use of the project’s findings to make changes to their policy and processes, are involved and have a say in how the project is conducted. The PESG can provide guidance and support on public engagement plans. The oversight group will review the way the project is designed and carried out, for example, the methodology and research questions. You are expected to engage with both groups at key stages within the project to ensure maximum impact.

Your team is expected to work with the ADR UK Strategic Hub (including the communications and & engagement, and the programme management office teams) and our data and infrastructure team, to communicate the work to the public and relevant stakeholders and facilitate meaningful engagement with relevant communities.

For more information on the background of this opportunity, go to the ‘Additional information’ section.


The duration of this award is 12 months.

Projects must start by 4 March 2024.

Funding available

The full economic cost covering all three projects can be up to £375,000. You can apply for funding to undertake one or more of the three projects, with each one receiving approximately one third of the total fund available. Each project will only be funded once.

We will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

ESRC data infrastructure

We support a range of data infrastructure. Where relevant, we encourage you to consider whether the use of these resources could add value to the project. Please find more details about the datasets available across the UK.

Details of datasets and infrastructure to be used in your project should be given in the ‘Facilities’ section.

Impact, innovation and interdisciplinarity

We expect you to consider the potential. Outputs, dissemination and impact are a key part of the criteria for most peer review and assessment processes. We also encourage applications that demonstrate innovation and interdisciplinarity (research combining approaches from more than one discipline).

Knowledge exchange and collaboration

We are committed to knowledge exchange and encouraging collaboration between researchers and the private, public and civil society sectors. Collaborative working benefits both the researchers, and the individuals and organisations involved. Through collaboration, partners learn about each other’s expertise, share knowledge and gain an appreciation of different professional cultures. Collaborative activity can therefore lead to a better understanding of the ways that academic research can add value and offer insights to key issues of concern for policy and practice.

Knowledge exchange should not be treated as an ‘add-on’ at the end of a project but considered before the start and built into a project.

Equitable partnership principles 

When undertaking research and innovation activities outside the UK, you must recognise and address the possible impact of contextual, societal and cultural differences on the ethical conduct of those activities.

Researchers should also follow the principles of equitable partnerships to address inherent power imbalances when working with partners in resource-poor settings.

Applying the principles will encourage equitable access, especially in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), while maintaining incentives for innovation. You should consider the principles from the start of the research and development cycle.

Read UKRI’s guidance on research in a global setting.

Trusted Research

If your application includes international applicants, project partners or collaborators, visit Trusted Research for more information on protection of those working in our thriving and collaborative international research and innovation sector.

Research ethics

We require that the research we support is designed and conducted in such a way that it

meets ethical principles and is subject to proper professional and institutional oversight in terms of research governance. We have agreed a Framework for Research Ethics that all submitted proposals must comply with. Read further details about the Framework for Research Ethics and guidance on compliance.

How to apply

We are running this funding opportunity on the new UKRI Funding Service. You cannot apply on the Joint Electronic Submissions (Je-S) system.

The project lead is responsible for completing the application process on the Funding Service, but we expect all team members and project partners to contribute to the application.

Only the lead research organisation can submit an application to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

To apply

Select ‘Start application’ near the beginning of this Funding finder page.

  1. Confirm you are the project lead.
  2. Sign in or create a Funding Service account. To create an account, select your organisation, verify your email address, and set a password. If your organisation is not listed, email
  3. Answer questions directly in the text boxes. You can save your answers and come back to complete them or work offline and return to copy and paste your answers. If we need you to upload a document, follow the upload instructions in the Funding Service. All questions and assessment criteria are listed in the ‘How to apply’ section on this Funding finder page.
  4. Allow enough time to check your application in ‘read-only’ view before sending to your research office.
  5. Send the completed application to your research office for checking. They will return it to you if it needs editing.
  6. Your research office will submit the completed and checked application to UKRI.

Watch our research office webinars about the new Funding Service.


We must receive your application by 26 October 2023 at 4:00pm UK time. You will not be able to apply after this time.

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

ESRC as part of UKRI, will need to collect some personal information to manage your funding service account and the registration of your funding applications.

We will handle personal data in line with UK data protection legislation and manage it securely. For more information, including how to exercise your rights, read our privacy notice.

ESRC, as part of UKRI, will publish the outcomes of this funding Opportunity at .

If your application is successful, some personal information will be published via the UKRI Gateway to Research.

UKRI Funding Service: section guidance


Word count: 550

In plain English, provide a summary that can be sent to potential reviewers to determine if your proposal is within their field of expertise.

This summary may be made publicly available on external facing websites, so please ensure it can be understood by a variety of readers, for example:

  • opinion-formers
  • policymakers
  • the general public
  • the wider research community
Guidance for writing a summary

Please succinctly describe your proposed work in terms of:

  • its context
  • the challenge the project addresses and how it will be applied to this
  • its aims and objectives
  • its potential applications and benefits

Core team

List the key members of your team and assign them roles from the following:

  • project lead (PL)
  • project co-lead UK (PcL)
  • project co-lead (international) (PcL (I))
  • specialist
  • grant manager
  • professional enabling staff
  • research and innovation associate
  • technician
  • visiting researcher

Only list one individual as project lead.

Find out more about UKRI’s new grant roles and eligibility.

Section: Vision

Word count: 1,000

Question: What are you hoping to achieve with your proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Explain how your proposed work:

  • is of excellent scientific quality and importance within or beyond the field(s) or area(s)
  • has the potential to advance current understanding, generates new knowledge, thinking or discovery within or beyond the field or area
  • is timely given current trends, context and needs
  • impacts world-leading research, society, the economy, or the environment
  • is clearly in the public interest

Within the Vision section we also expect you to:

  • identify the potential direct or indirect benefits and who the beneficiaries might be

Section: Approach

Word count: 1,000

Question: How are you going to deliver your proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Explain how you have designed your approach so that it:

  • is effective and appropriate to achieve the funding opportunity’s objectives
  • is feasible within the time available, and comprehensively identifies any risks to delivery and how they will be managed
  • if applicable, uses a clear and transparent methodology
  • if applicable, summarises the previous work and describes how this will be built upon and progressed
  • will maximise translation of outputs into outcomes and impacts
  • describes how your, and if applicable your team’s, research environment (in terms of the place, its location, and relevance to the project) will contribute to the success of the work

Within the Approach section we also expect you to:

  • demonstrate access to the appropriate services, facilities, infrastructure, or equipment to deliver the proposal
  • provide a detailed and comprehensive project plan including milestones and timelines in the form of a Gantt chart or similar

Section: References

Word count: 1,000

Question: List the references you’ve use to support your application.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Include all references in this section, not in the rest of the application questions.

You should not include any other information in this section.

We advise you not to include hyperlinks, as assessors are not obliged to access the information they lead to or consider it in their assessment of your application.

If linking to web resources, to maintain the information’s integrity, include persistent identifiers (such as digital object identifiers) where possible.

You must not include links to web resources to extend your application.

Section: Applicant and team capability to deliver

Word count: 1,500

Question: Why are you the right individual or team to successfully deliver the proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Evidence of how you, and if relevant your team, have:

  • the relevant experience (appropriate to career stage) to deliver the proposed work
  • the right balance of skills and expertise to cover the proposed work
  • the appropriate leadership and management skills to deliver the work and your approach to develop others
  • contributed to developing a positive research environment and wider community

The word count for this section is 1,500 words, 1,000 words to be used for R4RI modules and, if necessary, a further 500 words for Additions.

Use the Résumé for Research and Innovation (R4RI) format to showcase the range of relevant skills you, and if relevant your team (investigators, researchers, other technical staff, for example research software engineers, data scientists and so on, and partners), have and how this will help to deliver the proposed work. You can include individuals’ specific achievements but only choose past contributions that best evidence their ability to deliver this work.

Complete this section using the R4RI module headings listed below. You should use each heading once and include a response for the whole team, see the UKRI guidance on R4RI. You should consider how to balance your answer, and emphasise where appropriate the key skills each team member brings:

  • contributions to the generation of new ideas, tools, methodologies, or knowledge
  • the development of others and maintenance of effective working relationships
  • contributions to the wider research and innovation community
  • contributions to broader research or innovation users and audiences and towards wider societal benefit

Provide any further details relevant to your application. This section is optional and can be up to 500 words. You should not use it to describe additional skills, experiences or outputs, but any factors that provide context for the rest of your R4RI (for example, details of career breaks if you wish to disclose them).

You should complete this as a narrative and you should avoid CV type format.

Section: Your organisation’s support

Word count: 300

Question: Provide details of support from your research organisation.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Provide a statement of support from your research organisation detailing why the proposed work is needed. This should include details of any matched funding that will be provided to support the activity and any additional support that might add value to the work.

The committee will be looking for a strong statement of commitment from your research organisation.

We recognise that in some instances, this information may be provided by the research office, the technology transfer office (TTO) or equivalent, or a combination of both.

You must also include the following details:

  • a significant person’s name and their position, from the TTO or research office, or both
  • office address or web link

Upload details are provided within the service on the actual application.

Section: Project partners:

Word count: 1,500

For applicants of projects 1 and 2 (Costs, benefits and utility of synthetic data to Researchers (1) or Data owners and TREs (2), letters of support from any data owners or TREs that you plan to contact for this study are recommended at this stage of the application process but are not mandatory.

Question: If including letters of support, please upload a single PDF containing the letters or emails of support from each partner you named. What the assessors are looking for in your response:

  • Provide details of any project partners’ contributions, and letters or emails of support from each named partner.
What the assessors are looking for in your response

Download and complete the project partner contributions template (DOCX, 52KB) and paste into the service.

Each letter or email you provide should:

  • confirm the partner’s commitment to the project
  • clearly explain the value, relevance, and possible benefits of the work to them
  • describe any additional value that they bring to the project

Save letters or emails of support from each partner in a single PDF no bigger than 8MB. Unless specially requested, please do not include any personal data within the attachment.

For the file name, use the unique UKRI Funding Service number the system gives you when you create an application, followed by the words ‘Project partner’.

If the attachment does not meet these requirements, the application will be rejected.

The Funding Service will provide document upload details when you apply. If you do not have any project partners, you will be able to indicate this in the Funding Service.

Ensure you have prior agreement from project partners so that, if you are offered funding, they will support your project as indicated in the contributions template.

For audit purposes, UKRI requires formal collaboration agreements to be put in place if an award is made.

Do not provide letters of support from host and project co-leads’ research organisations.

Section: Facilities

Word count: 250

Question: Does your proposed research require the support and use of a facility?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If not, enter ‘N/A’ into the text box, mark this section as complete and move on to the next section.

If you will need to use a facility (including access to, and use of data, infrastructure and resources), you should follow your proposed facility’s normal access request procedures. Where prior agreement is required, ensure you obtain their agreement that, should you be offered funding, they will support the use of their facility on your project. We encourage the use of secondary and linked datasets.

In the text box below, for each requested facility you should provide:

  • the name of facility, copied and pasted from ‘Facility Information’ in Supporting documents
  • the proposed usage or costs, or costs per unit where indicted on that list
  • confirmation you have their agreement where required

Do not put the facility contact details in your response.

Section: Data management

Word count: 500

Question: How will you manage and share data collected or acquired through the proposed research?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Provide a data management plan which should clearly detail how you will comply with our published Research Data Policy, which includes detailed guidance notes.

If you are not generating new data as part of your grant application, you are not required to complete this section. Please enter ‘N/A’ in the text box, mark this section as complete and move to the next question.

We recognise the importance of research data quality and provenance. Research data generated by ESRC-funded research must be well-managed by the grant holder to enable their data to be exploited to the maximum potential for further research.

Using the text box below you should:

  • describe how you will publish your research findings
  • demonstrate that you comply with ESRC’s Research Data Policy and ESRC Framework for Research Ethics. This should include confirmation that existing datasets have been reviewed and why currently available datasets are inadequate for the proposed research. You should cover any legal and ethical considerations of collecting, releasing or storing the data, including consent, confidentiality, anonymisation, security and other ethical issues explain how data collected, generated or acquired through the proposed research (such as primary input into research and first order results of that research) will be managed, including planning for the research through the life cycle of the award until data is accepted for archiving by the UK Data Service (UKDS). See the importance of managing and sharing data on the UKDS website for further information. Detailed advice on what assessors are looking for in your response can also be found on the UKDS site. We expect you to provide a summary of the points provided
  • critically consider any challenges to data sharing (for example, copyright or data confidentiality), with possible solutions discussed to optimise data sharing. Most data collected, generated or acquired as a result of economic and social research can be successfully archived and shared. However, some research data are more sensitive than others. It is a responsibility of the grant holders to consider all issues related to confidentiality, ethics, security and copyright before initiating the research

Section: Intellectual property rights (IPR)

Word count: 500

Question: Provide a brief description of the intellectual assets underpinning the proposed work.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Include any IPR if appropriate. If your IPR is a patent, please include the patent number or numbers along with a summary scope of the claims. We recognise that not all applications will have a patent or other IPR.

Section: Ethics and responsible research and innovation (RRI)

Word count: 500

Question: What are the ethical or RRI implications and issues relating to the proposed work? If you do not think that the proposed work raises any ethical or RRI issues, explain why.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Using the text box, demonstrate that you have identified and evaluated the relevant ethical or responsible research and innovation considerations, and how you will manage them.

All proposals have to comply with the ESRC Framework for Research Ethics which includes guidance for applicants and links to related web resources.

All necessary ethical approvals must be in place before the project commences, but do not need to have been secured at the time of application.

If you are generating new data as part of your project, you should complete the ‘Data management’ question and should cover ethical considerations relating to data in your response.

If you are not generating new data and have not completed the ‘Data management’ question, you should address any legal or ethical considerations relating to your use of data here.

Section: Research involving human participation

Word count: 700

Question: Will the project involve the use of human subjects or their personal information?

If not, enter ‘N/A’ into the text box, mark this section as complete and move on to the next section.

If you are proposing research that requires the involvement of humans subjects, provide the name of any required approving body and whether approval is already in place. Then, justify the number and the diversity of the participants involved, as well as any procedures.

Provide details of any areas of substantial or moderate severity of impact.

Section: Resources and cost justification

Word count: 1,000

Question: What will you need to deliver your proposed work and how much will it cost?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Justify the application’s more costly resources, in particular:

  • project staff
  • significant travel for field work or collaboration (but not regular travel between collaborating organisations or to conferences)
  • any equipment that will cost more than £10,000
  • any consumables beyond typical requirements, or that are required in exceptional quantities
  • all facilities and infrastructure costs
  • all resources that have been costed as ‘exceptions’

Assessors are not looking for detailed costs or a line-by-line breakdown of all project resources. Overall, they want you to demonstrate how the resources you anticipate needing for your proposed work:

  • are comprehensive, appropriate, and justified
  • represent the optimal use of resources to achieve the intended outcomes
  • maximise potential outcomes and impacts

You should explain:

  • support for activities to either increase impact, for public engagement, knowledge exchange or to support responsible innovation, or both
  • support for access to facilities, infrastructure or procurement of equipment
  • support for preserving, long-term storage, or sharing of data
  • support from your organisation or partner organisations and how that enhances value for money
  • support for activities outsourced to a third party (such as consultancy or social surveys)
  • support for project co-leads under ESRC’s international, business and third sector eligibility policies

For detailed guidance on eligible costs please see the ESRC research funding guide.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

We will assess your application using the following process.

All proposals submitted to this funding opportunity will be subject to standard eligibility checks. Following these checks, eligible proposals will be independently reviewed by an expert review panel, who will then meet to discuss and agree a recommendation to ESRC on funding.

Find out more about ESRC’s assessment process.

Principles of assessment

We support the San Francisco declaration on research assessment (DORA) and recognise the relationship between research assessment and research integrity.

Find out about the UKRI Principles of Assessment and Decision Making.

We reserve the right to modify the assessment process as needed.

Assessment criteria

The criteria we will assess your application against are: Vision, Approach, Applicant and team capability to deliver, Resources and cost justification, Ethics and Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) listed under the ‘UKRI Funding Service: section guidance’ heading in the ‘How to apply’ section.

Contact details

Get help with your application

For help on costings and writing your application, contact your research office. Allow enough time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity


We aim to respond to emails within two working days.

Phone: 01793 547490

Our phone lines are open:

  • Monday to Thursday 8:30am to 5:00pm
  • Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm

Questions about eligibility

Read UKRI’s research organisation and applicant eligibility guidance.

Sensitive information

If you or a core team member need to tell us something you wish to remain confidential, email the UKRI Funding Service helpdesk on

You must include in the subject line: [Evaluating the benefits and costs of synthetic data, sensitive info, Funding Service application number].

Typical examples of confidential information include:

  • applicant is unavailable until a certain date (for example due to parental leave)
  • declaration of interest
  • additional information about eligibility to apply that would not be appropriately shared in the ‘Applicant and team capability’ section
  • conflict of interest for UKRI to consider in reviewer or panel participant selection
  • the application is an invited resubmission (please include reference number of original submission and a brief overview of changes made)

For information about how UKRI handles personal data, see UKRI’s privacy notice.

Additional info


Researchers increasingly rely on accessing sources of sensitive data to undertake their analyses. Infrastructure has been developed since the mid-2000s that enables researchers to access and use such data through what are now known as trusted research environments (TREs).

Many TREs operate under the principles of the, which stipulates that the five following areas should be considered when designing a data access solution:

  • safe people
  • safe projects
  • safe data
  • safe settings
  • safe outputs

To ensure these principles are upheld, data services which operate these TREs typically establish processes for accrediting researchers and projects. These processes can be lengthy and cumbersome and rely on often imprecise information provided by the researcher about the data they are applying to access (since they are not able to see the data they want to use until after they have had their project accredited).

As a consequence, research projects can be held up for many months while a researcher waits for access to data. When the researcher finally gets access, the data may not meet the researcher’s expectations.

Low-fidelity synthetic data presents a potential solution to this problem because it allows a researcher earlier access to a version of the data that resembles the real data but does not include any information about real individuals. This gives researchers the opportunity to understand the data and plan their research in advance of going through the lengthy process of applying to use the real data.

This has the potential to enable a researcher to:

  • submit a higher quality application that is more likely to be approved
  • generate code to analyse the data, based on their understanding of the structure of the synthetic data, while waiting for approvals to access the real data. This can significantly reduce the time between initially applying to access data and completing analyses, since researchers are able to carry out these activities in parallel

Low-fidelity synthetic datasets are typically created by randomly generating values within each variable that roughly follow the distribution of the real data within the variable, but do not preserve any of the relationships between them (univariate synthetic data).

Consequently, low-fidelity synthetic data is much less likely to inadvertently reproduce information about a real individual than high-fidelity synthetic data, which mimics the real data much more closely. However, low-fidelity synthetic data can still be very useful to researchers in understanding the structure of the data and using it to generate code.

To date, there are a number of different methods to produce synthetic data, including an easy-to-use tool for the generation of low-fidelity synthetic data (PDF, 1.4MB), and some progress has been made to make synthetic versions of secure data available. Examples include synthetic versions of justice system datasets from the ADR UK-funded Data First programme at the Ministry of Justice, and synthetic versions of education datasets from the linked Grading and Admissions Data for England programme.

Webinar for potential applicants

We will hold a webinar on 14 September 2023 1:00pm to 2:00pm UK time. This will provide more information about the opportunity and a chance to ask questions.

Register for the webinar.

Supporting documents

Equality impact assessment (PDF, 328KB)


  • 22 August 2023
    Equality impact assessment document added in the 'Additional info' section.

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