Pre-announcement: explore people’s relationships with digital technologies

Apply for funding to develop a network to research people’s relationships with technology.

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

Your project must be:

  • social science-led
  • at least 50% within ESRC’s remit.

Your network is expected to:

  • generate insights on the relationships between people and technologies by carrying out and funding research
  • build interdisciplinary capability
  • bring people together across disciplines.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £5 million. We will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Your project can last up to five years.

This is a pre-announcement. The funding opportunity will open in early November 2021, when further guidance and information will be available on this page. Please note that the scope of this opportunity is subject to change.

Who can apply

The principal investigator must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for ESRC funding. That organisation will be responsible for submitting the grant application to UKRI.

Find out who can apply for funding.

Proposals can also include:

  • eligible international co-investigators
  • co-investigators from UK business, policy or civil society
  • public sector research establishments (PSREs).

Your proposal must be primarily social science. It must be multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary or both. We expect the successful grant to play a strategic role in bringing together stakeholders across disciplinary boundaries.

Standard ESRC eligibility rules apply. Our research funding guide contains more details on individual and institutional eligibility.

What we're looking for

This funding opportunity is part of the ESRC’s ‘Living with Technology’ strategic priority from the 2019 ESRC Delivery Plan. This investment is shaped by a comprehensive period of scoping around the theme of a digital society. ESRC will fund one Network Plus.

A Network Plus is a strategic investment that aims to bring together new research communities and identifies, prioritises and develops future research challenges. To build sustained engagement and collaboration, it provides leadership across disciplines and sectors and delivers different activities, such as:

  • workshops
  • events
  • communications
  • funding opportunities.

The Digital Society Network Plus should develop a research agenda that explores people’s relationships with technology and how technologies influence people’s relationships (people as individuals and as part of broader society). It should enable a step-change in how social scientists investigate the interactions between society and digital technologies through:

  • generating new insights on the relationships between people and technologies
  • building interdisciplinary capability in this emerging research area, leveraging existing and establishing new partnerships
  • enabling a coherent and connected landscape for this research across disciplines, identifying needs through sustained engagement with policymakers, the private and third sectors, international peers, as well as the wider research community.

The successful proposal should be social science-led, with at least 50% of the programme falling within ESRC’s remit. To enable approaches to the challenge of understanding our relationships with technology, it should also look widely across disciplines, drawing on expertise from fields such as:

  • computer science
  • software engineering
  • mathematical sciences
  • the humanities.


In scoping this work ESRC has identified two sub-themes that could be explored by the Network Plus.

Harnessing technology

This would explore how people interact with digitally connected technologies, the consequential impact of the choices they make on individual and collective experiences, and how individuals can better understand choices and impacts.

Power and behaviour

This seeks to understand the influence services and devices have over people and the social trends that result. It considers the changing power relations between technology providers of:

  • devices and services
  • users
  • governments
  • civil society
  • different economic and industrial sectors.

The above is not exhaustive. ESRC welcomes proposals for other potential themes provided they complement and do not duplicate current investments.

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