Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Explore the impact of artificial intelligence ethics on workplaces

Apply for funding to research how ethical artificial intelligence (AI) frameworks affect workplace culture.

You must be employed by an eligible UK research institution. You must form new partnerships in your project team.

Your work must be early research and involve:

  • scoping, asking initial questions and testing assumptions
  • forming new and inclusive partnerships and networks
  • defining future larger research plans.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £62,500. AHRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Who can apply

You can apply if you are a principal investigator at an eligible research organisation. This is:

  • any UK higher education institution that receives grant funding from one of the UK higher education funding bodies
  • a UKRI-recognised research institute or organisation.

Proposals must be submitted by an eligible research organisation.

Project teams should include collaborating partners from at least one non-academic organisation that is already developing or using AI as part of their regular business activity, for example algorithmic decision-making technology. This partner can be a:

  • project
  • consortium
  • business
  • third sector organisation
  • government body.

Partners may be included as co-investigators or as project partners.

Project partners can come from any sector and should include a representative from at least one of the following:

  • business of any size (including projects, micros)
  • third sector
  • government body or organisation.

Academic contributors should do one or more of the following:

  • have an interest in workplace culture
  • have an interest in AI or data ethics
  • be looking to cultivate new or scaled-up collaborative partnerships with groups already applying AI in an organisational context.

Business, third sector or government partners should currently be developing or using AI and have an interest in cultivating new or scaled-up relationships with researchers to better understand how their current ethics frameworks or related governance mechanisms or processes (or both) are working.

Project partners should have an interest in learning more about how existing ethical frameworks are impacting their work or in how frameworks might influence their work and workplace culture in the future.

What we're looking for

AHRC is looking to fund early research, sometimes called ‘pump-priming’. We will fund collaborative projects that undertake preliminary research and scoping on the impact of AI ethics frameworks on workplace culture.

These projects should develop partnerships or networks to test assumptions and identify future research questions in this field.

Projects should lay the groundwork for longer-term, in-depth ethnographic studies of different workplaces. However, alternative methodologies will be considered that yield the outputs and outcomes required.

The subsequent research is intended to help bridge the gap between principle, process and practice within AI ethics and sectors developing or using AI and data-driven technologies.

Project partners should be working together for the first time or in a new, more extensive or more collaborative capacity than previously.

Outputs should aim to frame research questions and challenges to inform future humanities-led investment in responsible AI.

Projects might focus on areas including but not limited to:

  • exploring the extent to which current organisational behaviour is influenced (or not) by the adoption of formal ethics codes or principles
  • testing how workplace culture impacts on the adoption, format and use of ethical frameworks
  • surveying the differences in approach between or within organisations operating in sectors which have formally adopted such codes or standards and those which have not
  • forging innovative and ambitious new partnerships between researchers and organisations working in the AI and data ethics space.

Projects should focus on organisations currently developing or using AI or data-driven technology, but they may refer to relevant historical comparisons.

An earlier version of the call required an intention to submit, but this is now not required.

Award holders will be required to submit a written scoping study report to AHRC and present this to AHRC’s senior leadership. This is to explain the outputs, outcomes and impacts of the work, that provides advice and guidance on how AHRC could work this research into:

  • meaningful hypothecated fund bids
  • funding opportunities
  • other mechanisms.

Award holders will also be required to work closely with an assigned AHRC investment manager. To provide regular progress reports as the scoping study develops given that funding opportunities that relate to the area of the study may emerge over the course of the award.

AHRC would expect the successful award holders to attend a meeting convened by the AHRC prior to or soon after commencing the work to discuss the aims and focus of the scheme and projects further.

Note that AHRC is running a concurrent funding opportunity for applied projects that involve new ways of embedding ethical approaches in AI research and development.

Researchers interested in an applied approach to developing responsible AI, rather than ethnographic or other observational methodology for understanding current approaches, should refer to include ethics in AI research and development.

Award holders will be required to contribute to a light touch process evaluation which will inform the development of future investment in responsible AI.

How to apply

Applicants should ensure they are aware of, and comply with, any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.

You should prepare and submit your proposal using the Research Councils’ Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S).

Please ensure sufficient time to create Je-S accounts for investigators who do not currently have one.

Then adding a new proposal, you should go to documents, select ‘new document’, then select ‘create new document’ and:

  • council: AHRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: development grants
  • call: AI ethics codes 21 Sept 2021

For further details and help in applying, please read the research funding guide.

Your host organisation will be able to provide advice and guidance on completing your application.

After completing the application, you must click ‘submit document’, which will send your application to your host organisation’s administration

Your host organisation’s administration is required to complete the submission process

Applicants should allow sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process between submitting your proposal to them and the funding opportunity closing date.

AHRC must receive your application by 16:00 on 21 September 2021.

Document guidance

As well as the Je-S application form, the following documents must be submitted.

CVs and publications

A summary curriculum vitae (CV) should be attached as separate documents for each principal investigator and any co-investigators, named postdoctoral researchers.

These should be no more than two sides of A4.

CVs should include basic information about:

  • education
  • employment history
  • academic responsibilities.

Summary lists of publications or research outputs should be attached as separate documents for each principal investigator and any co-investigators or named postdoctoral researchers.

These should cover major publications or outputs in the last five years and should be no more than one side of A4 paper.

Data management plan

The data management plan should outline the project’s approach to managing data. This should be no more than two sides of A4.

Justification of resources

This should be a description of the need for the resources requested.

Please ensure you justify all of the resources you request. In drafting the justification of resources, you should ensure you identify which headings in the summary of resources the costs relate to, in order to make cross-referencing more transparent.

This should be no more than two sides of A4.

Project partner letter or letters of support

Each project partner must provide a project partner letter of support, of no more than two sides of A4 signed on headed paper.

Case for support

This should be up to seven sides of A4, and contain the headings set out in our research funding guide.

While you should aim to make the case for support as concise, specific and clear as possible, the work to be undertaken should nonetheless be fully explained, as failure to provide adequate detail on any aspects may seriously prejudice your application.

In short, you are advised to focus your application and to provide sufficient evidence to enable panellists to reach a considered judgement as to the quality of your proposal, its:

  • significance
  • feasibility
  • value for money.

You should attach all your documents as PDFs to avoid errors. They should be completed in single-spaced Arial 11 font or similar-sized sans serif typeface.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

Applicants will submit a full proposal which includes letters of support from industry and community partners.

Proposals will be evaluated by an assessment panel and shortlisted applicants will be invited to the interview panel in December 2021.

Applicants should ensure that sufficient details of their proposed project, approaches and methods are provided within the case for support to enable the application to be assessed by experts with relevant, but not necessarily specialist, expertise.

Assessment criteria

The assessment panel will assess applications based on:

  • how the scoping and research will inform future research in the space of AI ethics and workplace culture
  • how the project will foster and maintain new, inclusive and innovative networks
  • vision: the ambition, adventure, and intended outcomes of the project, and the project’s ability to define and describe future research plans
  • pump priming potential: the degree to which the proposed activities can be developed into larger scale research projects which further our understanding of AI ethical frameworks within workplace cultures
  • partnership: the level of genuine collaboration that’s proposed, considering the value that this will add to the project and how it will serve the development of plans for longer-term collaborative research – we welcome creative techniques for fostering interactions
  • fit to funding opportunity: how the project demonstrates fit to the funding opportunity scope as outlined above
  • team: how the balance of skills, experience and complementarity of the researchers and partners provide the ability to deliver the proposed project
  • feasibility: whether the project is scoped appropriately for the available time and funding amount
  • process: the quality of the research process, including methodology, research agenda, participants and whether research methods foster interactions.

In addition to the criteria outlined above, the panel will take a portfolio approach to assessment, allowing for the funding of a balanced suite of projects.

Applicants should ensure that sufficient details of their proposed project, approaches and methods are provided within the case for support to enable the application to be assessed by experts with relevant, but not necessarily specialist, expertise.

The assessment process includes an applicant presentation and interview with the interview panel.

AHRC will try to provide early notice of an invitation to attend, but applicants should note that the interview panel meeting is currently planned for December 2021.

The interview panel will assess the shortlisted applications against the criteria for assessment and provide the funder with a recommended rank-ordered list of applications.

Final funding decisions will be made by AHRC.

Please note, proposals will be office rejected if applicants:

  • request more than £50,000 funding from UKRI
  • do not adequately demonstrate fit to the scope of this funding opportunity
  • do not request an appropriate level of resourcing to deliver their proposed projects
  • do not include at least one non-academic organisation as co-investigator or partner.

Contact details

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Telephone: 01793 444164

Additional info

This scheme forms part of a suite of AHRC activities into ethical approaches to AI, which aim to enable a responsible AI ecosystem and embed ethical thinking from the earliest possible stage in businesses and research and development.

These activities will inform future research and funding in this area.

Projects should align with:

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