Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Pre-announcement: Green Transition Ecosystems

Apply for funding to conduct research to address distinct challenges posed by the climate crisis, including but not limited to realising net zero goals.

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

Capitalising on clusters of design excellence, Green Transition Ecosystems (GTEs) are large scale projects that focus on translating the best design-led research into real-world benefits.

GTEs will connect directly with the wider Future Observatory: Design the Green Transition programme.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £4.625 million.

AHRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost for 19 months (September 2023 to March 2025).

This is a pre-announcement and the information may change.

The funding opportunity will open on 10 January 2023. More information will be available on this page by then.

Who can apply

We invite proposals from consortia comprising at least:

  • 2 UK-based, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)-eligible research organisations
  • 2 UK-based businesses operating in the design economy:
    • design-intensive industries (for example digital design, architecture)
    • other functions supporting design-intensive industries (for example supply chain)
    • design-intensive workstreams within other sectors (for example aerospace, retail)
  • 1 public sector organisation (local or national)
  • 1 third sector, civil society or community organisation

This is a multidisciplinary and multisectoral opportunity and it is expected that the combined project team will bring a strong track record across a breadth of areas. However, the overall portfolio of proposed activities must be at least 50% within the AHRC disciplinary remit.

Research organisations

Each GTE will be led by a suitably qualified director (principal investigator), based at a UKRI-eligible research organisation and with a demonstrable and relevant academic track record. Directors must commit at least 0.6 full-time equivalent to the project.

Individual research organisation may lead one GTE application only, but may be involved in any number of applications led by others. There is no maximum number of research organisations on each application.

Business, public and third sector

Each GTE consortium will include non-academic partners. For this opportunity, AHRC is piloting a policy that enables these partners to be included as co-investigators.

There are no restrictions on the type of organisations, and any non-academic partner may be involved in more than one application as capacity and strategic alignment allow.

Funding for PhD studentships is not permitted in the GTEs. However, GTEs are encouraged to support opportunities (for example trainings, project placements) targeted at PhD students and postdoctoral researchers, particularly in areas where there are identified design research and innovation skills shortages or gaps.

What we're looking for

Green Transition Ecosystems (GTEs) are large scale projects that focus on translating the best design-led research into real-world benefits. Capitalising on clusters of design excellence, GTEs will address distinct challenges posed by the climate crisis, including but not limited to realising net zero goals.

The overarching aims of GTEs are to:

  • empower the UK design research base to respond to regionally or sectorally significant green transition challenges in agile and collaborative ways
  • embed circularity and sustainability across product, service, strategy and policy design in relation to the identified challenges
  • contribute to increasing design gross value added in the nations and regions of the UK which have seen stagnation or decline
  • realise measurable, green transition-supportive behaviour change across sectors and publics
  • catalyse and foster opportunities for the socially, culturally and environmentally-acceptable commercialisation of design research-led interventions
  • enable and support a greater diversity of voices and perspectives in the design of green-transition supportive-interventions, including users and publics
  • create opportunities to build capacity and capability in design research for green transition challenges

Each GTE will identify the green transition challenges it is uniquely able to address and develop a programme of research and innovation activity tailored to addressing them through high-quality, multidisciplinary and intersectoral design research.

Such challenges might include (but are not limited to):

  • developing low or zero carbon or non-extractive materials, products and services
  • development of new circular design processes
  • design that fosters positive behaviour change in support of green transition goals, including strategy and policy
  • sector focused solutions, for example low or zero carbon screen (meaning, film and television) production
  • region-focused solutions, for example transport systems and infrastructure supporting rural communities
  • designing for diversity
  • safeguarding the future of the design skills pipeline

The challenge you are seeking to address should require and promote the sustainable integration and leadership of arts and humanities design research in multidisciplinary fields of study related to net zero and the green transition.

GTEs must demonstrate the potential for their activities to deliver significant and measurable environmental, cultural, social and commercial benefit in relation to their chosen challenges. As part of our wider Future Observatory: Design the Green Transition programme, GTEs will benefit from the opportunity for accelerated impact and reach of their work through the Future Observatory hub.


GTEs will need to demonstrate a strong management and operational structures to deliver a programme of this scale. In building your team, you are encouraged to consider the range of capabilities you will need to deliver the GTE.

This could include:

  • leadership of the GTE (director role and co-directors if appropriate)
  • programme management and administration
  • communications and engagement (including with the AHRC, the Future Observatory (FO) director and team, and the wider landscape of stakeholders)
  • environmental impact assessment (of both research and innovation activity itself and its outputs and outcomes)
  • commercialisation or business development
  • evaluation

You may draw upon existing resources, either within a research organisation or partner organisation in building your teams. A maximum of 10% of the total award from AHRC can be used to cover the costs of management and operational staff.


Up to £4.625 million is available for the delivery of each GTE.

All GTEs will be expected to realise leveraged co-investment from third parties (research organisation or partners).

While there is no lower limit set on the level of co-investment expected at the outset of the project, you must have secured some material commitment (for example cash or in-kind contributions) and this should be outlined in the proposal with an accompanying letter of support from the contributing party (see ‘How to apply’ section).

The role of Future Observatory (FO)

FO at the Design Museum acts as a coordination and engagement hub, as well as a reporting body for the FO: Design the Green Transition programme.

With a focus on real-world impact, FO is the UK’s first design research and innovation (R&I) engagement centre. It bridges the highest standards of academic research carried out across higher education institutions, with the discoveries of professional designers, the influence of policymakers and most importantly, the engagement of the public, supporting a rich, diverse and inclusive design research ecosystem.

It makes these connections through symposia, roundtables, commissioned design research, displays, podcasts and a journal (launching 2023).

Over the course of the 19-month funding period, FO will undertake a number of engagement activities and programmes to surface, develop, translate and amplify the work of the GTEs.

These may include:

  • ongoing guidance from the FO director and research steering group
  • support with research activities from the research manager and research coordinator
  • facilitation of shared activities and findings across the GTEs and FO’s wider network
  • opportunities to engage with FO’s internal training programmes. This may include:
    • seminars
    • design crits
    • design sprints
    • prototype development
    • fellowships
  • opportunities to participate with and contribute towards a public programme designed and led by FO. This may include:
    • symposia
    • roundtables
    • podcasts
    • journal
    • FO website

Included in each GTE award is £625,000 of ring-fenced FO funding for core costs and overall programme. This is to ensure cohesion and strategic alignment between GTEs and FO.

Community events

To help promote the funding opportunity with our community and in anticipation of the full opportunity launching in January 2023, AHRC and FO are running a series of events in October and November 2022 where you will be able to hear more about the scheme and ask questions.

31 October 2022

The first of these is a virtual question and answer event on 31 October 2022 11am UK time.

This event will enable you to:

  • learn about FO and how the GTEs will connect with the wider FO: Design the Green Transition programme
  • receive guidance on the scheme aims
  • identify whether the scheme is a good fit for your project or partnership
  • ask questions of the panel (including representatives from AHRC and FO)

Register to attend the 31 October question and answer event

9 November 2022

There will be a further event at Design for Planet on 9 November 2022 where you can hear from:

  • Justin McGuirk, Programme Director for FO: Design the Green Transition
  • Katherine Mansfield, Senior Investment Manager for Design at AHRC

Register to attend the 9 November event

In-person outreach events

The AHRC Design Team and members of the FO team will be travelling to Belfast, Glasgow and Swansea to provide an opportunity for researchers across each of the devolved nations to hear more details about the GTEs. For further information, please follow the Eventbrite links for each of the events below:

How to apply

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


AHRC must receive your application by 6 April 2023 at 4pm UK time.

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.


Your application must also include the following attachments:

  • a case for support detailing how your proposal will deliver on the scheme’s objectives (up to 8 sides of A4), covering:
    • aims and objectives
    • context
    • proposed activities
    • partnership and collaboration
    • management and governance
    • deliverables (meaning outcomes, impacts and benefits)
    • risks and controls
  • a justification of resources detailing how funds will be allocated (up to 2 sides of A4)
  • a workplan detailing project timeline and key milestones (up to 2 sides of A4)
  • CVs for principal investigator, co-investigators and any named staff (up to2 sides of A4 per CV)
  • publication lists for principal investigators and co-investigators (up to 1 side of A4 per person)
  • letters of support from host research organisation and project partners
  • letters of commitment from sources of additional co-investment (where relevant)
  • theory of change

How we will assess your application

Assessment will be undertaken by AHRC peer reviewers on the basis of the following criteria:

Strategy and vision

This includes:

  • overall fit with the opportunity specification: the vision established by the proposed partnership and its potential to realise the positive environmental outcomes and support for the net zero agenda
  • quality, ambition and innovative nature of the application
  • potential for the proposed activity to have a transformational impact on clean and sustainable growth in diverse sectors and specifically the design innovation ecosystem within which it is embedded
  • suitability of the net zero challenges identified and the degree of novelty and innovation in the research and innovation required to address the challenges
  • case made to support the suitability of the proposed activities to the innovation ecosystem or region in which they are based
  • extent to which the programme will use research rooted in the arts and humanities as the means to generate new, innovative engagements across disciplines, both within arts and humanities-led design and across relevant social sciences and science, technology, engineering and maths disciplines, such as behaviour change and engineering

Collaborations and partnerships

This includes:

  • relevance and appropriateness of the collaborations and partnerships to addressing the net zero challenges of your design innovation ecosystem, including:
    • research organisations
    • non-academic partners
    • regional or local industry
    • public sector stakeholders
  • quality and breadth of active involvement by multi-sectoral businesses, the public and third sector organisations, and plans for engaging businesses and public sector departments of varying sizes, from micro to large enterprises, over the lifetime of the award
  • quality and appropriateness of the research organisation partnerships and the credibility of their research portfolio’s strengths relevant to the GTE’s needs and focus
  • commitment and viability of any leveraged funding from research organisation, industry, public sector and other partners over the lifetime of the award
  • a strategy to ensure the sustainability of the partnerships beyond this initial award period, irrespective of potential continuation funding from AHRC
  • quality and appropriateness of plans for communication and public engagement including a robust strategy for the sharing and dissemination of research outcomes
  • proposed criteria by which impact on the success of applying design research and innovation to diverse sectors of industry and the public sector will be understood and measured

Building research capacity

This includes:

  • a clear and coherent strategy for managing cross-departmental and cross-institutional collaborations, and research organisation-industry collaborative design research
  • novel and ambitious approaches to brokering new collaborations and breaking down silos between disciplines, departments and institutions
  • quality and appropriateness of plans to support the next generation of researchers so they become more adept at engaging with non-academic partners and collaborators, and the provision of training and development opportunities for both academics and non-academics

Management and governance

This includes:

  • credibility and leadership qualities of the director, the balance of skills and expertise of the co-directors, and the balance of skills and innovation experience across research, industry and the public sector
  • strength and appropriateness of the management and governance structures, including the expertise, experience and balance of skills of the operational and leadership team to manage and deliver the proposed design research and innovation activities
  • feasibility of the timetable
  • infrastructure and capability of the host research organisation to deliver the programme
  • strength and rationale of the proposed partnerships between institutions, and the commitment to the programme demonstrated by participating research organisations as part of their wider design research and non-academic engagement strategies


This includes:

  • extent to which the GTE represents a balanced portfolio within a programme and across the Future Observatory: Design the Green Transition programme as a whole
  • value for money of the proposed activities, including the allocation of funding to capital, non-academic partners, management and operational costs

You should expect to receive notification of a decision in June 2023, with project start dates no later than September 2023.

In making decisions about proposals, the panel will be asked to recommend to AHRC a balanced portfolio of GTEs in terms of disciplinary and thematic focus and geography.

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

Abbie Fisher, Investment Manager


Include ‘GTE Application Query’ in the subject line.

We aim to respond within 5 working days.

Get help with applying through Je-S



01793 444164

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Additional info

The Future Observatory: Design the Green Transition programme, led by AHRC in partnership with the Design Museum, is an ambitious, £25 million multimodal investment that aims to support a comprehensive trajectory of design research, innovation, skills, partnerships and engagement in support of the net zero agenda and the UK’s transition to a regenerative and inclusive economy.

Working together, and alongside other key organisations, departments and authorities, the coordinated investments of the programme will provide a greatly strengthened, more visible design research and innovation national ecosystem, supporting UK design’s vital role in a sustainable, regenerative future.

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