Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: 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 up to 19 months.

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 and registered 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, excluding UK based research organisations)
  • 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. We welcome applications from individuals with a strong track record of postdoctoral research working in any discipline, including those whose home discipline is outside of AHRC’s usual remit. However, the overall portfolio of proposed activities must be at least 50% within AHRC disciplinary remit.

The balance of consortia partners should reflect the planned research and related activities described in your proposal. You will be required to set out a clear rationale for the inclusion of partners, in terms of:

  • the contributions they will make to addressing the identified challenges
  • the contributions they will make to realising the scheme-level aims
  • their connectivity to the design innovation ecosystem
  • their contribution towards the diversity and inclusion of the ecosystem
  • their contribution towards public participation engagement

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.

Job share applications for the GTE director will be considered provided they meet the above criteria for the role and:

  • both candidates can demonstrate a strong track record of postdoctoral research in a suitable design research background. At least 1 director should come from an arts and humanities background
  • both candidates participate to an equal extent in all aspects of the project
  • clear and robust handover and communication arrangements are in place

Please note that 1 person will need to be named so principal investigator and the other as co-investigator on the system. If you are applying as a job share, please make sure this clearly stated in the case for support.

AHRC recognises the challenges of identifying a single principal investigator with all of the skills, knowledge and experience required to direct complex and multifaceted programmes. While we expect GTE directors (principal investigators) to bring a base-level of competency across all of the criteria below, we also anticipate that they will establish a team possessing complementary expertise. Collectively the core team should meet this specification.

Individual research organisation may lead 1 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. Non-academic partners may be included as co-investigators provided that they meet the criteria set out in the inclusion of non-academic partners as co-investigators guidance (PDF, 96KB) and have a Joint Electronic Submission system account. There are no restrictions on the type of organisations, and any non-academic partner may be involved in more than 1 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

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 may support:

  • design research and innovation that prototypes and explores products, services and systems with users
  • creation of multidisciplinary design research capabilities that can respond to needs and challenges arising from the net zero agenda, for example:
    • exploration of circular, cyclical, or regenerative business models
    • third sector and community organisation resilience
    • skills transition support
    • policymaking strategies within the context of developing a green and regenerative economy
  • experimental labs to explore new products, services, and systems
  • support for access to finance and routes to market for the commercialisation of sustainable, net zero or zero carbon products and services
  • training and development opportunities through placements, secondments and staff exchanges, as well as continuing professional development, entrepreneurial or skills programmes
  • activity to facilitate public participation in the research process
  • co-working, shared networking space and facilities

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.

All GTEs are expected to include a ringfenced budget of at least 10% of the AHRC contribution for enabling agile responses to new opportunities and accommodate fail-fast approaches, for example relating to changes in markets or technologies. Applicants must provide a clear and evidenced justification for the level of the ringfence, including a summary of the types of activities that the funding will be used for. For further information see ‘How to apply’.

Expectation of GTEs

GTEs must:

  • have a clear shared vision and strategy for delivering environmental, social and economic impact to an emerging design innovation ecosystem by addressing an identified challenge or challenges and with reference to the opportunities and threats arising from the net zero agenda set out in the scoping document
  • be designed an ambitious and innovative collaborative research and innovation programme focused on delivering solutions to the challenges identified by the GTE, which can evolve during the initial year of the GTE
  • have a strong and sustainable model of collaboration and the infrastructural capability to deliver the collaborative design research and innovation programme
  • have a clearly delineated engagement strategy which aligns with Future Observatory’s strategy and vision
  • have a robust management and governance structure with senior research organisation involvement (for example, PVC Research and Enterprise) and equivalent roles for senior non-academic partners, as well as representation from the relevant partner organisations and external stakeholders
  • have an innovative, appropriate and relevant plan for public engagement with research, including clearly defined audiences and methods, that enables and support a greater diversity of voices and perspectives in the design of green-transition supportive-interventions
  • have the best combination of multidisciplinary design research expertise required to address the needs of the specific challenge, with a leading contribution from the arts and humanities
  • have a realistic and deliverable plan to leverage additional funding, including from industry and other sources
  • demonstrate plans for:
    • monitoring and evaluating the performance of the partnership
    • building partnerships to support access to finance and routes to market for the collaborative research and innovation projects
    • developing relevant links, beyond the GTE members, to other organisations and clusters of activity both in the UK and internationally that are relevant to the GTE’s work


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 AHRC, the Future Observatory director and team, and the wider landscape of stakeholders)
  • public engagement
  • 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.


All GTEs must ensure they have a robust governance structure in place to which all partners show a commitment. The governance mechanisms (for example steering groups, advisory boards) should be appropriate to support the successful delivery of the project, both strategically and operationally, without being overly burdensome.

GTEs will be required to commit to providing AHRC with regular updates and reporting, with key performance indicators and metrics to be agreed post-award. This information will be used by AHRC in reporting to UK Research and Innovation, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and other stakeholders on progress against the actions set out in our strategic delivery plan.

The GTEs will report to the Future Observatory: Design the Green Transition research steering group which will have oversight of the deliverables of the programme.

For more information and to apply to be on the research steering group.


Up to £4.625 million is available for the delivery of each GTE. All GTEs will be required to include a ringfenced budget of £625,000 for supporting activities delivered by the engagement hub.

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.

In addition, all GTEs must commit to increasing the level of co-investment committed over the course of the project and beyond as follows (relative to total funding amount):

  • 2023 to 2025: 10%
  • 2025 to 2026: 20%
  • 2026 to 2027: 40%
  • 2027 to 2028: 60%
  • 2028 to 2029: 80%

Note that:

  • for contributions from any source to be considered co-investment, they must be new funding and specific to realising the aims of the GTE
  • only research organisation contributions over and above the usual 20% full economic cost contribution will be considered co-investment
  • the extent of realised co-investment over the course of the project will contribute to decision-making in relation to continuation funding from 2025 to 2026 onwards


The full economic cost of your project can be up to £4.625 million. Included in each GTE award is £625,000 of ring-fenced Future Observatory funding. You do not need to allocate the ring-fenced amount in your application form.

Salary costs for the principal investigator and co-investigator for the time spent working on the project, and whose time can be supported by a full audit trail during the life of the project, are eligible.

For more information about non-academic co-investigator costs, read the inclusion of non-academic partners as co-investigators guidance (PDF, 96KB).


Funding is available for up to 19 months. Projects must start between 18 September 2023 and 1 October 2023.

How to apply

Intent to submit stage

All applications must to submit an intent to submit form.

The process is outlined in the intent to submit document (DOCX, 22KB).


AHRC must receive your intent to submit by 23 February at 4:00pm.

You will only be eligible to submit a full application if you have submitted an intent to submit form.

Full proposal stage

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

You can find advice on completing your application in:

We recommend you start your application early.

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.

All investigators involved in the project need to be registered on Je-S.

Any investigators who do not have a Je-S account must register for one at least 10 working days before the opportunity deadline. Applicants should ensure that any non-academic partners who intend to be listed as a co-investigator set up a Je-S as soon as possible, and no later than 4 weeks prior to the date of submission.

For more information, read the inclusion of non-academic partners as co-investigators guidance (PDF, 96KB).

When applying:

  • Select ‘documents’, then ‘new document’
  • Select ‘call search’
  • To find the opportunity, search for: Green Transition Ecosystems 28 March 2023

This will populate:

  • council: AHRC
  • document type: Standard Proposal
  • scheme: Large Grants (AHS206)
  • call: Green Transition Ecosystems 28 March 2023

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.


AHRC must receive your application by 28 March 2023 at 4:00pm.

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 12 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 and details of leveraged funding (up to 4 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 to 2 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 organisations and project partners (up to 2 sides of A4)
  • theory of change diagram outlining how the project will impact its beneficiaries and the ultimate impact it aims to have (up to 2 sides of A4 and select ‘Other Attachments’)
Project partners

The term project partner refers to a third-party person who is not employed on the grant, or a third-party organisation, who provides specific contributions either in cash or in kind, to the project. These contributions should be clearly identified within the ‘project partner’ section of the proposal. In-kind contributions should be included, even if a rough estimate.

As a rule, project partners are expected to provide contributions to the delivery of the project and should not therefore be seeking to claim funds from UK Research and Innovation. Please note that you can only be included as either a co-investigator or project partner on an application.

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 and with civic organisation and the public

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 communications plans including a robust strategy for disseminating research outcomes
  • quality and appropriateness of plans for public engagement with research, including equitable partnerships with clearly targeted public audiences that bring public partners into the research process through innovative public engagement methods and strategies 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
  • consideration of environmental impact of proposed project and activities and any reasonable mitigations that have been put in place to reduce environmental impact (where possible)

You should expect to receive notification of a decision in July 2023, with project start dates no later than 1 October 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.

GTEs will need to have collaboration agreements in place with formal project partners prior to an award being made. Collaboration agreements should address how the GTE will manage intellectual property, exploitation and commercialisation of products and services relating to the outputs of any activity directly resulting from the GTE.

Funding will be profiled over the period of the award, with continuation subject to a mid-term review to assess progress and performance against agreed key performance indicators and objectives.

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.

Application development surgeries (14 and 15 February 2023)

Delivered by AHRC and Future Observatory, these 20-minute sessions will provide an opportunity for you to talk through your proposed project and partnership and receive pre-application feedback and suggestions.

To find out more about what to expect, sign up for an application development surgery via Eventbrite.

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

Opening times

Je-S helpdesk opening times.

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.

The role of Future Observatory

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

With a focus on real-world impact, Future Observatory is the UK’s first design research and innovation 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
  • a journal (launching 2023)

Over the course of the 19-month funding period, Future Observatory 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 Future Observatory 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 Future Observatory’s wider network
  • opportunities to engage with Future Observatory’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 Future Observatory. This may include:
    • symposia
    • roundtables
    • podcasts
    • journal
    • Future Observatory website

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

Please note that application data will be shared with Future Observatory.

Community events

To help promote the funding opportunity with our community, AHRC and Future Observatory are hosting an in-person event at the Design Museum on 31 January 2023 where you will be able to hear more about the scheme and research ecosystems, ask questions and network with other potential applicants.

Research steering group

Future Observatory is looking for senior researchers, academics and design professionals to join our Research Steering Group.

Join the Future Observatory Research Steering Group.

Defining design

Find out how the Design Council define design.

Supporting documents

Inclusion of non-academic partners as co-investigators guidance (PDF, 96KB)

Intent to submit document (DOCX, 22KB)

Intent to submit process (PDF, 150KB)

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