Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Growing roots: environmental science public engagement 2023 to 24

Apply for funding to explore, and trial approaches for engaging the public with environmental science.

Applications from a range of backgrounds are welcome, including, researchers, PhD students, public engagement professionals, and community groups.

All applications must include a researcher who is eligible for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding and working within NERC remit.

NERC values diversity and inclusion across all its funding programmes, and actively encourages applications from diverse groups of people.

Projects can range between £3,000 and £10,000 and will run from 29 May 2023 until 26 February 2024.

Who can apply

This funding opportunity welcomes applications (as the lead or co-applicant) from a variety of backgrounds, including the following groups:

  • environmental science researchers, including early career researchers
  • PhD students (written permission must be provided by their PhD supervisor, and where applicable, the relevant Centre for Doctoral Training or Doctoral Training Partnership. Care should also be taken that the proposed project does not negatively impact the PhD student’s planned training and workload)
  • researchers across academic disciplines, or fields outside of academia
  • public engagement specialists
  • community organisations (including people living in a particular locality, or groups based on common identity, interest, or practice)
  • public representatives, or public-facing groups (for example, learned societies, environment and diversity groups, charity members, community groups, local authorities, or commercial companies providing a public service)
  • business, third sector, and government bodies

All applications must include a researcher who is eligible for UKRI funding and working within NERC remit as a lead or co-applicant. An eligible researcher would be employed or have a formal agreement to carry out research at an eligible UK research organisation and be at lecturer level or equivalent.

For example, an eligible application would be a public engagement coordinator from a charity or an early career researcher applying for this grant as the lead applicant. The co-applicant would be an environmental science researcher from an eligible research organisation.

The lead applicant must be eligible to apply for this funding opportunity on behalf of an organisation that would hold the award. It is the applicant’s responsibility to ensure that they have approval from their organisation to receive funding, with a signature required from the organisation’s nominated representative on the application form.

Applicants may be involved in no more than 2 proposals submitted to this funding opportunity, and only 1 as the lead applicant.

We particularly encourage applications from researchers and practitioners from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences.

Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)

NERC is committed to achieving equality of opportunity for all funding applicants. We encourage applications from a diverse range of researchers, practitioners, and people.

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 EDI at UKRI and NERC’s diversity and inclusion action plan.

For this funding opportunity, there is an optional ‘EDI questionnaire’ for the lead and co-applicant. Capturing this data will enable us to identify areas for improvement and allow us to understand the diversity of the people and organisations applying for our funding and whether there are any areas for improvement.

The EDI questionnaire is not mandatory and will not impact your application and chances of being funded.

We will store your data securely and handle it in line with UK data protection legislation. If you would like to know more, including how to exercise your data protection rights, please see our privacy notice.

Observing the assessment process for this funding opportunity

The assessment process for this funding opportunity is open to observers who would like to better understand this process. Observation is open to those who have not applied for this funding opportunity and who have not had prior experience with UKRI assessment processes.

More information about this can be found in the ‘additional information’ section.

What we're looking for

The ‘exploring public engagement with environmental science 2023’ funding opportunity aims to support environmental scientists at a variety of career stages to bridge the gap of their public engagement goals and is designed to:

  • be flexible, practical, and easy to access for a broad range of people. This includes environmental science researchers at all stages of their careers, public engagement professionals, and individuals and groups outside of academia
  • ensure partners outside of academia are treated equitably, and in ways that work for them
  • provide opportunities for researchers with limited public engagement experience, including PhD students and early career researchers, to learn by doing public engagement with environmental science research


For your application to be within scope for this funding opportunity, you must have a clear purpose that meets at least 1 of the following objectives:

  • trialling a novel approach: exploring or experimenting with public engagement approaches, before learning from or applying these to future research. Examples include:
    • exploring opportunities in participatory approaches to environmental science research (for example, co-production) and ensuring people are renumerated for their expenses and time. This could involve a range of activities that precede a research project, including listening to community needs, building relationships and trust, finding mutually beneficial goals planning how to enable communities to participate in ways that work for them, and so on. Partnerships may then go on to apply for further research funding
    • developing an approach to engage under-represented groups and communities with environmental science research
    • tackling barriers to engagement with environmental science research, including ethics, interdisciplinary working, issues of equality, diversity, and inclusion, or leadership
    • addressing a gap, either within an organisational context or more broadly
  • bringing people together: bringing together individuals, groups, or organisations to either build on existing relationships or newly work together. This could be to collaborate, or to build knowledge, skills, and confidence in different ways, such as mentoring, coaching, training, and so on. Examples include:
    • people within academia: bringing together groups doing a particular type of public engagement, such as citizen scientists, people from across disciplines, researchers with different levels of public engagement experience, researchers with public engagement professionals, and so on
    • groups or individuals outside of academia: researchers with a local community or public groups, researchers connecting with artists and so on, gaining insight into current or potential partners, individuals, and organisations and how they might help shape environmental science research
  • learning by doing: build knowledge, skills, and confidence by taking part in or leading a high-quality, purposeful public engagement activity with environmental science research, providing a space for failure, mistakes, and progress. For example, a researcher with limited experience could run a small public engagement with environmental science research project, whereby they have the opportunity to be the lead applicant, head up the project and oversee the whole process (planning, delivery, and evaluation). Training courses, events, and conferences are not in scope for this funding opportunity
  • responding to new opportunities to engage the public with environmental science: creating public engagement with environmental science projects that directly respond to a change that was not available or apparent when any current research funding was awarded. For example, responding to a new local residence forum on an environmental science topic, policy change, a new scientific or policy report being published, a broad change in public opinion, public attention on a topic due to a TV program, social media, or another source and so on

Your application does not have to be a full engagement project, with planning, delivery, and evaluation where relevant.

Funded projects could precede a more mature approach to public engagement, which can be requested as part of larger funding opportunities, including:

Other funding opportunity requirements

The other requirements for this funding opportunity are:

  • the environmental science research topic must be within NERC remit
  • this funding opportunity is engaging the public with environmental science research. Broader public engagement activities that focus on generalised science or just environmental science in general will not be funded
  • if there are public engagement activities within your project, they must include engagement that uses a 2-way process that involves interaction, listening, and the aim of generating mutual benefit. Science communication will not be funded
  • public engagement planned as part of this funding opportunity must include high-quality plans with a clear purpose, and identified audience, outcomes, and impacts. Find out more about quality engagement on the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement website
  • applicants planning to involve those outside of academia in the delivery of the projects (for example, co-design approaches) must consider their approach in building equitable, ethical partnerships and managing risks in line with best practice. Please ensure that you are appropriately compensating any individuals or organisations that collaborate on your grant
  • engagement must focus on the UK public. If international engagement is a by-product of the core engagement this is acceptable. However, a project where all or most of the engagement was international is not suitable for funding
  • the projects must start no earlier than 29 May 2023 and finish no later than 26 February 2024

Reporting, feedback and sharing

NERC will require data collection and feedback from projects for reporting purposes, as we are interested in sharing learning from our investments. Funded projects will be required to contribute towards the following:

  • growing roots midpoint meeting: online (week commencing 13 November 2023). This meeting will provide all the growing roots grant holders to come together to network and share learnings at the mid-way point of the grant
  • growing roots: summary presentation, virtual (week commencing 5 February 2024). Each project will be expected to prepare a 5-minute presentation or talk, regarding learnings and feedback from their projects
  • project reporting and feedback form (after project completion), guidance and a template will be provided by NERC. These feedback reports are around 4 sides of A4 and will require qualitative and quantitative data

Successful applicants must complete proportionate evaluation of their project, which could include evaluation in addition to the above requirements.

Additional leverage

We strongly welcome applicants, where possible, to secure additional funding leveraged as part of their submission. Applicants must clearly state the source and amount of any leveraged funding (in-kind or cash) within their budgets outlined in their application form.


Projects may request between £3,000 and £10,000 from this funding opportunity.

Applications can include fully justified, direct costs, incurred in delivering the project. The budget and costings must be based on valid estimates.

Funding requests may include, for example:

  • staff resources including administration, coordination, or contributions to salaries (where a named individual will undertake work that would not be considered part of their normal duties as set out by their employer)
  • sub-contracting of services
  • funding that would enable public or community partners to take part, including time and expenses for partners involved in the projects
  • facilitation of meetings, training events, etc.
  • resources for public engagement activities
  • non-staff resources including the cost of materials, travel and subsistence, meetings, events, consumables, materials, equipment, and evaluation costs. Travel and subsistence costs should adhere to UKRI’s travel and subsistence policy
  • the costs of additional childcare, beyond that required to meet the normal contracted requirements of the job, and that cover time directly related to the project. This may be requested as a directly incurred cost. However, childcare costs associated with normal working patterns may not be sought

Funding will not be provided for:

  • estates and in-direct costs, or any other directly allocated costs (costs of resources used by the project that are shared by other activities, for example finance, IT, general laboratory cost, etc.)
  • fees or honoraria to people already in paid employment to deliver activities where such activities would reasonably be undertaken as part of their normal duties
  • retrospective funding, including those projects with a start date before the closing date or before the funding decisions are announced
  • infrastructure or building costs
  • expenses incurred as a result of submitting the application
  • academic courses such as master’s degrees or PhDs (associated studentships), and other tuition fees

Project budgets must be designed to take into consideration the following:

  • public groups may not be charged an entrance fee to engage
  • prize money may not be given to winners in competitions

How to apply

Application process

Applications must be emailed in a PDF format and as one document to Grace Macmillan, Public Engagement Programme Manager ( by 4:00pm on 27 March 2023. Any applications received after this date and time will not be accepted.

NERC has provided a template document that must be used when submitting applications to this funding opportunity. Form margins, font type, and size (Arial, pt.11) must not be amended in the template. Any application received not using the application template provided, or altered in formatting, will be rejected at the sift stage.

The finished document must be no longer than 4 pages, with the section titled ‘application template’ being no longer than 2 pages. Any applications not in PDF format and that exceed the page limit requirements will be rejected.

Full details of the application content, word count, and format can be found in the template document, titled ‘growing roots 2023 to 2024: application form’, and is located within the ‘supporting documents’ section of this funding opportunity.

The lead and co-applicant are requested to answer an optional ‘equality, diversity, and inclusion questionnaire’.

Additional support

Watch the recording of the Growing roots webinar and question session from 1 February 2023.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

1) Eligibility and scope sift

For applications to meet the eligibility criteria of growing roots: round 3, they must adhere to the following, as outlined in the funding opportunity:

  • the applicants are eligible according to the criteria outlined in ‘who can apply’
  • the funding amount requested is not below £3,000 and does not exceed the £10,000 limit
  • projects are delivered within the required period: week commencing 29 May 2023 and 26 February 2024
  • the application form has been correctly completed and submitted as 1 PDF document, using the template provided by NERC, and doesn’t exceed the page limit or formatting requirement (as detailed within the application template)
  • the project addresses at least 1 of the objectives for this funding opportunity

Please note that applications that do not meet the above criteria will be deemed not eligible for this funding opportunity, will not go to the panel, and will receive feedback regarding the reason for rejection.

2) Panel process

All applications that have passed eligibility and scope checks will be assessed by a panel. This panel will be made up of individuals with public engagement or environmental science research experience.

Panel members may include:

  • environmental scientists
  • public engagement specialists
  • interdisciplinary specialists
  • community engagement specialists
  • responsibility, sustainability, or equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) specialists
  • early career researchers

The panel will review all eligible and in-scope applications, making recommendations to NERC on which projects should receive funding.

NERC reserves the right not to fund up to the limit allocated to the funding opportunity and to make changes to the budgetary limits of the successful grants. NERC also reserves the right to select from the projects which the panel has recommended for funding, to ensure a spread of researchers, geography, audience, engagement types, and topics within the funded grants.

Assessment criteria

All applications will be assessed based on the following criteria:

  1. The extent to which the project has potential for impact, based on a clearly considered and articulated purpose for the project, including:
    • clearly defined desired outcome(s), detailing any change(s) or impact(s) the project is going to make
    • what impact the project will have on NERC environmental science research
    • how the project will meet the aims and at least 1 of the objectives stated in the ‘what we’re looking for’ section of this funding opportunity
    • the reason(s) that the growing roots funding is required for the project, and why it couldn’t be funded by other sources. Including details of what gap the project is filling
  2. The extent to which the project contains traits of high-quality engagement with environmental science research, including:
    • detailing any public engagement approaches, methodologies, and processes, etc., and describing their function in the project
    • stating how the project focuses on a 2-way process
    • any beneficiary(ies) or audience(s) that the project has identified, and justification for why the project intends to work with them
    • identifying how relationships with any beneficiary(ies) or audience(s), will be built in an equitable and sustainable manner
    • how EDI have been considered throughout the project
  3. The extent to which the project has a clear and achievable approach to delivery, including:
    • evidence that the project has been thoroughly researched, including identifying the need for any activities detailed in the project plan
    • details of how the project will be well led and managed
    • demonstrating that the resources (people and money) requested are appropriate, and a reasonable spend of public money
    • that the project has a clear approach to monitoring and data collection
    • that the project has considered legacy, for example how resources and learnings can be shared, and partnerships sustained after the project end date

Proportionate panel feedback will be provided to both successful and unsuccessful applicants.

Please note that NERC reserves the right to contact the applicant for further information after the panel has taken place and before an application is confirmed as funded.

Contact details

Ask about this funding opportunity

Grace Macmillan, Public Engagement Programme Manager


Additional info

This funding opportunity adheres to the guidance in the NERC grant and fellowship handbook. Except in circumstances where there are exceptions to the standard NERC grant funding opportunities (for example eligibility) which have been outlined in this funding opportunity.

Information relating to applications may be shared, on a confidential basis, across UKRI councils, and with other organisations to support cross-council learning.

Grant panel observation opportunity

Those without formal grant panel experience may apply to digitally attend panel meetings as observers, as a professional development opportunity.

This opportunity is available for researchers, PhD students, or public engagement professionals who support NERC-funded researchers or NERC-funded projects, as part of their professional development.

Terms of observation attendance:

  • attendees must be able and willing to attend an allocated date of panel meeting(s)
  • attendees must adhere to conflict of interest and confidentiality agreements
  • attendees must offer feedback about the process and their experience to inform future funding opportunities

To be eligible for a grant panel observation opportunity you must not be named on (lead applicant, co-application, collaborator, or other) or be involved in any of the delivery on a submitted application for this main funding opportunity. In addition, you must not have a conflict of interest with any of the applications being discussed.

To apply for this opportunity please email no later than 4:00pm 27 March with no more than 200 words outlining the following:

  • name, job role, institution, and best contact email address
  • why you are unable to access this experience elsewhere in your job role
  • how this will benefit your professional development
  • how this will benefit research projects, public engagement projects, etc. which you work on
  • how you intend to share your learnings from the panel observation with others within your team, organisation, etc.

By emailing in your application for this opportunity you agree with the terms outlined above. If you are unable to make the panel date your place will be offered to another interested party.

The NERC public engagement team will review the applications, if there are more applications than spaces, NERC will invite individuals who demonstrate the most potential impact in their email statement. NERC will award places ensuring a diversity of job roles and institutions.

Please note that those selected to observe panels won’t attend the full sessions and will be provided with a time slot of a few hours to observe. Panel observers will not be permitted to view the final shortlisting process.

Unsuccessful applicants for this observation opportunity will not receive individual assessment feedback as to why an observation place was not awarded. NERC can provide generic feedback as to the characteristics of successful applications.

Responsible research

Through our funding, we want to make a positive contribution to society and the environment. We will achieve this through research outcomes and the way in which research is conducted.

If you are successful, you will need to adopt responsible research practices, as set out in UKRI’s responsible research policy and the NERC responsible business statement.

Responsible research is defined as reducing harm or enhancing benefit on the environment and society through effective management of research activities and facilities. Specifically, this covers:

  • the natural environment
  • the local community
  • equality, diversity, and inclusion

Grant holders should consider the responsible research context of their project, not the host institution as a whole. Further, grant holders should take action to enhance their responsible research approach where practical and reasonable.

Please note if selected for funding you will be asked to complete an equality impact assessment for your project, which must be completed and approved by NERC before the project commences.

There is useful information on equality, diversity and inclusion on the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) website.

Payment of grants

As this funding opportunity is not run through the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system, the payment of the successful grants will be completed using the following invoicing process:

  • contracts finalised and signed
  • NERC raises a purchase order number and shares this with the lead applicant
  • once all the project work has been completed, the lead applicant’s institution provides NERC with an invoice which must include the purchase order number, the organisation’s site address, NERC’s address, and a unique invoice number
  • NERC makes payment after work has been completed. Please note NERC cannot pay in advance of delivery

Invoicing must be completed in line with the timeline provided within the announcement of funding. Invoices must be provided directly to the public engagement team on the dates specified, not at the start of the project. NERC will provide the required dates to successful applicants.

Further resources

The creating living knowledge report provides more information on community-university relationships.

This funding opportunity responds to some points made in a small piece of independent research that the NCCPE commissioned, insights into NERC-funded researchers report. This was to find out more about how NERC-funded researchers viewed public engagement, and how it was supported, to inform future work in this area.

Supporting documents

Growing roots 2023 to 2024: application form (DOCX, 78KB)

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