Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Ethics in artificial intelligence research and development

Apply for funding to explore ways to include ethics in the research and development of artificial intelligence (AI). You will create new networks to carry out early research.

You must be employed by an eligible UK research institution.

Your project must be collaborative. It must include at least one of these:

  • business
  • third sector organisation
  • government body.

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 £81,250. AHRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Your project can last for up to 12 months.

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.

Project teams should include collaborating partners from at least one non-academic organisation that will be in the early stages of developing an AI system or technology.

This partner can be a:

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

Academic contributors should have an interest in applied ethics and be looking to cultivate a new or scaled-up collaborative partnership with a party working on early stage development of an AI system or technology. Partnerships between research and non-research-intensive universities are encouraged.

Business, third sector and government partners should be developing an AI system or technology and have an interest in embedding ethics in their early-stage research and development.

Researchers should also consider partnerships and networks which enable third sector and community groups to inform discussions around AI ethics, including questions on inclusion, bias and discrimination.

Applications welcomed from researchers whose work relates to AI ethics and data or technology, including but not limited to those from fields such as:

  • ethics
  • data justice
  • computer science
  • biomedical science
  • design
  • legal studies
  • public policy
  • media and communication studies
  • sociology.

Applications are welcomed from researchers undertaking community and industry partnership working for the first time.

What we're looking for

AHRC is looking to fund early research, sometimes called ‘pump-priming’. Research projects will investigate how ethical approaches can be embedded within the early stages of the AI research and development pipeline.

This pump-priming research will help bridge the gap between principle, process and practice within AI ethics and the AI and data-driven technologies sector, and help influence future AHRC investment in this space.

Projects should develop and explore new, inclusive and innovative partnerships which emphasise co-design and delivery.

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

Projects exploring embedding ethical approaches in the AI research and development pipeline might include:

  • testing assumptions about embedded ethicists in industry projects
  • exploring how ethical approaches currently operate within the early stages of the AI research and development pipeline and the successes of these current approaches
  • identifying future research questions and challenges within this space
  • investigating innovative approaches to ethics and AI research and development within and across sectors
  • furthering the research agenda aimed at diversifying voices in ethics and AI
  • brokering and fostering collaborative partnerships, identifying and securing future funding partnerships and co-investment.

Award holders will be required to submit a written scoping study report to the AHRC and present this to AHRC’s senior leadership to explain the outputs, outcomes and impacts of the work that provides advice and guidance on how AHRC could work this research into meaningful future funding opportunities or through other mechanisms.

Award holders will also be required to work closely with an assigned AHRC Investment Manager, providing 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 projects that explore the relationship between workplace cultures and AI ethical frameworks. Researchers interested in using ethnographic or other observational methodology for understanding current approaches, should refer to Explore the impact of artificial intelligence ethics on workplaces.

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 (Je-S) system. 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 Pump Priming 21 Sept 2021

For further details and help in applying, please read the AHRC 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 Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) application form, the following documents must be submitted.

CVs and publications

A summary curriculum vitae 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, and 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 AHRC 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 and 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 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 AI research and development
  • how the project will foster and maintain new, inclusive and innovative networks
  • vision: the ambition, adventure, transformative aspects and intended outcomes of the proposed 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 embedding ethical and responsible approaches to AI into the research and development pipeline
  • partnership: the level of genuine and inclusive 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
  • team: how the balance of skills, experience and complementarity of the researchers and partners provide the ability to deliver the proposed project
  • process: the quality of the research and scoping process, including methodology, research agenda, and participants
  • feasibility: whether the project is scoped appropriately for the available time and funding amount.

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 £65,000 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.

Contact details

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Telephone: 01793 444164

Additional info

This scheme forms part of a suite of AHRC pathfinding 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.

Find out more about our work on transforming our world with AI.

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