This funding opportunity aims to fund one Network Plus to build collaboration and knowledge exchange across research and stakeholder communities to:
- lead to a step change in the sustainability and circularity of digital and communication technologies
- and realise the potential of the digital revolution to enable a circular economy across sectors
In this context, digital and communication technologies are considered to include software and hardware, and relate to ICT materials, components and products as well as the systems they form. The digital revolution is wide-reaching, and in the context of the circular economy encompasses the use of data, digital tools and models, as well as the implementation of new technologies including, but not limited to, software, simulation, machine learning, automation and sensing. Although the potential for transformation is substantial, digital technologies are not without an environmental cost. The Network Plus should embed consideration of the environmental trade-offs in the research agenda.
We expect the Network Plus to drive progress in these areas by bringing together communities spanning academia, industry, policy, and others with expertise in:
- information and communication technologies (ICT)
- circular economy (CE)
- materials science and engineering
- any other relevant areas across the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) remit and more broadly, as appropriate
The Network Plus must establish themselves as leaders in the area, driving the development of a collaborative and diverse community and supporting new high quality collaborative research.
As part of a broader EPSRC investment in the area, including up to £12 million funded through the ‘Research for a digitally enabled circular economy and sustainable digital technologies’ opportunity, the Network Plus will deliver significant impact for the UK, supporting our engineering net zero and digital futures priority ambitions.
Through our engineering net zero priority we aim to deliver systems approaches and solutions to:
- use the Earth’s resources as efficiently as possible
- eliminate pollution and contributions to landfill
- help deliver a sustainable zero carbon future
Through our digital futures priority, we aim to deliver digital software and hardware tools or solutions that:
- enable a resilient, environmentally sustainable and secure by design digital future for the UK
- enable positive economic impact for the UK
The Network Plus should deliver:
- leadership of diverse and inclusive interdisciplinary research communities (both new and existing) across academia, policy and industry
- new connections between relevant communities and projects, including the related ‘Research for a digitally enabled circular economy and sustainable digital technologies’ funding opportunity to accelerate knowledge transfer and the realisation of near and longer term impacts (economic, social and environmental)
- an increase in research projects and collaborations at the ICT, materials and CE interfaces and beyond
- greater community capacity and capability to embed circular and sustainable considerations across broad ICT, materials, CE and other relevant research and innovation communities over the short, medium and longer term. This includes the consideration of the need for new methods, tools and approaches, wider use of existing ones, and the training and skills required to support a growing research community
- evidenced assessments of research and innovation opportunities and the support and pathways needed to drive world leading research and innovation and deliver significant impact in these areas. This should include a 10-year vision for the interfacing areas, with identified and prioritised research and community challenges. Assessments should be co-created by the research and stakeholder communities, considering policy, research, research infrastructure and skills, identifying challenges, opportunities, and priorities to deliver against national and global priorities
- support for the identification and realisation of new research ideas to drive digital sustainability and a digitally enabled circular economy across sectors
The Network Plus could achieve these deliverables by:
- facilitating knowledge exchange across programmes and driving progress in cross-cutting areas, improving cross-disciplinary understanding and facilitating application of the state of the art between different areas of research
- building and supporting connections between research and non-academic stakeholders to drive greater co-creation of problems and solutions and identifying realistic translation pathways
- run small funding opportunities to support high-risk projects, new collaborations, feasibility studies or impact acceleration activities. These could be used to support the associated research grant holders or broader members of the community
- convene workshops and events to enable collaboration, horizon-scanning and generation of new ideas
This list is not exhaustive, and the successful network is not obliged to do all the above. Applicants are encouraged to tailor their activities to the needs of the area and to be innovative in their approach.
The proposed Network Plus must fit primarily within EPSRC’s remit, bringing together research and accelerating impact from research across EPSRC. However, we also welcome and encourage the involvement of researchers and expertise from other relevant disciplines across the remit of UKRI and more broadly, including, for example, social and environmental sciences. Workstreams should be co-created with appropriately interdisciplinary collaborators and non-academic stakeholders who can provide further understanding of the contextual factors that influence the systems at the interfaces of ICT, CE, advanced materials, engineering and beyond.
The Network Plus should also bring together the projects funded through the ‘Research for a digitally enabled circular economy and sustainable digital technologies’ funding opportunity. This may include, for example:
- hosting an annual showcase meeting to bring together all funded projects
- including investigators from at least one of the funded projects as members of the Network Plus advisory board
- acting as an advocate for the funded projects within the wider research community
- considering funded projects to be core stakeholders, and including them in all relevant networking activities
We encourage you to engage with research users in the conception and implementation of the network to maximise impact where appropriate. These can include:
- small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs)
- third sector
- end users
- research institutes
- other sectors as appropriate
A whole systems approach enables the development of solutions and innovations that are more impactful while minimising and mitigating unintended consequences. It is a discovery process combining quantitative and qualitative approaches to understanding and managing technological systems alongside broader economic, environmental, social, political and behavioural considerations, taking into account complex interactions. A shift to a more circular economy provides an opportunity for the UK to achieve more sustainable and clean economic growth and prosperity. However, implementing it within the current UK system may not always be the most appropriate approach.
The Network Plus must embed a systems approach within its own work, but also across its members and communities. An embedded and informed systems approach enables consideration of the trade-offs, risks and mitigations associated with different approaches. Upskilling the wider community on systems thinking and expertise should be a considered part of the Network Plus proposal.
UKRI’s environmental sustainability strategy lays out our ambition to actively lead environmental sustainability across our sectors. This includes a vision to ensure that all major investment and funding decisions we make are directly informed by environmental sustainability, recognising environmental benefits as well as potential for environmental harm.
In alignment with this, UKRI is tackling the challenge of environmental sustainability through our ‘building a green future’ strategic theme. This aims to develop whole-systems solutions to improve the health of our environment and deliver net zero, securing prosperity across the whole of the UK.
Environmental sustainability is a broad term but may include consideration of such broad areas as:
- reducing carbon emissions
- protecting and enhancing the natural environment and biodiversity
- waste or pollution elimination
- resource efficiency and a circular economy
EPSRC (on behalf of UKRI) expects the Network Plus to embed careful consideration of environmental sustainability within its own work, but also across its members and communities.
The Network Plus should ensure that environmental impact and mitigation of the proposed and programme operations, as well as any associated project outputs and outcomes, is considered. The Network Plus must also seek opportunities to influence others and leave a legacy of environmental sustainability within the broader operations of their academic and industry partners.
The duration of this award is 36 months.
The FEC of your project can be up to £2.5 million.
We will fund 80% of the FEC.
Project lead and co-leads’ salaries
These should be requested under the directly allocated cost heading.
The project lead and co-leads can request funds to cover their salary costs for the time spent on setting up and leading the Network Plus.
Funding requested under the directly incurred cost heading may include:
Travel and subsistence
Travel and subsistence enabling members of the Network Plus to meet to exchange ideas and expertise. This may include:
- travel within the UK
- visits by or to experts overseas
- travel and subsistence costs to support secondments
Where possible collaborators should meet their own travel costs.
A sufficient level of administrative support should be requested to ensure the coordination, management, and smooth running of the Network Plus.
You are expected to employ a dedicated grant manager as a core member of the team, with relevant experience and costed at the appropriate grade.
Reasonable costs for monitoring and dissemination of the network’s output can also be included.
Organisation of activities
Funding can be requested for costs involved in running activities such as:
- networking events
- expert working groups
- online discussion forums
- problem-solving workshops
- flexible funds to distribute small-scale funding for projects or feasibility studies to enable cross-disciplinary, foresight, speculative or risky early-stage research, or other projects
- other activities
You are encouraged to think creatively about the range of activities that could support the delivery of the Network Plus goals. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss your proposed activities with us ahead of submission.
Research is outside of the Network Plus scope. However, flexible funding can be requested to commission feasibility studies or similar small level projects (but not to demonstrator phase or beyond technology readiness level (TRL) 4). These funds must be distributed externally to the grant.
Flexible funds can be allocated to researchers at any organisation currently eligible for EPSRC funding. You will need to think carefully about how any budget for external distribution will be commissioned, and how you will ensure processes for the allocation of funds are fair and transparent.
Please note that any activities commissioned by the Network Plus using the flexible funds will be restricted to EPSRC current research organisation eligibility but will not be bound by standard EPSRC investigator eligibility criterion. It is the project lead’s responsibility to ensure ongoing governance to ensure correct usage and accountability of the funds. We would expect some examples of the types of projects at the application stage, but the research challenges are expected to evolve throughout the Network Plus lifetime and should be co-created and collaborative in nature.
The sum awarded under the heading of ‘flexible funds’ can include both directly incurred and directly allocated expenditure. These funds must be reported on the final expenditure statement (FES) as awarded on the offer letter and a breakdown of the expenditure must be submitted along with the FES. Flexible funds are funded at 80% FEC by EPSRC.
Funds cannot be requested to support the Network Plus to carry out research-related activities itself. These should be sought through the normal mechanisms or commissioned via open competition using flexible funds.
Appropriately skilled individuals may be costed to conduct and analyse horizon scanning activities to meet the aims and objectives of the Network Plus.
Funding can also be requested for:
- activities to identify and disseminate key research challenges in the area, such as horizon-scanning studies
- activities to generate new research projects in the area, such as sandpits
- activities to facilitate impact and advance policy, such as reports, websites and briefings
- secondment support, including scoping of potential opportunities, travel and subsistence, and other appropriate costs
- activities to support career development and training
- activities to connect users, industry and other stakeholders with the research base
- communication costs and for additional equipment such as personal computers and webservers
- equipment to support networking, events and communication
- other projects as appropriate for the Network Plus
Equipment over £10,000 is not available through this funding opportunity. We will not be funding laboratory or research equipment for this funding opportunity. We will only support equipment to facilitate communication, networking and events. We welcome innovative and creative thought.
Project partners are expected to provide contributions to the delivery of the project and should not therefore be seeking to claim funds from UKRI. However, where there are specific circumstances where project partners do require funding for minor costs such as travel and subsistence, this will usually be paid at 80% FEC. These costs should be outlined and fully justified in the proposal and will be subject to peer review.
Where the project needs work to be undertaken that is more significant and includes costs other than travel and subsistence, then the project partner may also need to be included as a subcontractor. Any subcontracting costs must be fully justified and will be subject to peer review, as well as the procurement rules of the host organisation.
What we will fund
- innovative workstreams and activities
- community building and networking activities
- appropriate administrative support
- flexible funds
What we will not fund
The Network Plus is not expected to carry out research itself. Flexible funds may be used to externally commission small-scale research activities
The Network Plus funding will be subject to the following additional conditions, in addition to our standard terms:
Grant is part of a wider funding programme
This grant forms part of a consortium of funded research alongside the grants funded through the ‘Research for a digitally enabled circular economy and sustainable digital technologies’ funding opportunity.
Investigators and researchers associated with this grant are expected to promote the aims of the associated research grants and be advocates for the research community.
Community network expectations
This grant is awarded on the understanding that the project will undertake a wider networking role with the research and user community outside its membership. This may involve coordination of activities such as meetings, workshops or seminars on behalf of EPSRC. A dedicated website must be set up within six months of the start of the grant and regularly maintained to provide a resource for engagement with the wider community.
This grant is expected to further develop the network, including its academic and user (such as policy, business, non-governmental organisations) membership, throughout the period of funding in order to maximise its impact on a wide range of disciplines. As part of the grant networks must identify ambitious ‘real-world’ challenges, which require a multidisciplinary approach and form an agenda for future research in the area.
User engagement strategy
You must develop and execute a strategy for engaging with potential users of the research funded in the project. This strategy should be reviewed and updated regularly as part of the formal management and reporting process agreed for this grant.
Equality, diversity and inclusion
In addition to RGC 3.4, you are expected to prepare a full equality, diversity and inclusion plan for the duration of this grant to demonstrate best practice in equality, diversity and inclusion throughout the lifetime of this funding award. This must be recorded through the grant reporting process.
Project officer appointment
We will nominate a member of EPSRC staff (the project officer) who will be your primary point of contact. The project officer will ensure that the project is being run in accordance with the terms and conditions and in line with financial due diligence. The project officer(s) should have access to all documentation of governance and reporting bodies, in so far as it relates to the administration and application of the grant. As funding administrators, all UKRI staff have agreed to maintain the confidentiality required by all parties involved in EPSRC-funded research.
Advisory board appointment
This grant must establish and run an independent advisory board, or equivalent body, to oversee the running of the project and provide advice on the strategic direction and activities of the project. The terms of reference and membership of this group (at least 50% independent membership and an independent chair) should be agreed with EPSRC. The EPSRC project officer will also be expected to attend and participate in advisory board and other appropriate meetings for the duration of the grant.
It is expected the first advisory board meeting will be held within four months of the start date of the project and there will two meetings a year with contact outside of the meeting when appropriate.
Notwithstanding standard grant condition RGC 4.4, the sum awarded under the heading of ‘flexible funds’ can include both directly incurred and directly allocated expenditure. These funds must be reported on the FES as awarded on the offer letter and a breakdown of the expenditure must be submitted along with the FES. If a breakdown of this expenditure is not received the FESs will be returned. Standard grant conditions apply to all other funds awarded on this grant.
Publicity and branding
In addition to RGC 12.4 publication and acknowledgement of support, you must make reference to EPSRC and UKRI funding and include the UKRI logo and relevant branding on all online or printed materials (including press releases, posters, exhibition materials and other publications) related to activities funded by this grant.
In addition to the requirements set out in RGC 7.4.3, you are responsible for providing annual progress reports against non-financial performance metrics. A detailed list of performance metrics and instructions for reporting will be agreed with the grant holder and advisory board upon commencement of the grant.
You should have established an appropriate management structure with clear lines of responsibility and authority to oversee the day-to-day running of the project. This should be in place within six months of the start date of the grant. The terms of reference and management structure, including the project lead, co-leads and senior investigators must be approved by us in advance as must any changes to this structure. The Project Officer will be our main contact with the project, and must receive all meeting minutes of the management committees. We reserve the right to attend any meetings.
Adequate resourcing to support an appropriate management structure, as specified in the funding opportunity documentation, should be costed within the grant. This includes employing a grant manager on the grant.
Supporting skills and talent
We encourage you to follow the principles of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers and the Technician Commitment.
If your application includes international applicants, project partners or collaborators, visit UKRI’s trusted research and innovation for more information on effective international collaboration.
Find out about getting funding for international collaboration.