Pre-announcement: research UK economic productivity

Apply to research ways to transform UK productivity.

To apply, you must be from a UK-based research organisation eligible for ESRC funding.

Your project must be multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary or both.

Your project’s total economic cost can be between £1 million and £2 million. We will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Funding will last three years, starting in April 2022.

This funding opportunity guidance gives all the information available so far. We will publish the full details by the opening date.

Who can apply

Applicants must be from a UK-based research organisation eligible for ESRC funding.

Proposals can also include:

  • eligible international co-investigators
  • co-investigators from UK business, policy or civil society
  • public sector research establishments (PSREs).

Your proposal must be multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary or both.

Read the ESRC research funding guide.

Find out who can apply for funding.

What we're looking for

As part of ESRC’s strategic priority of transforming productivity in the UK, ESRC are looking to fund between four and six projects that add to the portfolio of research funded by the Strategic Priorities Fund on Productivity.

Projects will be funded between £1 million and £2 million at 100% fEC (ESRC funding at 80%).

Projects should be multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary, providing evidence of intended impact on currently under-researched themes.

Areas that the ESRC expert advisory group identified as particularly under-researched are:

  • diversity
  • net-zero and the green economy
  • financial markets.

This list is not exhaustive. ESRC would welcome proposals that explore productivity through different and new lenses not covered by existing research projects.

Diversity and productivity

We are interested in proposals looking at diversity and productivity, including:

  • how barriers to under-represented population groups in firms affect productivity, and the impact of reducing or eliminating these barriers
  • work on how diverse teams and workplaces affect firm performance.

Net-zero, the green economy and productivity

We are interested in research which explores how the shift to a net zero economy impacts productivity, with a view to seeing how growth can be maintained or enhanced through the shift. This includes:

  • impacts across firms and sectors – how investment in net zero impacts the productivity of other industries
  • the impact of incentives for green growth on energy intensity and productivity.

Financial markets

We are interested in how the risk profiles of institutional and other investors impact investment in innovation and in productivity improvements, including the impact of changes to these profiles over time (for example, in response to changing demographics).

Alternative ideas

As already stated, the above list is not exhaustive, and ESRC welcomes proposals in other areas, so long as they complement and do not duplicate its current productivity investments.

Overall requirements

Proposals should seek to work proactively with policymakers and businesses, focusing efforts on making tangible, real-world impact to productivity in the UK.

ESRC welcomes any methodological approach, whether quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods in nature.

Proposals should seek to complement the current portfolio of productivity research and not overlap with the themes of ongoing ESRC productivity investments. ESRC will not fund:

  • research which duplicates ongoing research
  • proposals that are deemed to be less than 50% social science
  • PhD studentships
  • proposals that focus solely on the impact of COVID-19.

Applicants should aim to start from April 2022 and last for three years (36 months).

How we will assess your application

Assessment criteria will be published in July 2021.

Contact details

Ask about this funding opportunity

Full information on the funding opportunity will be published in July 2021.

You may contact us if you require any further information, however the full call will include more details, including guidance on how to apply.


Additional info

The Strategic Priorities Fund is an £830 million investment in multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research. Its key aims are to:

  • increase high-quality multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research and innovation
  • ensure UKRI investment links up effectively with government research and innovation priorities
  • respond to strategic priorities and opportunities.

In 2019, ESRC received £32.4 million from the Strategic Priorities Fund to tackle the productivity puzzle, one of the most important issues for the UK economy. The Productivity Institute is the largest-ever investment made by ESRC and productivity remains one of its top priorities.

Raising productivity is a national priority for the UK and is a key means of achieving a range of social and economic ends, including:

  • raising incomes
  • generating sustainable economic growth
  • improving the effectiveness of the public and third sectors.

However, UK productivity levels have been poor by international standards and have stagnated in recent years.

The initial call for the Productivity Institute Programme saw the funding in 2020 of The Productivity Institute at Alliance Manchester Business School for £26 million. It brought together world-leading experts from a range of disciplines to work directly with policymakers and businesses in tackling the productivity puzzle.

ESRC also funded the Programme on Innovation and Diffusion at LSE, a £5 million programme focusing on the generation of new ideas and their diffusion across the economy, and a collection of investments on Management Practices and Employee Engagement, the PrOPEL Hub and the Productivity Insights Network.

There remains additional funding of £10 million available to tackle thematic areas not covered by the research agendas of The Productivity Institute or the Programme on Innovation and Diffusion.

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