Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Responsible and trustworthy artificial intelligence

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We are looking for a leadership team to play a key role in driving the UK’s responsible and trustworthy (R&T) artificial intelligence (AI) agenda, building a diverse and inclusive community across disciplines and sectors.

Working closely with other actors and investments, it will connect ongoing research across UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) remit, including but not limited to relevant investments made by UKRI.

UKRI will fund 1 award up to £25 million at 80% full economic cost.

You must be based at a UK research organisation to be eligible for UKRI, and the proposed team should span multiple disciplines.

Who can apply

Eligibility

Standard UKRI eligibility rules apply. Funding through this opportunity is open to:

  • UK higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • UKRI-approved independent research organisations
  • eligible public sector research establishments
  • eligible research and technology organisations
  • NHS bodies with research capacity

Check if your institution is eligible for funding.

You can apply if you are a resident in the UK and meet at least 1 of the following conditions:

  • are employed at the submitting research organisation at a level equivalent to lecturer or above
  • hold a fixed-term contract that extends beyond the duration of the proposed project, and the host research organisation is prepared to give you all the support normal for a permanent employee
  • hold an AHRC, EPSRC, ESRC, Royal Society or Royal Academy of Engineering fellowship aimed at later career stages
  • hold fellowships under other schemes (please contact UKRI to check eligibility, which is considered on a case-by-case basis)

Holders of postdoctoral level fellowships are not eligible to apply for an UKRI grant.

Restrictions

We are expecting a high level of interest in this funding opportunity. This funding opportunity will fund only the highest quality application.

We encourage applicants to focus their efforts on applications that most closely mirror the needs of the funding opportunity and the strengths of the proposed team.

Applicants should seek to demonstrate a strong consortium and ecosystem facilitation approach.

Applications which do not represent a large cross section of the current funded AI ecosystem, either directly or through partnerships, will not be competitive for funding.

UKRI has a no resubmission policy. Full proposals submitted to this funding opportunity which are unsuccessful will be classed as a first submission under the resubmissions policy. You would not be able to submit the proposal to other UKRI schemes. Similarly, full proposals previously submitted to other UKRI schemes will be counted as a resubmission and office rejected.

What we're looking for

Funding is available to support the creation of a consortium of leading academics and practitioners for advancing the UK’s position on the development and deployment of R&T AI.

R&T AI leadership team

This investment is to fund a R&T AI leadership team. The leadership team will be recognised as having the skills, experience, potential and proven track record to scope, co-create and deliver impactful and innovative research.

The leadership team will co-create interventions that enable the development and deployment of new or adapted AI technologies to support social, environmental, and economic benefits in the UK and internationally. They will be supported by a core team comprising:

  • academics
  • investment managers and practitioners representing the interests of industry
  • government
  • academia
  • the broader AI ecosystem

Expertise

The leadership team will be from a diverse range of academic institutions, policy advisory groups and commercial enterprises with geographical spread around the UK. The team will be reflective of the strengths represented around the UK, nationally and locally. We expect this group to have:

  • core R&T AI science and engineering leadership, with an in-depth understanding of relevant disciplines, technologies, policy challenges and evidence needs
  • thematic expertise reflecting the communities that will be engaged in the investment
  • an ability to engage with diverse stakeholders, including non-academics
  • an ability to articulate a clear vision for engagement with communities working in this area and new partners from within the appropriate disciplines or elsewhere
  • an ability to deliver complex projects to time, considering the variety of activities and outputs
  • specialist expertise (academic or non-academic) to support the desired outcomes, which may include sector representatives, programme management expertise, a communications function, and knowledge mobilisation expertise
  • ability to work collaboratively across disciplines and diverse stakeholder groups, including approaches to stakeholder engagement

Role

The leadership team on R&T AI is intended to provide the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary leadership for the area, both across the investment, the UK and influence internationally.

The group will lead the UK agenda and build a unified community of technical, sociotechnical, societal, and humanities communities or foci researchers in responsible trustworthy AI.

It will connect ongoing research, including the different relevant elements funded under the individual councils’ investments in AI, and in particular including embedding responsibility and trust in:

  • AI technologies
  • standards and regulations
  • digital society
  • responsible AI implementation
  • adoption and diffusion for businesses and in the economy

The leadership team will convene and fund world-leading research and innovation in this area.

It is expected that the leadership team will require more time than is typically required on standard UKRI research grants. Principal investigators will be expected to drive and participate in broader UK AI ecosystem discussions with UKRI and other governmental stakeholders. This group will:

  • commission research and training programmes
  • commission and deliver white papers
  • identify challenges and opportunities across the landscape
  • create and support a diverse network
  • drive the evolution of the UK AI ecosystem

It is anticipated that the R&T leadership team will provide overall coherence to a suite of existing and new investments that complement the work of UKRI and other public sector investments in this area.

Connecting the UK AI ecosystem

Due to the cross-cutting nature and importance of R&T AI, the leadership team will connect different parts of the UK AI ecosystem. This includes other UKRI AI related investments, through a programme of research, knowledge exchange, and engagement.

It will draw on their knowledge and experience, create a UK network with international reach and fund research in high priority areas in partnership with those investments.

The following investments will be engaged or represented to deliver the desired outcomes of the R&T AI investment:

This list is indicative of current investment priorities in AI. Applicants are expected to draw on their own networks and contacts to bring together a consortium that represents the full scope of this investment. Principal investigator and other team members of these investments, or other UKRI funded investments, may be included as part of the leadership or wider team.

All applications must include:

  • membership representation within the leadership team
  • support from across this group of current investments
  • a clear and credible plan for ensuring these investments will be brought into partnership through the lifetime of the programme

Applications that do not have existing links with a number of these investments are unlikely to be competitive.

Collaboration

In particular, the leadership team will work in close collaboration with The Alan Turing Institute and the Ada Lovelace Institute, with strong synergies for expanding and strengthening the ecosystem. Because of the nature of this funding opportunity, neither institute will be offering specific support (this includes offering letters of support) to individual applications.

On funding, the successful bid will be expected to work closely with both institutes as they develop the programme and convene the AI community. This is designed to be a partnership, with governance of this programme separate to both institutes.

Previous engagement with either institute is not required at the point of application.

Flexible approach to funding

The investment will necessarily be mission based and agile, with a flexible approach to funding based around a central vision. This allows the leadership team to identify and act on high potential areas of research with appropriate partners in the ecosystem.

It is envisaged that part of the investment will be set aside for this bridging approach, specifically for activities which work with other UKRI funded activities including:

  • networking
  • collaborative projects
  • use case studies
  • impact development funding

This investment will champion and convene communication and collaboration across other relevant UKRI investments currently in development including:

  • AI for net zero
  • AI for health
  • bridge AI
  • potential future investments

It should act as a focal point for bringing together critical mass centres in AI and currently disparate parts of the ecosystem, through the lens of R&T AI.

Relationship with business, innovation and government

There will also be an expectation that the award will develop and influence business practices and innovation. Therefore it is vital to ensure relevant users of research are part of the consortium or that there is a clear path to engaging them.

Similarly, policy influence and standards must be central to outputs. Therefore the following should be engaged in partnerships and form part of the governance or partnerships within the consortium:

  • Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
  • Office for AI
  • other government departments
  • non departmental public bodies

It is anticipated that members of the leadership team will:

  • have existing strong relationships with senior stakeholders within government and associated agencies
  • be able to facilitate discussions on policy objectives and pathways to delivering outcomes

Scope

AI has the potential to have a profound effect on the economy and in addressing national and global challenges. AI-enabled technologies need to be developed considering the social, environmental, and economic contexts they will operate in, and the benefits and challenges they might create.

To drive the uptake of the technology and ensure the full benefits of AI can be realised, the UK needs to drive approaches to AI that are secure, safe, reliable. They need to operate in a way that we can understand and investigate if they fail.

These ‘responsible and trustworthy’ approaches can enable the UK to have a competitive advantage in the development, diffusion, and adoption of AI.

For example, approaches to developing AI and machine-learning that properly counter bias and embed human and societal values into AI do not yet exist. Biases, of data and people, need to be taken into consideration at the outset because they cannot be simply rectified after a system has been developed and adopted by businesses and people.

Significant gaps include technologies that:

  • reflect and support human and societal values such as fairness and ethics, and aims such as improving outcomes for people, public services and communities
  • are designed for user privacy, transparency and to limit unjust or irrational bias
  • are transparent, and appropriately explained to and understood by those they impact
  • are reliable, robust, safe and secure

Advances in methodological approaches to developing R&T AI will bring together academics and practitioners from the science and engineering disciplines with those from social sciences, humanities and law. Convening and co-creating across these disciplines will develop a shared understanding of the issues and challenges (technical, applied, social and economic) for the future of successful AI deployment. It will enable this to be articulated in a language that is accessible to the wider research community and to society.

Transformational leadership and coordination

This investment will provide transformational leadership and coordination for R&T AI in the UK. It will invest in a leadership team to develop new capabilities and understandings that ensure AI technologies are responsible and trustworthy because they are designed with an understanding of the real-world context in which they will be used.

It will develop public dialogues on AI, its use, its future, its implications and embed public engagement in AI research and innovation. It will bring together technical researchers, humanities and social science researchers and users of AI to bring together a UK wide and international community in R&T AI.

Alongside and combined with the technology development, the programme should have plans to address technical, sociotechnical, societal, cultural and ethical challenges in AI development and deployment which addresses:

  • AI governance (policies, regulations and standards)
  • digital society and diffusion through the economy
  • AI adoption

This investment seeks to provide the UK with a strategic advantage in developing and deploying the approaches and technologies necessary to enable R&T AI to realise benefits for people, the planet, and the economy. The programme will do this through the convening of a leadership team from across relevant disciplines and a supporting team.

While the leadership team should be drawn from a diverse range of disciplines, communities, affiliations, organisations and backgrounds, the programme must be focused on coherence and co-creation. It will combine technology development that embeds trust and responsibility and deliver social benefits led technology implementation and education.

Vision and mission

The leadership team should propose a clear vision and mission for the group. This should also lead into its strategy for:

  • initial programmes of research to be completed within the first 2 years of the investment
  • plans to build on this and identify further challenges into the later years of the investment
  • plans to act as a focal point for the community, including:
    • how it will provide interdisciplinary leadership
    • build and convene a network of investments, organisations and people across the UK
    • act as champions for R&T in the UK and internationally
  • collaboration with other current investments in the ecosystem, supporting co-creation of research, identifying and acting on opportunities within the associated communities to foster and commission new research programmes, create a new networked UK community

Additional activities

Additional activities will be commissioned throughout the lifetime of the award by the leadership team and governance of the programme to cover:

  • research and adoption activities
  • development of training and upskilling in responsible AI
  • input to policy
  • driving AI and data standards
  • developing international collaborations
  • public engagement
  • collaborative activities to link up and enhance other investments and funding to bring in additional stakeholders to the network

While the majority of these funds are intended to come from the flexible funding within the award, additional funds are available. This may be awarded as an increase to the level of funding of the grant, where approved by the governance of the award and in line with the associated business case of the funds and UKRI strategy.

There will be a review of the grant in year 2 to cover the scope of activities planned throughout the lifetime of the grant and details of activities scoped for the final 3 years.

A key impact from this investment will be new approaches to the development and deployment of responsible AI, spread across the ecosystem with greater connectivity across academia, industry and policy makers. It will define approaches to thinking about developing AI-enabled technologies to deliver benefits, identifying questions or challenges, which can then be ‘scaled up’ across different sectors, such as:

  • identifying what questions need to be asked
  • what people need to be involved, etc.

For example, how can societal benefits be ‘built into’ design processes? How can AI be made explicable and trusted from its fundamental algorithms through the software deployment? By articulating the benefits we want to see from AI-enabled technologies, we will promote better understanding of, and thus wider acceptance and trust in, AI solutions within businesses, public and other end users.

One of the early aims of this investment is to define what is meant by R&T and how this is perceived and may differ in different research areas and sectors. This will also serve to differentiate this research from the commonly used term responsible research and innovation which is aimed at checks and controls that are applied to research in any discipline.

Outputs, outcomes and impacts

By the end of the investment period, this investment should have enabled an AI ecosystem that supports the UK’s transition to an AI-enabled economy, resulting in growth, prosperity, and mutual benefit for sectors and citizens. Applicants are required to demonstrate how they will deliver or support the desired outcomes in their applications:

  • development of new approaches for R&T AI that are applicable to real world challenges
  • a larger and more diverse community which possess relevant and transferable AI skills and knowledge
  • a coherent and sustainable ecosystem that is multidisciplinary, cross sector and has international reach
  • wider sectoral acceptance of AI solutions
  • public understanding, trust and acceptance of AI increases
  • increase the adoption and diffusion of AI increases, driven by business and consumer acceptance

Stakeholder collaboration

It is vital this investment engages and works with users of AI across business and governance in a way that can develop R&T AI such that it can:

  • meet user needs
  • quickly transition towards industry best practice
  • inform standards and policy, nationally and internationally

Due to the scale of this single award, significant collaboration and leverage (cash or in-kind) will be expected from project partners (for example, business, public sector, third sector). This may include models such as endowing chairs or adding to academic salaries.

We expect collaborations to build a mutually beneficial 2-way relationship based on expertise, secondments in both directions, products, infrastructure and data.

It is envisaged that much of this leverage will be gained post funding. This is given the timescale involved, the development of new partnerships and realisation of leverage will be one of the key performance indicators of the programme. The leadership team must contain a demonstrable track record of engagement of this type and an early output would be a stakeholder engagement and impact plan.

We expect bidders to demonstrate how they will engage and collaborate with stakeholders across all parts of the UK and play into regional, as well as national, innovation and growth strategies. This is in recognition of the diverse nature of the research and innovation landscape for R&T AI across the UK, and the national role that this award will play in the UKRI portfolio.

Applicants should apply for the resources they need to enable strong connectivity with all parts of the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales).

Funding programme requirements

This grant will be funded at 80% full economic cost in line with UKRI’s standard funding policies.

We suggest that the initial allocation of funds should be roughly equal across:

  • the leadership and management team and associated specified research activities
  • flexible fund for consortium led research activities
  • flexible fund for wider participation in the programme through mini competitions, working with other stakeholders in the landscape and building the R&T AI network

Proposals must:

  • define and justify their objectives for the consortium led use of the flexible fund
  • outline how the wider allocation of flexible funds will be operationalised and governed

This should ensure that funds genuinely enable new work (instead of going towards existing activities) while giving due consideration to ensuring diversity and capacity-building. Flexible funds should be awarded at 80% full economic cost and costs should be included as ‘Other Directly Incurred’.

The programme should implement a governance structure for decision making on flexible funding. This governance and advice from UKRI should be sought post award to ensure good practice is followed in the assessment and allocation of flexible funds. Projects are expected to engage with the wider programme of activity and to report their progress and outcomes to the grant holder.

Activities funded through this award should be delivered in line with the principles of managing public money.

Governance

This award is designed to be flexible and be a route for additional funding to be allocated for cross community activities to meet identified demands of the R&T AI community. The successful award will be expected to work with UKRI and the governance of the programme to identify opportunities for new activities and research programmes.

Proposals should include detail of the governance of the programme and advisory group, including academic and non-academic members, that will support the research and oversee the development of the key activities and governance structures.

Independent advisory board

As a minimum, an independent advisory board should meet at least every 6 months and include key academic, industrial, relevant policy officials and other stakeholders.

Members should be independent and drawn from outside organisations hosting the core leadership group.

It is required that UKRI representation will sit on this advisory board, who will be appointed by UKRI.

Provision of the precise and full membership of such a board will not be required at point of application.

Resources and support

Proposals should also address how:

  • activities will be managed and detail project management resources and administrative support
  • leadership will provide adequate operational capabilities and resources to meet the demands of the planned activities

The operation of the broader network and provision of activities which will take a UK wide approach to embedding R&T AI in multiple stakeholder groups are essential. Applicants are encouraged to ask for sufficient resources to manage this.

Risks concerning the management of the flexible funds are to be identified at the outset of the project with the advisory group and appropriate management plans and mitigation measures put in place.

Funding available

Funding is available for 1 single grant award. Grant start 1 May 2023 to run for 5 years, to 31 March 2028.

The profile of the funding available is at a set level for this award and is illustrated in the table, set by specific business case controlled spend timeframe and targets. Funding profile in the first 2 years is set and cannot be vired between years. UKRI and EPSRC has some discretionary powers to be flexible with the funding profile in the last 3 years. Expenditure cannot currently extend beyond 31 March 2028.

UKRI will fund 80% of the full economic cost. The total which can be requested from UKRI and the profile is outlined in the table (table values shown are 80% full economic cost).

Programme 2023 to 2024 2024 to 2025 2025 to 2026 2026 to 2027 2027 to 2028 Total
R&T AI £4m £6m £5m £5m £5m £25m
Additional potential allocation £5m

It is the intention that the leadership team will develop a plan for activities in the first 6 months of operation which will cover later years of the award. This will be submitted to UKRI and include the potential for an additional £5 million spend in year 2 of the investment.

It will contain plans for development of the national programme of R&T AI. It is expected to be delivered in partnership with other investments and actors, expanding the reach of the network and collaborators for the leadership group. Successful approval of this plan will take the total funds available for the programme to £30 million (£37.5 million full economic cost).

The first 2 years of funding are to cement relationships and activities across the wider remit of UKRI. Due to the source of the funding, the final 3 years is currently intended to be primarily for research within EPSRC’s remit.

Activities should be planned on this basis, but it is the intention that this is an agile award and that a final plan of activities will be agreed with UKRI at a review in year 2. There may be an opportunity to broaden this remit depending on future financial settlements.

Funding in the initial submission is available for:

  • principal investigators and co-investigators: the programme leadership team
  • project manager and management team
  • communications manager (and associated team or costs)
  • network manager (and associated team or costs)
  • ecosystem network infrastructure
  • networking events
  • conferences with bursaries to support equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)
  • landscape mapping
  • pump priming activities
  • developing, disseminating and supporting best practice
  • secondments and staff exchanges

In the submission, applicants are asked to outline their approach which may include:

  • managing a leadership team comprising a number of champions, a programme or project manager and supporting team, to provide leadership, visibility and focus
  • ecosystem support, identifying and filling gaps to develop impact and reach (including international), development of best practice
  • landscape mapping with SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and gap analysis
  • collaborative research, seeking to fill gaps in responsible and trustworthy AI: pump priming
  • discipline hopping, enabling academics to work across other research areas to broaden the AI ecosystem

Resources

Resources may be used for research expenses including:

  • UKRI funded research facilities. Please note that if you plan to use a major facility in your research, such as those funded centrally by UKRI or a European facility, contact the facility before applying. You should check if your proposed research is feasible, and obtain a technical assessment if the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system marks it as required
  • travel
  • research technical support including research software engineers, data scientists, postdoctoral research assistants and fellow salaries
  • training
  • other standard expenses

Equipment

Although this is not a funding opportunity designed for significant capital expenditure, equipment over £10,000 in value (including VAT) and up to £400,000 is available through this funding opportunity. All equipment should be fully justified and essential to the mission of the investment.

Applicants should look to use local compute capacity and national facilities where possible. In circumstances where this is not possible, and there is a specific need, compute may be requested, this should be fully justified in the justification of resources attachment.

Smaller items of equipment (individually under £10,000) should be in the ‘Directly Incurred – Other Costs’ heading.

EPSRC approach to equipment funding.

Where the investment is working in partnership with other stakeholder organisations, there must be clear definition of roles and responsibilities to avoid any potential for double funding of activities.

Where staff are employed, either on core activities or via the flexible funds, there must be clear justification. You must justify that the activities they are employed on are separate and additional to those activities funded through other grants or contracts issued by UKRI.

UKRI reserve the right to remove funding where it is deemed that an activity is duplicating an activity already funded by UKRI or other government funding.

Requirements

Resources requested in this application must be justified and appropriate for delivering the proposed outcomes and identify the main risks and put contingencies in place.

The successful award will be expected to secure substantial leverage support (financial and in kind) and routes to accessing continued support throughout the lifetime of the project should be detailed.

Due to the collaborative nature of this award, we are looking for a few high-quality bids for funding. Therefore, applicants can be named investigators in a maximum of 2 proposals, but named as principal investigator on only 1 proposal. UKRI reserve the right to reject proposals which do not meet the requirements of the funding opportunity.

Competitive proposals will be multidisciplinary with applicants from more than 1 UK university. Proposals must have the support of a number of project partners, through project partner letters, and a plan to engage with others.

Projects have a fixed start date of 1 May 2023 and an end date of 31 March 2028. No extension to the start date can be given. Applicants must have the necessary staff in place so that the projects can start on 1 May 2023.

The allocation of funding to UKRI is subject to business case approval by BEIS and HM Treasury. Applicants should proceed on the understanding that UKRI’s ability to fund the investment recommended for funding through this funding opportunity will be dependent on that approval being secured.

Responsible innovation and trusted research

UKRI is fully committed to developing and promoting responsible innovation and trusted research. Research has the ability to not only produce understanding, knowledge and value, but also unintended consequences, questions, ethical dilemmas and, at times, unexpected social transformations.

We recognise that we have a duty of care to promote approaches to responsible innovation that will initiate ongoing reflection about the potential ethical and societal implications of the research that we sponsor. We encourage our research community to do likewise.

In common with other funding for AI across UKRI, this grant will be required to embed principles of responsible innovation and those of trusted research throughout their activities. You will be expected to engage with the relevant regulatory bodies where concerns may arise under the National Security and Investment Act. Aspects of bias, privacy, security and ethics should be considered where appropriate.

Sustainability

UKRI’s environmental sustainability strategy (PDF, 1.5MB) 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

UKRI expects its grants to embed careful consideration of environmental sustainability at all stages of the research and innovation process and throughout the lifetime of the grant.

The grant holder should ensure that environmental impact and mitigation of the proposed networking, research approaches and operations, as well as the associated project outputs, methodologies developed across science and engineering and outcomes is considered.

Furthermore, opportunities should be sought to influence others and leave a legacy of environmental sustainability within the broader operations of your academic and industry partners.

EDI

As leaders in the community, this investment is expected to embed EDI in all activities throughout the lifetime of the grant. Given the nature of the award, applicants should describe how they intend to drive this agenda both within the technology development and research undertaken, within the grant and also across the broader community.

This will include identifying the specific EDI challenges and barriers and developing a strategy to address these, with reference to UKRI published expectations for EDI.

Applicants must ensure that they request appropriate resources to develop and deliver their EDI strategy effectively. This must include at least 1 costed staff post with responsibility for EDI and any other resources, for example mentoring schemes, training, workshops and data exercises) in the justification of resources document.

UKRI does not specify any particular full-time equivalent, salary level or career stage for the EDI Lead post. Applicants may decide what is most appropriate for their programme, while giving due consideration to flexible working.

International collaboration

Applicants planning to include international collaborators on their proposal should visit Trusted Research for guidance on getting the most out of international collaboration while protecting intellectual property, sensitive research and personal information.

How to apply

Intention to submit

Applicants should submit an intent to submit application through SmartSurvey.

The survey will request:

  • brief details of the title of the intended project
  • the project principal investigator and proposed co-investigators and any other included organisations
  • a brief 200-word description of your project

Please note that any intent to submit notification will be indicative and changes post submission are permitted.

Applications

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

You can find advice on completing your application in the Je-S handbook.

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.

When applying:

  1. Select ‘documents’, then ‘new document’.
  2. Select ‘call search’.
  3. To find the opportunity, search for: Responsible and Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence.

This will populate:

  • council: EPSRC (as the lead for UKRI on this award)
  • document type: Standard Proposal
  • scheme: Standard Research
  • call/type/mode: Research Grant

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.

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

Deadline

UKRI must receive your application by 23 February 2023 at 4:00pm UK time.

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.

Attachments

Your application must also include the following attachments:

  • case for support (8 pages, 2 for the track record or the leadership group and 6 on the scientific and investment case)
  • workplan (1 page)
  • justification of resources (2 pages)
  • CVs (up to 2 A4 sides each) for named:
    • principal investigator and leadership team members
    • programme or project manager, or both
    • communications manager
    • network manager
    • postdoctoral staff, researcher co-investigators (research assistants who have made a substantial contribution to the proposal and will be employed on the project for a significant amount of time)
    • visiting researchers
  • letters of support from all project partners included in the Je-S form (no page limit), UKRI guidance on project partners letter of support
  • quotes for equipment above £25,000 (no page limit)
  • equipment business case for any items of equipment or combined assets with a value above £138,000 (up to 2 pages)
  • technical assessments for facilities listed as requiring one in the Je-S guidance (no page limit)
  • host organisation letter of support (2 pages)
  • cover letter (optional attachment, no page limit, not seen by peer review)

You should attach your documents as PDFs to avoid errors. They should be completed in single-spaced Arial 11 font or similar-sized sans serif typeface. UKRI will not accept any other attachment types under this opportunity.

Read our advice on writing proposals for UKRI funding.

Ethical information

UKRI will not fund a project if it believes that there are ethical concerns that have been overlooked or not appropriately accounted for. All relevant parts of the ‘ethical information’ section must be completed.

Guidance on completing ethical information on the Je-S form.

UKRI guidance can be found under ‘additional information’.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

Applications will not be assessed by postal peer review, instead they will be sent to an expert panel. Prior to going to panel applications will be assessed internally by the councils involved in this funding opportunity. Any proposals that do not meet the required remit for this funding opportunity will be sift rejected.

The panel will be interdisciplinary and comprised of experts from across the research landscape. The expert panel will assess and sift the applications at a panel meeting. Should the number of applications be low we reserve the right to remove this step. An interview panel will take place 2 weeks after the initial panel meeting.

The interview should be attended by the principal investigator and up to 4 other key members of the team. In the event that the principal investigator is unable to attend a suitable deputy from the proposed team should be identified. At the interview stage, the panel questions will primarily focus on the applicant’s leadership team and quality assessment criterion.

All criteria will be assessed in determining the final rank ordered list, taking into consideration the review panel comments and interview. Full details of the interview process will be sent to candidates before the interviews.

Assessment criteria

Specific assessment criteria

Fit (primary)

Fit to funding opportunity, including:

  • alignment of research programme to aims and objectives of funding opportunity
  • appropriate resources have been requested to support community building, responsible innovation or public engagement
  • levels of engagement with multidisciplinary research challenges that cross multiple user led, technological, sociotechnical and humanities based disciplines
  • appropriate engagement across the UK AI ecosystem, geographically and by stakeholder group

Potential for the applicants to:

  • advance the UK’s capabilities in R&T AI
  • actively support the development of an AI ecosystem in this area that extends beyond traditional academic boundaries
  • stimulate the development of emerging research areas
  • build cross thematic and sectoral collaborations

Appropriateness of consortia member participants, for example, by demonstrating:

  • complementarity to other activities in R&T AI
  • a history of engagement with existing relevant national institutes
  • how the consortium will bring prosperity to the UK

Standard assessment criteria

Quality (primary)

The research excellence of the proposal, making reference to:

  • the novelty, relationship to the context, timeliness and relevance to identified stakeholders
  • the ambition, adventure, transformative aspects or potential outcomes
  • the suitability of the proposed methodology and the appropriateness of the approach to achieving impact
  • approach to defining and delivering prime pumping activities
  • project management arrangements
  • managing flexible funds
National importance (secondary major)

How the research:

  • contributes to or helps maintain the health of other disciplines
  • contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges
  • contributes to future UK economic success and development of emerging industry or industries
  • meets national needs by establishing or maintaining a unique world-leading activity
  • complements other UK research funded in the area, including any relationship to the UKRI AI portfolio
  • plans for dissemination and knowledge exchange with potential beneficiaries of the research
Applicant and partnerships (secondary)

The ability to deliver the proposed project, making reference to:

  • appropriateness of the track record of the applicant or applicants
  • balance of skills of the project team, including collaborators
Resources and management (secondary)

The effectiveness of the proposed planning and management and whether the requested resources are appropriate and have been fully justified, making reference to:

  • any equipment requested, or the viability of the arrangements described to access equipment needed for this project, and particularly on any university or third-party contribution
  • any resources requested for activities to either increase impact, for public engagement or to support responsible innovation
  • appropriateness of resources requested to support plans to enable both virtual and physical collaboration

Feedback

Feedback to principal investigators will be provided immediately during the expert panel interviews.

Interviews will be structured to include a break to allow the applicants time to review their answers and formulate additional responses. It will also give the panel an opportunity to discuss additional questions they will want to address.

Principal investigators will have the opportunity to respond to this feedback at the interview with the expert panel.

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.

Ask about this funding opportunity

General enquiries

Email: ai.robotics@epsrc.ukri.org

Please put “Responsible and Trustworthy AI Funding Opportunity” in the email subject line.

Get help with applying through Je-S

Email

jeshelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone

01793 444164

Opening times

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Additional info

Vision

AI technologies (and digital technologies generally) need to be R&T to deliver societal and economic benefits; without verifiability, transparency and public trust, they will not reach their full potential.

AI must have robust development and verification at each step to meet the methodological challenges, but also need to be developed in a way that considers the broader social or legal contexts. The wider benefits need to be front and centre in the design processes.

To gain greatest benefit, AI technologies must be deployed in a way that understands inherent risks and limitations of the technology to enable people to make informed choices. Embedding this throughout the technology development chain, from mathematics to deployment to policy development, this programme will connect interdisciplinary researchers, industry, business, government, society and other stakeholders both in the UK and internationally.

With the ongoing development and adoption of AI technologies, it is recognised that issues pertaining to the development, regulation, risk management, opportunity realisation and use of R&T AI remain prominent for both existing and future applications.

In a recent US National Science Foundation and EPSRC report, responsible AI was rated:

  • the most important avenue for further academic research between the 2 countries
  • distinct in its importance in driving innovations within the digital sector

In discussion around greatest step changes which could be made across complex sectors like health or defence, responsible AI is cited as key enabler.

Research and innovation in this area is seen as underpinning the development of further use cases that help to open up new sectors and opportunities for AI solutions. A key imperative of this research is to be able to demonstrate to end users and society that such applications are safe, appropriate, unbiased, explainable and trustworthy while also delivering societal benefits.

This involves the following considerations:

  • ensuring compliance to regulation and thinking about ethical considerations
  • ensuring these are built into every step of technological development and design processes
  • development of robust validation and verification, embedding demonstrability, transparency and accountability throughout the value chain
  • ensuring these are built into design of goods and services
  • thinking about how people will use the goods and services

Multidisciplinarity in research and innovation which can cut across the UKRI remit is vital. While AHRC, ESRC and EPSRC fund grants that explore the fundamental technologies for R&T AI, this is delivered in a piecemeal approach.

This proposed programme takes a more strategic approach to developing these technologies addressing the platform technology in conjunction with the broader socioeconomic and contextual setting.

Given the importance of responsibility and trust across AI as a technology platform, the programme will also be central to joining up other parts of the UK ecosystem and sister investments within AI. The programme has a remit to:

  • develop and spread best practice
  • collaborate with other programmes to embed responsibility within their investments
  • create a step change in the understanding and use of trusted AI technologies

Grant Additional Conditions (GAC)

Grants will be subject to the standard UKRI grant conditions however the following additional grant conditions will be added to this funding opportunity.

GAC 1: start date of the grant

Notwithstanding RGC 5.2 Starting Procedures, this grant must start by 1 May 2023. No slippage of start date beyond 1 May 2023 will be permitted. Expenditure may be incurred prior to the start of the grant and be subsequently charged to the grant, provided that it does not precede the date of the offer letter.

GAC 2: grant extensions

No slippage or grant extensions (beyond exceptional circumstances in line with the Equality Act 2010) will be allowed. UKRI will not be responsible for any cost overrun incurred during the course of this grant. The research organisation or organisations will be required to make up any shortfall from alternative sources.

GAC 3: equality, diversity and inclusion

In addition to RGC 3.4, the grant holder is expected to prepare a full equality diversity and inclusion plan for the duration of this grant. The plan should demonstrate best practice in equality, diversity and inclusion throughout the lifetime of this funding award. This must be received by the project officer within 3 months of the grant start date

GAC 4: naming and branding

In addition to RGC 12.4 Publication and Acknowledgement of Support, the grant holder must make reference to UKRI funding. You should 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.

GAC 5: collaboration and collaboration agreements

A formal collaboration agreement must be in place with the basis of collaboration between any organisations involved in the grant, that takes into account the provision of flexible funds.

This agreement should include the following:

  • the allocation of resources throughout the project
  • ownership of intellectual property
  • rights to exploitation

It is the responsibility of the relevant organisations to put such an agreement in place before the research begins. The terms of collaboration agreements must not conflict with the UKRI terms and conditions. Arrangements for collaboration or exploitation, or both, must not prevent the future progression of research and the dissemination of research results in accordance with academic custom and practice.

The UKRI and EPSRC contact must be informed within 3 months of the start of the grant that:

  • the collaboration agreement is in place
  • the agreement has been signed by all partners and the progress made (unless some alternative timeline has been agreed with EPSRC beforehand)

If sufficient progress has not been made within 3 months of the start of the grant, EPSRC reserves the right to enact RGC 23.

GAC 6: governance

EPSRC will nominate a member of UKRI staff (the project officer) who will be the grant holder’s 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. As funding administrators, all UKRI staff have agreed to maintain the confidentiality required by all parties involved in EPSRC-funded research.

GAC 7: monitoring and reporting

In addition to the requirements set out in the standard UKRI grant condition RGC 7.4.3, the grant holder is responsible for providing progress reports and monitoring data (financial and non-financial) when requested by UKRI.

UKRI expects that the frequency of financial returns will be bi-annual but reserves the right to request returns more or less often as appropriate to respond to changes in business needs. A template and guidance to complete this will be provided by UKRI in due course.

As part of the management process, the grant holder will be expected to produce an annual report detailing progress against their stated aims and objectives and should highlight any key impacts or success stories.

UKRI reserves the right to suspend the grant and withhold further payments if the performance metrics requested are not provided by the stated deadlines or are determined to be of an unacceptable standard by EPSRC.

GAC 8: expenditure

At the start of the grant the financial spend profile will be agreed by UKRI.

In addition to any reporting requirements set out in GAC 8, the grant holder must immediately notify the UKRI project officer, or officers, in writing of any accumulation, slippage or variation in expenditure greater than 5% of the annual profiled funding.

Any such changes must be approved in writing by UKRI; approval should not be assumed and will be dependent on spend across all associated grants.

We reserve the right to re-profile the grant if required.

Any deviation from the agreed allocation of funding and profiled costs must be negotiated and approved through written consent by UKRI. The approval of profile changes should not be assumed and will be dependent on spend across all associated grants.

At the end of the grant period a breakdown of the expenditure should be submitted along with the final expenditure statement.

GAC 9: embedding trusted research

The grant holder is expected to embed trusted research throughout their activities. EPSRC reserves the right to suspend the grant and withhold further payments if rusted research is not embedded throughout the programme or is deemed to be of an unacceptable standard by EPSRC.

Responsible innovation

EPSRC is fully committed to develop and promote responsible innovation.

Research has the ability to not only produce understanding, knowledge and value, but also unintended consequences, questions, ethical dilemmas and, at times, unexpected social transformations.

We recognise that we have a duty of care to promote approaches to responsible innovation that will initiate ongoing reflection about the potential ethical and societal implications of the research that we sponsor. We encourage our research community to do likewise.

Supporting documents

Equality impact assessment (PDF, 208KB)

This is the integrated website of the 7 research councils, Research England and Innovate UK.
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