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:
- investment managers and practitioners representing the interests of industry
- the broader AI ecosystem
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
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.
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:
- 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
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 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
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
- 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.
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 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).
|2023 to 2024
|2024 to 2025
|2025 to 2026
|2026 to 2027
|2027 to 2028
|Additional potential allocation
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 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
- research technical support including research software engineers, data scientists, postdoctoral research assistants and fellow salaries
- other standard expenses
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.