Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Public engagement with STFC science, technology or facilities

Apply for funding to engage the public with STFC-supported science, technology or facilities.

This opportunity is open to a wide range of organisations.

You can apply if you’re a UK organisation with an annual financial report and accounts.

Your project must involve at least one researcher in an STFC-funded area.

Your project must focus on an area within the remit of STFC:

  • astronomy
  • solar and planetary science
  • particle physics
  • particle astrophysics
  • cosmology
  • nuclear physics
  • accelerator science.

In particular, we’d like to fund projects that engage:

  • eight to 14-year-olds, and their families, from socioeconomically deprived areas
  • groups considered to have low science capital.

Projects can last up to three years.

Who can apply

STFC Spark Awards are open to almost anyone based in the UK, including, but not limited to:

  • researchers
  • technicians
  • STFC scientists and engineers
  • STFC facility users
  • charities
  • schools
  • museums
  • science communicators
  • amateur astronomy groups.

The ‘principal applicant’ must be eligible to apply on behalf of the organisation that would hold the award.

Your application must include a researcher in an STFC-funded area. The researcher does not have to play an active role in the public engagement activities. They could be acting as an advisor on scientific content.

Organisation eligibility

Organisations that apply must produce an annual financial report and accounts. These must have been either prepared or submitted by a qualified account who is a member of a recognised professional accountancy body, including:

  • The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
  • Association of International Accountants (AIA)
  • Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)
  • The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA)
  • The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
  • Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)
  • Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI).

If this does not describe your organisation, you must work in partnership with an organisation that can receive the funding on your behalf.

Previous applicants

Applicants may apply for a Spark Award for any new idea, or to resubmit a previous application that can demonstrate it has addressed feedback received during the peer review process.

Applicants seeking funding for the direct continuation of a programme previously funded by STFC should apply for a Legacy Award.

If you have any questions about eligibility, please contact the STFC Public Engagement Team:

What we're looking for

We are looking to support projects that do one or more of the following:

  • deliver high-quality engagement activities in the areas supported by STFC
  • introduce STFC science and technology to new audiences
  • highlight the achievements of STFC science and technology
  • demonstrate the value to the UK of science, technology, engineering and mathematics
  • work with our public engagement and communication teams.

Spark Awards usually encourage ‘novel approaches’ to engagement and audience.

However, in light of restrictions arising from COVID-19, we are relaxing the requirement for ‘novelty’ in this round. The situation will be kept under review for future rounds.

Programmes must focus on areas within the remit of STFC:

  • astronomy
  • solar and planetary science
  • particle physics
  • particle astrophysics
  • cosmology
  • nuclear physics
  • accelerator science.

Spark Awards will not be awarded unless there is a strong and demonstrable link between your proposed activities and STFC science, technology or facilities.

You must explain how your project aligns with the STFC public engagement strategy.

Applications that highlight the social, ethical, and economic benefits of research are welcomed.

We are particularly seeking proposals to work with eight to 14-year olds, and their families, in socioeconomically deprived areas, in line with the STFC Wonder initiative.

See ‘How to apply’ for guidance on how to align your project to the target audience of the Wonder initiative.

New digital content and COVID-19 measures

We recognise that there may be ongoing issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic that make traditional engagement modes substantially more challenging than they have been for previous Spark Awards funding rounds.

For this round we are therefore:

  • actively encouraging applicants to consider the appropriateness of remote and virtual engagement methodologies as a potential focal area for their work
  • loosening the previous restriction whereby we would only consider funding digital content (for example, websites, videos) as an intrinsic part of a wider engagement programme.

Projects do not need to be digitally based but those focusing on ‘face to face’ delivery are encouraged to actively consider contingency planning should funded activity delivery not be possible if social distancing measures change.

Applicants should take account of the current status and anticipated trajectory of social distancing at the time of submitting their application. Both STFC and the funding panel will assess these ‘in good faith’ recognising that many aspects of this may be subject to change beyond the applicant’s control.

Any application for digital content needs to include:

  • a demonstration of the ‘evidence of need’ for any proposed content, or gaps in current provision of such material
  • evidence that the target audience for any content will be involved in the design and production of such content, within the constraints of social distancing
  • consideration of if and how the content will be sustained beyond the funded period, including potential funding sources
  • information on licensing in order to promote sharing and re-use of the digital content
  • acknowledgement of web accessibility rules and regulations.

Project partners

STFC public engagement awards are often partnerships between the grant holders (who apply for and receive financial support from STFC) and ‘project partners’.

These partnerships are not a requirement of STFC support but will strengthen a case for funding when they are deemed well planned and important for delivery of an impactful programme.

Well-constructed partnerships strengthen proposals by providing:

  • complementary skills and knowledge
  • additional staff time
  • additional cash or ‘in-kind’ support.

If an organisation wishes to receive funds from STFC, it must be a listed applicant on the grant application.

If an organisation will not receive funds from STFC, but will have an integral role in the proposed programme, that organisation is a ‘project partner’.

You should:

  • create these partnerships with ‘project partners’ before submitting an application for funding
  • include details of the partnership in the application.

STFC national laboratories and employees as ‘project partners’

STFC employs hundreds of scientific and technical staff, alongside our own team of public engagement professionals, at our laboratories across the UK.

You are welcome to ask to include STFC as project partners on public engagement applications, if relevant, and subject to the guidance above.

If you consider STFC involvement to be important in making your proposal a success, you must contact STFC staff at least four weeks in advance of the submission deadline.

To discuss the ability of STFC to participate in your proposal, get in touch with the public engagement contacts listed in the ‘Contact details’ section.

STFC reserves the right to choose not to participate in proposals at our own discretion. Please note that applications involving STFC as a project partner are treated no differently to other applications in the peer review and funding decision process.

Funding available

Up to £15,000 is available to cover the full cost of projects lasting up to 36 months. Funding can be for a variety of things including:

  • contributions to salary where the work would not be considered part of normal duties
  • materials
  • travel and subsistence.

For applications from, or for, schools, ‘requests for supply or teacher cover’ and ‘transport costs’ are also eligible.

Spark Awards do not come under the ‘full economic cost’ framework. This means £15,000 is the limit of funding. Any award we make will be the maximum amount payable, and will include any VAT payable.


We have no capital budget for Spark Awards. Items of equipment costing less than £10,000 should be requested under the ‘other costs’ heading. You must show that any requests for equipment are essential for the project.

Contributions to larger programmes

If you are requesting a Spark Award as a contribution to a larger programme, you should make this clear in your proposal. You should also make clear where additional funding for the programme is coming from.

Whenever possible, applicants should have secured this additional funding before seeking a contribution from STFC. If this is not possible, you must provide details of when further funding will be secured.

STFC reserves the right to reject an application that does not have convincing plans for securing all required funding, or to temporarily withhold funding for successful applications until proof of the required additional funding has been secured.

What the scheme will not fund

The following costs are ineligible for support through Spark Awards:

  • projects where the target audiences are not primarily within the UK
  • fees or honoraria to people already in paid employment to visit or give talks at schools, societies and so on, where such activities would reasonably be undertaken as part of their normal duties
  • costs for hardware or equipment over the individual value of £10,000
  • infrastructure funding or costs for building construction and maintenance
  • projects where it is clear that the whole project would go ahead irrespective of STFC support
  • retrospective funding, including those projects with a start date after the closing date but before the funding decisions are announced
  • awards will not be funded for the sole purpose of authorship and publication of books and novels
  • contingency funds.

For applications from, or for, schools, please note that requests for the following are ineligible:

  • programmes of formal education
  • school trips to CERN and trips to other laboratories, observatories and science venues, unless they are intrinsic to a wider public engagement project.

How to apply

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

If your organisation is not already registered, you can ‘self-register’. This will allow you to make an application without going through the full registration process.

We recommend you start your application early. You can save completed details in Je-S at any time and return to continue your application later.

You will need to complete the Je-S form and attach a ‘case for support’ of no more than six pages in PDF format outlining:

  • applicant’s track record in communicating science and technology
  • aims, anticipated outcomes and fit with the STFC public engagement strategy and with the STFC Wonder initiative, if relevant
  • clear plan for the activities
  • evaluation plan
  • plan to disseminate resources and outcomes to a wider audience
  • the justification for resources requested.

You should also attach letters of support (maximum two pages) from any partners making a contribution to your project.

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

The deadline for submitting your applications is 28 October 2021.

If you are successful in getting funding, we will contact you to help you with the full registration process for Je-S. Full registration can take four weeks.

Case for support

Maximum of six sides of A4. The case for support must include the following sections.

Track record

A short overview of the applicant’s track record in public engagement with science and technology. This track record should focus on areas relevant to the application


The rationale for the Spark Award, showing the:

Engagement activity plan

A clear plan for engagement activities the applicant intends to undertake during the Spark Award.

Applicants should provide details of their plans to deliver these activities, including:

  • how they will effectively engage their target audiences
  • identification of potential risks and appropriate mitigation strategies.

Reference to COVID-19 and the implications of evolving social distancing should be included here. STFC acknowledges that audience numbers, particularly in-person, are likely to be substantially reduced as a result of social distancing. Where part of a clear and purposeful engagement plan, applicants will not be negatively impacted by reduced participant metrics.

Evaluation plan

An evaluation plan showing details of how the outputs, outcomes, and impacts of the Spark Award will be captured and evaluated. Applicants are strongly advised to refer to the STFC Public Engagement Evaluation Strategy.

If successful, we require you to report on the outcomes of your Spark Award in line with the STFC Public Engagement Evaluation Framework. We suggest that you familiarise yourself with the framework and consider how it could be used to evaluate your engagement programme.

Dissemination plan

A dissemination plan detailing how resources, learning outcomes, outputs and so on, will be made available to wider audiences.

Justification of resources

A justification of the resources requested. This may be up to two sides of A4 (of the total six pages for the ‘case for support’). This justifies the requested funds you have applied for in an application and should:

  • allow reviewers to make an informed judgement on whether the resources requested are appropriate for the proposed programme
  • explain why the resources requested are appropriate for the programme proposed, taking account of the nature and complexity of the proposal.

It should not be simply a list of the resources required as this is already given in the Je-S form.

All items requested in the Je-S form must be justified.

Any proposals from research organisations requesting items that would ordinarily be found in a department, for example non-specialist computers, should include justification both for:

  • why they are required for the project
  • why they cannot be provided from the research organisation’s own resources (including funding from indirect costs from grants).

Highlighting alignment to the Wonder initiative

You can choose to propose public engagement that works with the target audience of the STFC Wonder initiative. If so, you should use your ‘case for support’ and ‘project partner letters of support’ to highlight how your proposal aligns with the initiative.

Your ‘rationale’ should clearly indicate:

  • how the aims and desired outcomes of the Spark Award have been developed in partnership with the selected audience group (to the fullest extent practical, taking account of social distancing the likely wider capacity reduction in potential partner organisations and groups)
  • why the target audience has been selected, and provide a summary of the audience in a way that clearly indicates alignment to the Wonder initiative’s target audience.

The ‘plan for engagement activities’ should show clear evidence of being designed in partnership with the target audiences (to the fullest extent practical, taking account of social distancing and the likely wider capacity reduction in potential partner organisations and groups).

Letters of support will ideally be obtained from partner organisations that will work with the target audience as part of the Spark Award, detailing how their contribution will help to support a successful programme.

Project partner letters of support

‘Project partner letters of support’ should follow the format set out in the STFC guidance for applicants.

Letters of support can be up to two sides of A4 in length. A letter must be dated clearly, within six months of the submission date of the application.

Letters of support are submitted electronically alongside the grant application, via the Je-S system. The Je-S system will only allow you to submit three letters of support. If you have more than three letters of support, you can upload these as a combined PDF document or contact the STFC Public Engagement Team.

What to include

This letter is read alongside the proposal’s ‘case for support’ and is considered as part of the peer review process.

A well-written letter of support will confirm the organisation’s commitment to the proposed project by articulating:

  • the benefits of the collaboration
  • its relevance to the partner
  • the potential impacts of the programme in the eyes of the partner.

The letter of support should also:

  • identify the period of support
  • detail the range of ‘in-kind’ and financial contributions offered by the partner.

To provide assurance that the project partner has authorised the proposed contribution or commitment, the letter should be signed by a named contact, stating the capacity in which they are providing the sign-off.

Letters of support must show meaningful contribution to the proposed public engagement programme. Letters featuring supportive language but offering no contributions to the project are of little-to-no value and should not be included.

Should you state in your proposal that the involvement of a party or organisation is important to increase the chances of success of their proposed programme, these organisations must be included as either applicants or project partners.

Applications received without these collaborations in place by the point of submission will not be supported.

How we will assess your application

Your application will be reviewed by an independent panel with expertise in the communication of science and technology and knowledge of STFC-funded research and facilities.

It will be assessed on:

  • track record in public engagement
  • links to STFC science and technology
  • alignment with STFC public engagement strategy
  • whether it takes a new approach to engagement or new audiences
  • clarity and appropriateness of the planned activities
  • suitable evaluation plan
  • suitable plan to publicise activities and outcomes to a wider audience
  • effective use of resources.

STFC will decide on your application based on the recommendations of the panel.

The result of your application is usually known within 10 to 12 weeks of the deadline for submissions.

Peer review of applications aligned to the Wonder initiative

All Spark Award applications that propose working with the target audience of the Wonder initiative will be identified by STFC staff upon receipt of the application.

These applications are assessed by the panel using the same assessment criteria as for other Spark Awards.

However, the panel will create two rank-ordered lists of proposals:

  • a list of applications aligned to the Wonder initiative
  • a list of all other received applications.

These two rank-ordered lists will be ‘tensioned’ against one another to maintain the relative quality rankings of the proposals.

STFC will then take funding decisions regarding which applications are funded, splitting the available funding between the two rank-ordered lists, as appropriate.

Contact details

Ask about this funding opportunity

STFC Public Engagement Team



07598 404139

Ask about STFC being involved as a project partner

Sophy Palmer, Public Engagement Manager, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory


Phill Day, Public Engagement Manager, Daresbury Laboratory


Abi Ashton, Public Engagement Manager, UK Astronomy Technology Centre


Get help with applying through Je-S



01793 444164

Opening times

Je-S helpdesk opening times

Additional info

Scheme flexibility

STFC intends this scheme to be flexible and reserves the right to deal, as it thinks fit, with application of unusual character and to waive any rule at its absolute discretion.

Scheme conditions

STFC Public Engagement Spark Awards are governed by the grant conditions as set out in the research grants handbook, unless otherwise stated. Applications are accepted and awards are made on the understanding that research organisations and award holders agree to observe the terms and conditions and the scheme requirements set out in this document and any amendments issued.

1.7.1 Movement between institutions

Applicants must take up the award at the host institution identified in the application.

STFC will not allow a Public Engagement Spark Award holder to change their host institution prior to taking up an award. Consideration will be given to requests during the course of an award to relocate the grant to a different institution for scientific or domestic reasons. The agreement of the institutions concerned will be required before seeking approval from STFC.

1.7.2 Reporting and liaison with STFC

Public Engagement Spark Award holders are expected to regularly update the record of their grant using the research council reporting tool, Researchfish, in line with the STFC Public Engagement Evaluation Framework.

There are additional questions for STFC public engagement grant holders. This enables STFC to easily extract data regarding the impact of the work of our Spark award holders whenever required, and serves as a database of impacts (outputs, outcomes and reach) for an award holder’s own reference.

To assist with their Researchfish return, Public Engagement Spark award holders are also required, throughout their award, to collect data relevant to their activities in the STFC Public Engagement metrics spreadsheet, and send it to the Public Engagement Team once a year.

Guidance on how to fill in the Public Engagement questions on Researchfish, and the metric spreadsheet, are available on the STFC website.

1.7.3 Publication, resources and acknowledgement of support

Publications and other forms of media communication, including media appearances, press releases and conferences, must acknowledge the support received from STFC, quoting the grant reference number if appropriate.

Resources produced as a result of any grants should acknowledge STFC as the funding source using the standard format agreed by funders and publishers and detailed in the additional information accompanying this grant.

In order to ensure appropriate coordination and opportunities to increase the impact of engagement, external media activity produced as a result of this award must be signed off by the STFC Media team before the activity takes place or is published.

This includes press releases, online videos and media briefings. Award holders are responsible for giving STFC sufficient notice in advance of activities such that STFC can advise on content, or build the activities of grant holders into our own communications and engagement programmes.

1.7.4 Liability

It is a condition of every grant that STFC accepts no liability for the manner in which the work in connection with the grant is undertaken, and the research organisation and award holder will be responsible in all respects for the work and the consequences of it.

1.7.4 Termination of awards

A grant may be terminated, or its conditions varied, at any time at the absolute discretion of STFC. Should the award holder leave their institution for another research organisation or an alternative type of employment, they must notify the Public Engagement Team immediately.

If it is not possible to transfer the grant then STFC will terminate payments from the day immediately after the award holder leaves the host institution. Failure to submit reports will result in termination of the award unless there are mitigating reasons.

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