Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: The survey data collection methods collaboration

We are seeking to support a whole community collaborative response to deliver a step change in approaches to collecting population survey data.

The funding will ensure:

  • the UK’s social surveys can continue to effectively capture complex phenomena across different modes while ensuring data are inclusive of everyone in society
  • continued effective assessment of data quality and management of mode effects
  • development and wider dissemination of methodological innovations in survey methods

The principal investigator must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for ESRC funding.

ESRC will contribute up to £3.3 million. Funding is available for up to 3 years.

Text updated to clarify that the delivery of research should be staggered with an initial phase of projects specified upfront in proposals and a later phase of projects commissioned through the research funding programme.

Who can apply

Standard ESRC eligibility rules will apply.

Research proposals can include multiple applicants. However, there must be 1 principal investigator who takes the lead responsibility for the conduct of the research and observance of the terms and conditions.

The principal investigator for this funding opportunity must be based at an organisation eligible for funding for the duration of the grant. Eligible organisations are:

  • UK higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • UK Research and Innovation approved independent research organisations
  • public sector research establishments
  • NHS bodies with research capacity

Check if you are eligible for research and innovation funding.

Co-investigators from UK business, third sector or government can be included in research proposals as can co-investigators based in overseas research organisations. The combined associated costs of all business, third sector, government and international co-investigators must not exceed 30% of the overall cost of the grant (at 100% full economic cost).

Alternatively, collaborators from UK business, third sector or government can be included on proposals as project partners. Additionally, collaborators from UK business and third sector can be included as consultants. Further information on including consultancy and project partners on proposals can be found in our research funding guide.

How collaborators are costed on proposals should not limit the scientific contribution they make and co-investigators are expected to make a major intellectual contribution to the design and conduct of the project. Individuals can only be a principal investigator on 1 proposal submitted under this opportunity. Other individuals may be on multiple proposals.

Read our guidance on eligibility and how international and non-academic collaborators can be included on grants in our research funding guide.

What we're looking for

We are seeking to support a survey data collection methods collaboration to deliver a step change in approaches to collecting population survey data. The nature and scale of the challenges facing in-person population survey data collection (see ‘Additional info’ section) require a collaborative, whole community response, driven by a shared vision and community-owned set of objectives.

While the principal investigator is required to be based in an institution eligible for UK Research and Innovation funding, collaborators from business, third sector and government are encouraged as are the development of links between UK researchers and those in other countries. Bids should be as inclusive as possible and we will only be funding 1 proposal.

Expected outcomes

The outcomes of this grant will be critical to ensuring the needs of social survey data users in academia, government and beyond can be met. Survey data collection challenges are not unique to the UK and findings from this work are expected to have international relevance.

The funding will ensure:

  • the UK’s social surveys can continue to effectively capture complex phenomena across different modes as well as deliver inclusive data that reflect the experiences of everyone in society
  • social survey commissioners, directors and users can effectively assess data quality and manage mode effects as data collection modes diversify
  • methodological innovations in survey methods are developed and widely disseminated, upskilling researchers and leading to improved survey practice in the UK and beyond

This collaborative grant will be a strategic investment that aims to enable a whole community response to the research methods challenges in survey data collection. By channelling funding in this way, we expect the research to deliver better outcomes than would be achieved by separately funding individual components. It will extend existing networks and partnerships to be able to benefit from the expertise offered by the breadth of researchers and survey practitioners working in relevant areas and will provide a fully inclusive environment which supports collaboration and the sharing of good practice.

Such a collaboration will ensure the research team can effectively identify and prioritise research challenges and the methodological responses required to deliver sustainable data collection approaches.

Fundamentally, this collaborative grant will:

  • provide leadership across disciplines and sectors
  • connect and upskill researchers
  • bridge structural barriers

In addition to fostering networks and collaborations, at least two-thirds of the budget should be dedicated to undertaking methodological research aligned to the goals of this opportunity (this should be considered the ‘research budget’). Bidders should stagger the delivery of their research with an initial phase of projects specified upfront in proposals and a minimum of 25% of the remaining research budget allocated to later phase projects commissioned through the research funding programme (see ‘Research funding programme requirements’ for further guidance).

You will propose a plan to creatively achieve the desired outcomes, detailing the mechanisms that will be put in place and identifying possible success measures.

A range of activities can be funded through this collaborative grant including, but not limited to:

  • workshops
  • events
  • communications
  • research funding

The activities proposed will be driven by the aims and objectives identified by applicants in their bids. Careful thought should be given to how the grant will provide a rich environment for:

  • exploration of needs
  • ideas exchange
  • co-production within the collaboration

We recognise that you may not be able to include fully specified research projects in your proposals and that further time may be needed to develop specific research projects after the grant has started to allow consultation with the collaboration’s partners and networks. Research projects scoped after the start of the grant will need to be assessed by an external independent assessment panel convened by the grant holder.

As a minimum, proposals must include a budget for the research funding programme and identify the process that will be followed to assess proposed research projects developed through the collaboration. Projects funded through the research funding programme do not have to be led by, or include, a member of the senior leadership team. Further guidance on the funding programme and independent assessment panel is provided below.

This grant can support both secondary analysis of existing survey data and supplements to existing surveys or new bespoke data collections to test methodological innovations, as necessary to meet the research objectives. £1.1 million of this funding is ringfenced to support secondary analysis of existing data and data collected in the course of the grant, and related work to support the dissemination of their results. These activities must align to the grant’s overall objectives and deliverables. Further details on the use of this ringfenced funding is provided under ‘Grant details and budget’.

Proposal requirements

The research goals will be delivered through a coherent programme of activity that brings together the full breadth of researchers and practitioners working in this area. Proposals are expected to:

  • articulate a clear and succinct vision for the collaborative grant
  • identify a set of research objectives and explain how they will deliver the research outcomes identified above
  • take a multidimensional approach to survey data quality, drawing on existing frameworks and literature in this field
  • present a comprehensive and coherent programme of research and community engagement activity that will be delivered through the collaborative grant
  • identify the research questions that will be addressed by the collaborative grant through its research funding programme
  • detail how research projects will be scoped and assessed by an external independent assessment panel
  • detail how this grant will be led and managed, including the approach for managing the collaboration funded through the grant
  • outline how an effective network of researchers, practitioners and survey commissioners will be built, engaged and sustained to support the successful delivery of the grant

The successful applicants will be expected to work with ESRC at the outset to agree a monitoring and evaluation plan to track grant delivery and outcomes.

What we can fund

We are flexible about the design of the grant and innovative responses to this funding opportunity are encouraged. The structure of the grant should be informed by the objectives. We recognise a successful collaboration may require creative and novel ways of working. Whilst our funding rules and the policies of the host research organisation must be adhered to, how funds are used beyond these requirements is your choice.

Collaborators from sectors outside of academia will make an important intellectual contribution. Individuals involved from private sector companies can be included as either co-applicants or consultants on the grant. Proposals must detail the duties collaborators from other sectors will have, identifying where potential conflicts of interest may arise and how they will be addressed. In doing so, you must provide assurance that there is sufficient separation of responsibilities.

Sub-contracted work must follow our requirements as set out in our ESRC research funding guide and our terms and conditions for research grants. You must also comply with the procurement policies of your research organisation and are advised to seek advice from relevant colleagues when preparing their bid.

The host research organisation must agree that any proposed procurement approaches are justified and meet their requirements. Proposals must clearly set out how potential conflicts of interest will be managed when developing procurement specifications.

Our standard funding rules apply.

What we cannot fund:

  • organisations cannot be included on the grant as both a co-applicant and a subcontractor or project partner
  • funding must comply with the UK subsidy control framework. Further details about this can be found below
  • associated studentships are not permitted

Research funding programme requirements

A minimum of 25% of the research budget should be allocated to the research funding programme. Projects to be funded by the research funding programme will be scoped and developed in consultation with the wider network of researchers working as part of the collaboration. Once scoped, proposed projects will need to be assessed by an external independent assessment panel.

Proposals must define and justify their objectives for the research funding programme and outline how it will be operationalised and governed. This should ensure that funds genuinely enable new work (instead of going towards existing activities) whilst giving due consideration to ensuring diversity and capacity building. The process used to assess proposed projects, including the assessment criteria, will need to be approved by ESRC.

Whilst the senior leadership team is responsible for the development of research projects, they do not have to be involved in each one. Projects can include collaborations between the senior leadership team and other researchers working in the area or can be led and delivered by a team completely independent of the senior leadership team.

Funded projects are expected to engage with the wider programme of activity and to report their progress and outcomes to the grant holder. Governance arrangements should be put in place to support this requirement.

ESRC should be consulted throughout the grant to ensure good practice is followed in the assessment and allocation of the research funding programme. ESRC must approve the proposed approach for funding projects through the research funding programme and the membership of the external independent assessment panel.

Projects must be funded in line with full economic cost rules and you are unlikely to know the costings for the research funding programme at the point of application. To ensure funds are added to the grant under the correct categories, the total budget should be included as an ‘Other Directly Incurred’ cost on proposals. If successful, these costs will be removed from the grant and added as an additional funding stream once the specified projects have been agreed.

Governance arrangements

You will be responsible for putting in place suitable advisory structures. Proposals should include detail of the advisory group or groups, including membership composition, that will support the research and oversee the development of the key activities.

You will be responsible for appointing an external independent assessment panel to assess proposals to be funded through the flexible fund. This panel will agree which projects should be funded and prioritising proposals as required. Membership and the terms of reference for this panel will need to be approved by ESRC.

Leadership and management

We do not expect any single person to have the skills and expertise required to deliver this collaborative grant. Proposals should therefore be led by an experienced senior leadership team with complementary leadership skills and expertise.

This core team should be relatively small and collectively offer:

  • a vision and direction to advance and transform methodological approaches in population survey data collection approaches through both individual and collective efforts
  • an ability to articulate a clear vision for engagement with communities working in this area, including a rationale for bringing new partners
  • core social science leadership, with an in-depth understanding of the relevant research challenges and evidence needs
  • the expertise and experience to engage with the full breadth of researchers, practitioners and commissioners working in related fields, developing relationships with new partners where required
  • experience of working with a diverse range of partners (including from business and government), building close relationships with key stakeholders and potential users
  • an awareness of national and international good practice, particularly relevant new methodological innovations taking place outside the UK
  • demonstrable track record of managing complex projects, programmes and research infrastructures effectively, including some element of financial management and oversight
  • specialist expertise (academic or non-academic) to support the desired grant outcomes, which may include sector representatives from outside academia, programme management expertise, a communications function, and knowledge mobilisation expertise
  • a commitment to act as advocates for the use of robust methodology in survey data collection, promoting good practice to a wide range of audiences

These collective capabilities should be evidenced in proposals.

You should explain how the proposed leadership and management team and associated structures are appropriate and will effectively deliver the aims and objectives of your proposal. Research proposals may be submitted jointly by more than 1 applicant. In such cases, 1 person must be regarded as the principal investigator taking the lead responsibility for the conduct of the research and the observance of the terms and conditions. Correspondence regarding the research proposal and grant will be addressed to the principal investigator only. All co-applicants must make a significant contribution to the conduct of the research.

The principal investigator should be an ambitious and aspirational research leader with appropriate experience of leading research grants. Where the role represents a significant career advancement for the principal investigator, proposals should demonstrate a commitment by the research organisation to supporting the individual and enabling them to develop the necessary leadership capabilities they need to fulfil the role.

The principal investigator must commit a minimum of 0.2 full-time equivalent to this grant although their actual time commitment is expected to vary over the course of the funding period. Proposals must demonstrate sufficient time has been committed by the principal investigator and the rest of the senior leadership team (SLT) to deliver their duties.

The SLT will be responsible for effectively co-ordinating the network of collaborators and leading engagement with the community to develop a programme of work that will deliver the vision and objectives. Proposals should explain how the SLT will provide leadership to a potentially diverse group of collaborators and support an inclusive research environment for researchers to thrive at all career stages.

The principal investigator’s research organisation should normally be the same as the administering research organisation. Co-applicants may be sited at different recognised research organisations provided that the principal investigator’s research organisation takes responsibility for administering the grant. Proposals should also address how the programme of activities will be managed and supported. This should include the approach to project management and administrative support (plus related resources), and how the proposed leadership and management arrangements will provide adequate operational capabilities and resources to meet the demands of the planned activities.

Leadership development and capacity building

Proposals should outline the approach to a strong professional development programme for all team members, shaped to suit the differing stages of the researchers’ careers. Professional and career development must be encouraged, and all members of the team should be given time to engage in relevant opportunities and be aware of the expectations set out in the:

The development of leadership and management skills should be included in these proposals to support both the effective delivery of the opportunity objectives, and its collaborative work. Consideration should also be given to supporting the wider leadership roles of the team in collaborating across disciplines, sectors and internationally, and in engaging more broadly with wider research communities, stakeholders and the public.

Outputs, dissemination and impact

To maximise the impact of your research, you should actively consider within your proposal:

  • the key audiences that will benefit from your research
  • how these audiences can meaningfully engage with the research throughout the project lifecycle
  • the timeliness of sharing emerging findings and making outputs available
  • how the impact of your work can be maximised and developed, including how you will be responsive to stakeholder needs

This work will have a direct impact on social survey commissioners and users. Engagement and impact plans will be expected to reflect this.

You will be expected to demonstrate:

  • an understanding of who the beneficiaries of the work will be
  • the scientific evidence they need to inform their decision making
  • any time dependencies or urgent needs for key outputs or emerging findings
  • how planned engagement activities through the entirety of the grant have been tailored to meet these needs

Particular attention should be given to how the research outcomes and learning will be shared with the community in a timely way, and the activity required to upskill researchers and promote usage. Funding to deliver these plans can be requested in your proposal.

You may find it helpful to refer to ESRC’s guidance on including impact in your research proposal.

You can also refer to the ESRC impact toolkit, which includes information on:

  • developing impact strategies
  • promoting knowledge exchange and public engagement
  • communicating effectively with key stakeholders

ESRC’s National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM) delivers methodological training and resources on core and advanced social science research methods. Successful grants will be expected to work with NCRM to integrate any training they develop into the centre’s broader social science training programme and to identify opportunities where further collaboration would be beneficial.

Grant details and budget

Funding is available for up to 3 years and ESRC will contribute up to £3.3 million. Note that this is the limit of the ESRC contribution. ESRC will cover 80% of the full economic cost of the proposal with any exceptions paid at 100% full economic cost.

£1.1 million of ESRC’s funding contribution is ringfenced to support research projects delivered through the research budget that include secondary data analysis. Proposals can include plans for more than £1.1 million worth of secondary data analysis but if less than this sum is requested for that activity then, the remaining ringfenced budget cannot be used for other purposes.

This funding can be used to cover all research costs associated with secondary data analysis research including staff cost, dissemination activities and resources to build capacity. These ringfenced funds cannot be used to undertake new data collection. Secondary data analysis can be undertaken on existing data and on new data that will be collected elsewhere through the collaborative grant.

We expect the collaborative grant to start in April 2023 and must start by 1 May 2023.

Subsidy control requirements

Proposals that include contributors from the UK business sector or from third sector organisations that engage in economic activity must ensure that the involvement of these organisations complies with the UK subsidy control framework.

It is the host research organisation’s responsibility to ensure that the funding awarded is compliant at all times with any legislation applicable in the UK that regulates the granting by a public sector body of any advantage, which threatens to or actually distorts competition in the UK or any other country or countries. Proposals must set out the arrangements that will be put in place for this grant to monitor and comply with subsidy control obligations.

We consider these requirements when checking proposals we receive. Where proposals are found to include economic actors, subsidy control checks have to be undertaken.

No subcontract or other agreement with a third party can be made which would constitute a breach of the UK subsidy control framework. We will immediately suspend the grant in the event of a breach.

Read about our subsidy control requirements in section 2.3 of UK Research and Innovation’s standard terms and conditions.

How to apply

Applications must be made through the Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S).

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: Survey Data Collection Research Methods Collaborative Grant

This will populate:

  • council: ESRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: research grants
  • call/type/mode: Survey Data Collection Research Methods Collaborative 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.


ESRC must receive your application by 1 December 2022 at 16:00.

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.


Your application must also include the following attachments:

  • case for support (maximum of 12 A4 sides)
  • justification of resources (maximum of 3 A4 sides)
  • data management plan (for grants planning to generate data – maximum of 3 A4 sides)
  • CV (maximum of 2 A4 sides per person)
    delivering the research funding programme (maximum of 2 A4 sides)

Where necessary or required, your application should include the following optional attachments:

  • list of publications
  • letter of support
  • proposal cover letter
  • facility form
  • final or interim report

Please see the opportunity-specific Je-S guidance for more information, including more detail of what should be included in each attachment.

Proposals should only include attachments requested in the guidance.

How we will assess your application

Your proposal will be assessed based on 7 key criteria:

  • originality and potential contribution to knowledge
  • alignment with the aims of the collaborative funding opportunity
  • research approach and design
  • partnerships, stakeholder engagement and responsiveness to community needs
  • leadership and management, including of the collaboration
  • outputs, dissemination and impact
  • value for money

Proposals will be assessed by an expert commissioning panel week commencing 6 February 2023 (date dependant on panel availability). As part of this process, applicants will be required to attend an interview in the same week. The interview date will be confirmed to applicants once the opportunity has closed.

ESRC reserves the right to modify the assessment process as needed.

Applicants are not required to nominate any reviewers.

Decisions will be communicated in March 2023. The award will commence in April 2023 and must start no later than 1 May 2023.

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


Get help with applying through Je-S



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Additional info

The pandemic imposed massive disruption on population survey data collection as studies adapted rapidly to the restrictions on in-home, face-to-face data collection. The pandemic demonstrated that studies that involve complex, lengthy questionnaires and physical measurements or biosample collections, can be more challenging to move to other formats.

The return to in-home, face-to-face data collection following the disruptions imposed by the pandemic has been challenging and it is increasingly unlikely that the UK can deliver in-home data collection at the same volume as in the past. However, there continues to be a place for in-home, face-to-face data collection in the long term. Personal contact from interviewers has been shown to be critical to minimising non-response bias and measurement error in complex, lengthy questionnaires, especially when recruiting new participants to a study. Interviewers also play a crucial role in collecting physical measurements.

At the same time, there were many innovations in data collection methods due to the COVID-19 restrictions, which could now be harnessed to help reduce dependency on in-person data collection and ensure those designing and commissioning surveys are using the most appropriate modes and methods to address their needs.

A better understanding of which modes best suit which settings and the impact of mode and other methodological changes on data quality, including representativeness, is therefore needed, as is advancement of the science in this field more generally.

Webinar for applicants

A webinar for potential applicants was held on 3 October 2022 to give an overview of the funding opportunity and answer questions.

Recording of the webinar for the survey data collection collaboration

Supporting documents

Je-S guidance for grant applicants (PDF, 352KB)

The survey data collection collaboration: questions and answers (PDF, 78KB)

Equality impact assessment (PDF, 200KB)

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