Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Use secondary data to focus on Global South development issues

Apply for funding to work with secondary data to build knowledge and engage with researchers in low and middle-income countries in the Global South.

Standard ESRC eligibility criteria applies.

Proposals must comply with Official Development Assistance (ODA) guidelines.

This highlight notice relates to the Secondary Data Analysis Initiative.

Projects can cost up to £300,000 at the full economic cost. ESRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Projects can last up to 22 months and must:

  • start by the end of June 2023
  • be completed by 31 March 2025.

Who can apply

To apply you must either:

  • be an established member of an approved research organisation
  • have an agreement with an approved research organisation to work there and have access to appropriate research facilities for the duration of the grant.

We encourage applications from:

  • those who wish to develop your skills in using secondary data, regardless of the stage of your career
  • early career researchers who want to gain experience as a principal investigator or co-investigator.

Find information about approved research organisations in our information about who can apply for funding.

If you are an early career researcher applying as a principal or co-investigator, you must:

  • have submitted your PhD or have equivalent experience by the start date of the grant
  • be able to articulate why you should be considered an early career researcher and how the award of a secondary data analysis initiative (SDAI) grant will have a demonstrable impact on your trajectory to becoming an independent researcher
  • not be a current or former principal investigator on ESRC or other UK Research and Innovation grants.

What we're looking for

This funding opportunity involves the use of secondary data analysis and is an extension of the ongoing Secondary Data Analysis Initiative (SDAI) opportunity. This highlight notice is focused on development issues in low and middle-income countries in Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia.

The aims of this opportunity are to:

  • co-produce substantive and innovative data research through equitable partnerships with investigators based in the Global South
  • utilise existing data resources to produce high quality, impactful research on issues of concern to developing countries
  • improve the skills, capacity and methods for secondary data research in and on developing countries
  • provide insight into existing data resources that can be used to conduct research on developing countries.

This opportunity particularly encourages focus on the following areas:

  • environment, biodiversity and climate change
  • building and maintaining effective, democratic and trusted institutions
  • economic stability and sustainable growth
  • supply chains and food security
  • migration, mobility and demographic change
  • shocks, risks and resilience
  • conflict and violence.

All social science disciplines are eligible. We welcome proposals that include disciplines where social science approaches form the dominant part of the proposal.

All proposals will have to make a clear case for how they comply with Official Development Assistance (ODA) guidelines. See the ‘official development assistance compliance’ information below.

Your proposal can use quantitative, purely qualitative or mixed research methods.


You are required to include at least one international co-investigator based in the Global South. Investigator teams will also need to demonstrate how they are building equitable partnerships.

We positively encourage active collaboration between UK researchers and those in other countries. Co-investigators based in research organisations outside the UK can therefore be included in the proposal.

Official development assistance compliance

In your proposal, you will need to make a clear case for how your study complies with ODA guidelines.

ODA is defined as government aid that promotes and specifically targets the economic development and welfare of developing countries.

Your research must relate to countries on the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) list of ODA recipients.

For more information about ODA and what qualifies a country to appear on the DAC list of ODA recipients, see the ‘additional info’ section.

ODA compliant research activities

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines ODA compliant research activities as follows.

Research includes financing by the official sector, whether in the donor country or

elsewhere, of research into the problems of developing countries. This may be either:

  • undertaken by an agency or institution whose main purpose is to promote the economic growth or welfare of developing countries
  • commissioned or approved, and financed or part-financed, by an official body from a general purpose institution with the specific aim of promoting the economic growth or welfare of developing countries. Research undertaken as part of the formulation of aid programmes in central or local government departments or aid agencies is considered as an administrative cost.

In addition, the OECD further specifies the following in relation to ODA compliant research: only research directly and primarily relevant to the problems of developing countries may be counted as ODA. This includes research into tropical diseases and developing crops designed for developing country conditions. The costs may still be counted as ODA if the research is carried out in a developed country.

The fund can support research capacity building to address development issues, for example, to increase the skills and knowledge base and support the development of the research capability within developing countries. Capacity building should be aimed at improving the ability to undertake and disseminate research in order to promote the welfare and economic development of the developing countries.

Key ODA compliance issues to note in writing applications for funding

Any proposal under this highlight notice must make it clear that its primary purpose is to promote the economic development and welfare of a developing country or countries. You should:

  • seek to investigate a specific problem or seek a specific outcome which will have an impact on a developing country or countries on the DAC list
  • provide evidence as to why this is a problem for the developing country or countries
  • address the issue identified effectively and efficiently
  • use the strengths of the UK to address the issue, working in collaboration with others as appropriate
  • demonstrate that the research is of an internationally excellent standard
  • identify appropriate pathways to impact to ensure that the developing country benefits from the research.

Any benefit to the UK or other developed countries has to be the secondary consideration and should not lead to a project being funded if it doesn’t primarily deliver the development objective.

Funding and duration

Projects can cost up to £300,000 at 100% of the full economic cost. ESRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost of the project. Proposals will need to show 100% of the full economic cost of the proposed research.

The project duration can be up to 22 months.

Projects must commence by the end of June 2023 and be completed by 31 March 2025.

How to apply

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

You can find advice on completing your application in the:

  • Je-S handbook
  • SDAI Je-S guidance for applicants (in the ‘additional info’ section).

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: SDAI open call.

This will populate:

  • council: ESRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: research grants
  • call/type/mode: SDAI open call.

Once you have completed your application, make sure you ‘submit document’.

Applications must include the word ‘Highlight’ at the start of their title, to be able to identify applications for this highlight notice.

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


ESRC must receive your application by 31 October 2022 at 4:00pm UK time.

You will not be able to apply after this time. Any application submitted late will not be considered. 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.


Mandatory attachments to include with your application are:

  • case for support (no more than six sides of A4)
  • justification of resources (no more than two sides of A4)
  • CVs (no more than two sides of A4 per person) for each applicant, named research staff member and consultant
  • list of publications
  • official development assistance (ODA) justification document (no more than two sides of A4).

ODA justification document

You should address the following questions in your ODA justification document:

  • which country or countries on the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) list will directly benefit from this proposal and are these countries likely to continue to be ODA eligible for the duration of the research
  • how is your proposal directly and primarily relevant to the development challenges of these countries
  • how do you expect that the outcome of your proposed activities will promote the economic development and welfare of a country or countries on the DAC list?

How we will assess your application

Your application will be assessed on the basis of seven core criteria:

  • originality, innovation and potential contribution to knowledge
  • research design and methods
  • potential for capacity building
  • project management and research partnerships
  • outputs, dissemination and potential for impact on theory, policy and practice
  • value for money
  • official development assistance (ODA) compliance.

Your application will be sent to a minimum of three reviewers primarily drawn from ESRC’s Peer Review College. We may:

  • include reviewers from outside the college if college members lack necessary knowledge and expertise for a particular application
  • ask for comments from non-academic research users, such as businesses or charities.

We encourage you to nominate two academic and two non-academic or user reviewers to respond to peer review comments. Your application, the reviewers’ comments and your response will be considered by a grant assessment panel. The panel will agree a prioritised list of applications that it recommends for funding. The list will then be considered by ESRC’s grants delivery group, who makes the final funding decisions.

ODA compliance assessment details

Applications will be assessed by a competitive peer review process with ODA eligibility being a criterion for approval. For example, projects must be fully ODA compliant to be considered for funding.

Initial ODA compliance checks will be carried out by the office. Proposals that do not meet the eligibility as defined in this document may be rejected without reference to peer review. Peer reviewers will also be provided with this guidance and asked to comment on ODA compliance and likelihood of significant impact.

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

Secondary Data Analysis Initiative team


Include ‘SDAI highlight notice’ in the subject line.

We aim to respond within five working days.

Get help with applying through Je-S



01793 444164

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Additional info

The principle of official development assistance (ODA)

ODA is defined as those flows to countries and territories on the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) list of ODA recipients and to multilateral development institutions which are provided by official agencies, including state and local governments, or by their executive agencies, each transaction of which is:

  • administered with the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries as its main objective
  • concessional in character and conveys a grant element of at least 25% (discounted at a rate of 10%).

About the DAC list of ODA recipients

The DAC list of ODA recipients shows all countries and territories eligible to receive ODA. These consist of all low and middle-income countries based on gross national income (GNI) per capita as published by the World Bank.

The DAC revises the list every three years. Countries that have exceeded the high-income threshold for three consecutive years at the time of the review are removed.

Supporting documents

ESRC research funding guide

Secondary Data Analysis Initiative (SDAI) reference documents

The following SDAI call specification and Je-S guidance documents provide additional general information relating to the main SDAI opportunity, much of which applies to this highlight notice.

Where information in these SDAI documents differs from this highlight notice funding opportunity (for example, timings, duration, focus and deadline) the highlight notice funding opportunity information takes precedence.

SDAI call specification (PDF, 182KB)

SDAI Je-S guidance for applicants (PDF, 287KB)

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