Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Work with US-based researchers on subthreshold conflict

Apply for funding to work with US-based researchers on a large social science-led interdisciplinary research consortium on a shared strategic priority of understanding and influencing behaviour below the threshold of armed conflict.

We are looking to fund a balanced consortium that includes substantial teams from both the UK and US.

Applicants based in the UK must:

  • apply in partnership with US-based researchers
  • be based at a UK research organisation eligible for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding

ESRC will fund the UK component of the successful project. The US-based researchers will be supported by DoD.

Who can apply

Before applying for funding, check the following:

Standard ESRC eligibility guidelines apply for this funding opportunity.

Eligible organisations are:

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

Who is eligible to apply

The UK project lead must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for ESRC funding. The organisation will be responsible for submitting grant paperwork to ESRC through the UKRI Funding Service, on receipt of notification of a successful award only, for the purpose of making a grant offer to the UK-based research organisation.

For full details, visit eligibility as an individual.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

We are committed to achieving equality of opportunity for all funding applicants. We encourage applications from a diverse range of researchers.

We support people to work in a way that suits their personal circumstances. This includes:

  • career breaks
  • support for people with caring responsibilities
  • flexible working
  • alternative working patterns

Find out more about equality, diversity and inclusion at UKRI.

What we're looking for

Scope

The UKRI-funded component of projects must fall within ESRC’s remit. Find out more about ESRC’s remit, portfolio and priorities.

This funding opportunity is for research that falls within the purview of the following topic.

Understanding and influencing behaviour below the threshold of armed conflict: countering influence that leads to socio-economic and political instability

Both the COVID-19 pandemic and conflict in Ukraine have exposed vulnerabilities in the highly interconnected and interdependent world in which we live, with these very different shocks each quickly turning into major international social, political, and economic crises. The UK, US and their allies need to build societal resilience to these shocks and play a leading role in maintaining a secure international order.

The rapid socio-economic, political, and technological changes of the information age are also driving substantial shifts in defence and security strategy needed to stay ahead of changes in the nature and character of warfare. New tools and tactics are being used to undermine political, social, and economic stability and cohesion.

There is a need to better understand adversarial acts that influence population attitudes and behaviours and undermine institutions, infrastructure, and social cohesion in order to help mitigate against their impact and inform countermeasures.

We expect to support social science-led interdisciplinary projects that bring together a broad and diverse range of academic expertise and stakeholders to tackle pressing questions in this field.

Research should expand understanding of vulnerability and susceptibility to advanced adversarial information warfare techniques that undermine social cohesion and trust in different cultural and environmental contexts. We are looking to identify areas of US-UK coordinated research that could most effectively move this field forward.

Through this initiative, we will support research that is international in focus, which can involve comparing or contrasting information campaigns and sub-threshold conflict contexts in different countries.

Applicants to this funding opportunity may select their countries of focus and are required to justify how their selection allows them to meet the objectives of the funding opportunity.

We recognise that applicants may need to consider one or multiple country contexts and include activities both internal and external to the US and UK in order to undertake their study.

What we will support

Through this initiative, we will support research that aims to:

  • understand what constitutes societal resilience, how it is maintained or strengthened, and how it is weakened
  • understand the motivations and strategies of (international) information campaigns on target states and populations
  • identify and examine coordinated attempts to influence population attitudes and behaviours and the techniques and tools used to undermine socio-economic and political stability
  • examine the immediate, incremental, and cumulative effects of narratives and information campaigns on populations occurring through single instances or through multiple sources of information
  • understand how cultural, economic, social dynamics, and individual traits (thoughts, feelings, and behaviours) influence susceptibility to, and the impact of, information campaigns
  • explore whether particular communities (both online and offline) are more or less vulnerable to influence and socio-political instabilities, and the implications this has for countering influence
  • examine the relationship between environmental or contextual characteristics and susceptibility to disinformation, deception, and negative influence, and explore how this can be measured
  • examine how information campaigns affect social cohesion and trust in different national, local, and organisational cultures, and how efforts to influence populations (online and offline) affect group affinity, identity, behaviour, and affiliation
  • identify where sub-threshold techniques are influencing populations or causing socio-economic instability, examine how this is impacting the socio-political environment and political decision-making, and characterise the role of culture and context in the effectiveness of such efforts
  • examine how different nations, governments, administrations, and state and local jurisdictions respond to information campaigns and sub-threshold warfare efforts
  • examine efforts of state and non-state actors (media, private sector, charities, and others) in information counter-narratives, interception and regulation of messaging, and the effectiveness of their approaches
  • develop new or further develop existing methodological approaches to understanding misinformation, disinformation, deception, and international efforts to interfere and influence societies

We want:

  • innovative proposals that will add to existing knowledge and consider how to build societal resilience to nefarious activities that adversely influence populations
  • research that will advance the state of the art and make significant advances in the field of social sciences and other disciplines
  • proposals that include a means for an enduring transatlantic academic alliance

We do not want:

  • proposals that fail to take account of:
    • previously identified pitfalls in understanding and influencing behaviour below the threshold of conflict, such as a lack of reliable measures of the effects on behaviours
    • behavioural changes over time
    • sociocultural differences at the group, organisational, and societal levels
  • research that would not be considered revolutionary, that duplicates existing work, and delivers only incremental advances to existing theories and concepts

Please visit the DoD website for further information.

Funding available

This funding opportunity will fund an international consortium of researchers.

ESRC will fund the UK component of the successful project and is making a total of £2.85 million available for the funding opportunity. We expect to fund one large project.

The full economic cost (FEC) of your project can be up to £3,570,000. ESRC will fund 80% of the FEC.

How to apply

DoD is running the application process and is accepting applications through their system.

Please note that to apply to this funding opportunity, you are strongly encouraged to submit a white paper, alongside your US partners, as an opportunity for reviewer feedback by 15 September 2023.

You may submit a proposal without submitting a white paper, though this is discouraged.

Following white paper feedback, organisations are required to submit full proposals by 31 January 2024.

At the full application stage, UK applicants requesting funding from UKRI must prepare a budget detailing costs and the requested amount using a UKRI budget template (see Additional Information). The template should be submitted to DoD with the full proposal.

Further details on the general application process can be found on the DoD website.

The UKRI specific guidance provides further details on UKRI-specific requirements within the application process (see Additional Information).

Deadline

White paper: 15 September 2023, 4:00pm Eastern Time / 9:00pm British Summer Time

Full application: 31 January 2024, 4:00pm Eastern Time / 9:00pm Greenwich Mean Time

If your application is successful, some personal information will be published via the UKRI Gateway to Research. UKRI will publish the outcomes of this funding opportunity on its website.

How we will assess your application

White paper

White papers are an opportunity for reviewer feedback intended to minimise the labour and cost associated with the production of detailed proposals that have little chance of being selected for funding. Based on an assessment of the white papers submitted, the technical point-of-contact will advise prospective proposers whether the proposals outlined in their white papers were judged to be competitive for award selection.

Full application

Full applications will be reviewed using the factors:

  • overall scientific and technical merits of the proposal and the potential relationship of the proposed research to DoD missions
  • scientific and technical merit, including but is not limited to:
    • degree of innovation
    • soundness of technical concept
    • applicant’s awareness of the state of the art and understanding of the scope of the problem
    • significance and originality of the technical approach and effort needed to address or solve the problem
    • anticipated scientific impact within the field and the likelihood of exploitation in future research

The following areas will also be considered within the overall scientific and technical merits (in descending order of importance):

  • project design that integrates different technical disciplines to co-deliver research outputs
  • applicant’s capabilities, related experience, facilities, techniques or unique combinations of these that are integral factors for achieving the proposal objectives. This includes the qualifications, capabilities and experience of the proposed principal investigator, team leader and key personnel who are critical to achieving the proposal objectives
  • value of the interactive collaboration working-relations within US and UK teams, between teams, and the integration of students in the research
  • extent to which the applicant has identified and evaluated the relevant ethical or responsible research and innovation considerations and has managed them

All proposals are treated as procurement sensitive and are disclosed only for the purpose of evaluation. The proposals submitted will be evaluated by a joint staff of US and UK subject matter experts who will evaluate proposals using the criteria mentioned. Proposals will not be evaluated against each other.

Further details on the selection criteria and assessment process can be found on the DoD website.

Timescale

We aim to complete the assessment process and notify applicants by 30 April 2024.

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.

Ask about this funding opportunity

ESRC email: esrc-dod@esrc.ukri.org

Please note that anything sent to this inbox may be shared with DoD if required to answer your query.

DoD email: osd.minerva@mail.mil

Updates

  • 31 August 2023
    Funding amount updated in 'What we're looking for' section and the UKRI specific guidance document in 'Additional info' section.

This is the website for UKRI: our seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. Let us know if you have some quick feedback or help us improve your experience by taking three minutes to tell us what you think of the UKRI website.