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
- 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.
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.