New Moonshots engagement programme: further information


This document includes further information on the UK’s new moonshots engagement programme.

This activity is focused on generating ideas led by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in collaboration with the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT). If we have not addressed your specific question, you can ask us via email at

Submitting your idea

UKRI is seeking input from all areas across its communities, from collaborations, consortia, business and industry, and research. We are keen to hear from those who may not traditionally have had the opportunity to share their bold and ambitious ideas for the direction of UK’s research and innovation landscape.

Ideas can be submitted by individuals or an individual representing an organisation, community or consortium. Do note no idea will be taken forward in isolation, and we would expect communities of interest to be convened around them as they are developed further. How you plan to deliver this should be included as part of the idea submission.

Shortlisting the ideas

There are three distinct phases to this engagement activity:

Phase one: ideas generation

19 June to 10 July: UK’s new moonshots engagement opens to submit your ideas.

From 11 July, UKRI will conduct an internal grouping and reviewing of the ideas submitted (for more information see the Pioneer Innovation Moonshot Engagement Framework (PDF 1.5MB)). We will then invite a selection of representatives whose ideas are the most inspiring, bold and ambitious, and in-line with the moonshot framework, to the next phase.

Phase two: present and connect

These in-person and virtual events will take place in the week commencing 31 July. They will be by invitation only, and instructions for participation will be issued from 18 July.

These events will include opportunities to hear more about the ambitions and intent for a moonshots programme, meet and hear about the other moonshot ideas submitted, and present your idea to a diverse panel. The panel, one for each priority area, will be composed of research and innovation subject matter experts.

Attendees should allow a full working day if attending in person, and anticipate preparing in advance a short outline to present to the panel and to support wider discussion and iteration with potential collaborators at the meeting.

Our panels will collate a list of moonshots proposals for further development based on the framework provided.

Phase three: shortlist, community-building, ideas development

Throughout August, shortlisted moonshots along with their presenters will be invited to work with UKRI and DSIT. This includes convening consortia, if not established already, to ensure representation from communities across research, large and small business and industry, to work up the moonshot idea into a more fully developed proposition.

These more developed moonshot proposals will be put forward to the ministers for a decision on which should be delivered, should funding be made available.

Inclusive engagements

Any individual, grouping, collaboration or consortium is welcome to submit their idea. This is not a bidding or application process for funding, this is a sharing of ideas that can influence the direction of the UK’s research and innovation (R&I) landscape.

In the process of submitting and idea you will be asked for a high-level description and submissions will be reviewed based on the idea’s alignment with moonshots and ability to be transformative.

Tight timescale and simplified process

The Moonshot programme is the long-term programme of Pioneer Innovation, that would be delivered if the UK does not associate to the Horizon Europe programme. A commitment for external engagement over the summer to help shape the Moonshots programme was set out in the Pioneer Prospectus published by DSIT in April. The primary objective of this engagement is to ensure UKRI and DSIT can provide timely alternatives to Horizon Europe in the event we are unable to associate.

With this commitment in the prospectus, and to enable the development of a delivery mechanism (if required), we are working within a constrained timeline. We appreciate that the timescales for the Moonshots call falls during the summer months, so we have designed a streamlined process with minimal time commitment to collect innovative ideas. Participants will have a minimal time commitment and won’t need to fulfil the usual requirements of a standard grant process. At this stage, we expect a short high-level overview of an idea and do not expect a fully drawn up proposal. A submission contains a high-level description of a moonshot idea (limited to 300 characters), and answers three high-level questions (each with a 525 character limit. This is equivalent, on average, to 100 words).

It’s important to note that this engagement does not involve any funding, and it is not a call for funding proposals.

Additionally, this is the first phase of engaging our wider communities on the concept of Moonshots for the UK. Not participating in this phase has no implication on future involvement of the Moonshots programme or applying for funding that may become available in the future. We expect that any UK moonshot developed will be formed from a collaboration across our research and innovation communities. No individual or single organisation will take ownership a moonshot.

Considering that this idea gathering engagement spans the summer months, we are providing both virtual and in-person options for those invited to the next phase. If invitees cannot attend the events, then they have the option to nominate a deputy in their place. In addition, we will be able to offer other adjustments if required, including the reimbursement and other support for those who are invited to attend that may have childcare and caring responsibilities.

Our objective is to explore areas for future investment in research and innovation. As this engagement progresses, there will be additional opportunities for involvement and engagement in the development of moonshot ideas.

Selecting the moonshots

Criteria for selection

All ideas shared will be considered against the following three criteria to be selected for the panel presentation events:

  • is this idea a moonshot?
  • is this idea transformational?
  • who from across research, industry and business (small and large) could form a consortium to work on this moonshot, and how might you go about convening this?

Ideas should demonstrate high levels of adventure, ambition and a creative approach. They should have the potential to be transformative in delivering economic social or environmental benefits. Alternatively, if the ideas create new areas of research, they should propose a paradigm shift or disrupt current methodology.

The moonshot ideas should also be able to demonstrate the appetite and ability to convene communities comprised of research, industry, small and large business that would come together to develop and deliver the ideas. We do not expect you to have convened any consortium at the point of submitting your idea, but this will be expected and a core part of the next steps for any selected ideas.

We anticipate selecting approximately 120 moonshot ideas across all four strategic priorities of Pioneer Innovation from this engagement process to present to the priority area panels and participate in further development of the ideas. The panels for each strategic priority will select an estimated 10 moonshot ideas to move forward to develop their proposal within the Pioneer Innovation programme.

UKRI may invite individuals or groups who have provided similar or related ideas to come together to present the idea to the panel collectively.

Selection doesn’t guarantee funding

The UK’s moonshot engagement is an exercise in generating, understanding and developing ideas from across research, business and industry. There is no guarantee of funding for proposed ideas. But during this engagement, we expect to see ideas that will help us shape our strategic priorities and how we should be investing in the future.

If the UK is unable to associate with Horizon Europe, the ideas generated, and views of our communities will be used to develop business cases for investment in approximately four Moonshots, one per priority area. Any ideas which are taken forward in future developed programmes of investment will be open for all stakeholders to submit applications, and there will be no priority given to idea proposers through this process.

Ideas not selected for presentation

Ideas that are not selected for presentation will still be relevant for informing UKRI plans and priorities, as well as the Pioneer Innovation programme.

For any moonshots that are developed more fully, knowledge and capability consortia and subject matter experts will be brought together to ensure that the moonshots are designed collaboratively and for the greatest chance of success.

The selection of panel members

UKRI believes that by valuing all, we benefit from a diversity of ideas, opinions, knowledge and people, enriching our work and enlarging our knowledge economy.

The panels of subject matter experts will be formed of innovation experts, experts from across the priority areas and policy expertise from across government and its departments. We will select the panel members from across UKRI, DSIT and government departments that are not directly associated with the Pioneer Innovation programme.

Selection of pioneering moonshots per priority area

We anticipate that based on this engagement exercise, in the event that we are unable to associate to Horizon Europe, UKRI will design approximately four moonshots, one per priority area. The priority areas are:

  • health innovation
  • green industrial growth
  • resilient UK
  • transformative technologies

The process for moonshots development

UKRI wants to identify bold, ambitious, and completely transformative ideas. At the ideas submission stage UKRI is seeking big ideas for potential moonshots. Those selected to present their ideas to the panel will have time to develop their ideas further ahead of the presentation and may be invited to work with others who proposed similar ideas.

After the panel presentations, if investment opportunities arise, significant work will be needed to develop granular business cases for the emerging moonshots, and UKRI anticipates working across our communities to build these cases.

Moonshots and the Pioneer Innovation programme

We recognise the importance of the recently launched Pioneer prospectus (GOV.UK) providing a prudent contingency plan if association with Horizon Europe is not possible.

The prospectus outlines the UK government’s commitment to protect and support the science, research, technology, and innovation (SRTI) sectors, and offers an alternative approach focused on four main themes:

  • talent
  • innovation
  • global collaboration
  • infrastructure

As the primary delivery partner for the potential Pioneer programme, UKRI will continue to work closely with DSIT to develop a balanced portfolio of alternatives that best supports the UK’s R&I communities and provides opportunities to continue collaborating globally.

Pioneer Innovation programme

At the heart of the potential Pioneer Innovation programme is the government’s aspiration to deliver bold and ambitious investments through a moonshots programme. The programme will deliver globally competitive strategic advantage across key sectors and industries within the UK.

To ensure that we are able to deliver timely alternatives to Horizon Europe in the event that we are unable to associate, ideas generated through UK’s moonshot engagement will feed into the Pioneer Innovation programme.

How moonshots deliver to the Pioneer Innovation programme

Moonshots will contribute to addressing two key objectives of the Pioneer Innovation Programme:

  • to grow the UK’s international reputation as a global innovation leader
  • to establish productivity increases within businesses (of specified sectors) across the UK through the uptake and diffusion of technological innovations

A moonshot is a ground-breaking and innovative idea that could be truly disruptive and solve an important societal issue.

Moonshots should excite and inspire the public, academia and industry, and focus on areas of science and innovation where the underpinning science is at a stage to make a major breakthrough feasible.

UKRI’s moonshots will take advantage of areas where the UK is, or is poised to be, a world leader and look to generate significant additional benefits.

Horizon Europe

The government’s current position on Horizon Europe

While association is UK’s preferred option, the government’s position is to seek association to Horizon Europe on the right terms, which is why it is preparing for all for all possible outcomes with this contingency plan.

For more information see the Pioneer prospectus (GOV.UK).

The prospectus launched on 6 April 2023 aims to provide R&I communities with further information and high-level budget allocations for the proposed portfolio of alternatives, should they be required. It is positioned as a document for engagement (not formal consultation) ahead of continued development of the alternatives.

The government is using the publication for a series of engagement events with representatives across business, research and innovation, as well as invited engagement and comment via email.

The role of UKRI in delivering the long-term alternatives to Horizon Europe should they be required

As UKRI, we are not responsible for decisions taken by the government in relation to association or the implementation of alternatives, but we do have a role to support our communities to have confidence in the implementation of alternatives, should they be required.

As the primary delivery partner for Horizon Europe alternatives, should they be needed, UKRI will continue to work closely with DSIT. This includes  responding to feedback on the prospectus from R&I communities, to develop a balanced portfolio of alternatives that best supports the UK’s R&I communities.

In particular, we recognise the benefits of stable and sustained investment as a key driver for securing the confidence that researchers and innovators require to see the UK as a leading destination for their work.

The moonshot engagement programme and association to Horizon Europe

The government’s position to seek association to Horizon Europe remains unchanged. While association is UK’s preferred option, it must be on the right terms.

The moonshots engagement programme is important to Pioneer and UKRI in helping the UK to design our future grand plans for research and innovation investments.

If the UK does associate with Horizon Europe, the ideas generated through the moonshot engagement will still be invaluable for UKRI in shaping future investment areas and key flagship programmes of work.

UKRI’s engagement with the community

We recognise the importance of the prospectus being used to kickstart a new phase of community engagement around the development of the alternatives. As UKRI, we want to continue to reach a diversity of communities including those who do not normally apply to our funding opportunities.

To develop Pioneer Innovation, DSIT has established an external advisory group comprising stakeholders across academia, business and the third sector to help shape and refine the four priority areas.

Since the launch of the prospectus, DSIT and UKRI have been developing a framework for moonshot principles and success factors to form the basis for the forthcoming community engagement.

Throughout summer 2023, UKRI is running a series of engagement events with representatives across the research and innovation community. This will shape the moonshots that will potentially spearhead the investment to be made through the four priorities of the Pioneer Innovation programme.

The objective of this engagement

We are using the launch of the prospectus to catalyse idea generation across our communities for the future of the UK’s R&I landscape. As UKRI, we want to continue to reach a diversity of communities including those who do not normally apply to our funding opportunities. That is why this is not a traditional application process and those who submit ideas are not bidding for active funding.

We recognise this is a fast-paced engagement process that is constrained by when engagement calls for Pioneer Innovation can take place. The process for submitting a moonshot is specifically designed to allow ideas to be to be short and concisely described.

The difference between the moonshot programme and the UK’s Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA)

ARIA is a newly established research and development funding agency which is in the process of appointing its first set of programme directors and establishing its first investment programmes. Its work will focus on supporting these directors to deliver their ideas through investing across the R&I system.

The potential Pioneer Innovation programme mirrors the ambition of ARIA to deliver bold, focused and world-changing investments, but seeks to deliver large-scale, multi-year investment programmes which are sourced from the community in alignment with the strategic priorities of the UK government.

Delivering successful moonshots

Global collaboration in the moonshots engagement programme

If funded, this flagship programme would grow strong connections with key partners across the globe, prioritising support for R&I collaborations with UK geostrategic and thematic priorities. A strategic and tailored international engagement plan would be developed as the moonshots are refined.

The success measures for the moonshots programme

The moonshots programme takes a portfolio approach with ambitious, measurable goals designed to have a significant impact on important societal issues. This includes tangible objectives for moonshots to be taken forward.

Each moonshot would have a central coordinating team that would monitor the programme and drive real outcomes against clear milestones.

The ongoing sustainability of Pioneer Innovation and the moonshots programme

The government has launched the Pioneer prospectus which provides a prudent contingency plan to Horizon Europe if we do not associate. The moonshots engagement programme is important to Pioneer and UKRI in helping the UK to design our future grand plans for research and innovation investments.

Pioneer would receive the same amount of funding as the UK would have paid to associate to Horizon had we associated from 2021 to 2027. This means the UK would invest around £14.6 billion in Pioneer to the end of 2027 to 2028, including the support we are already providing to the sector, for example via the Horizon Guarantee.

An example of moonshot

A moonshot is a ground-breaking and innovative idea that could be truly disruptive and solve an important societal issue. UKRI’s moonshots will take advantage of areas where the UK is, or is poised to be, a world leader and look to generate significant additional benefits.

We are looking for you to submit bold ideas that have the potential to be truly transformative. For example, Japan’s moonshots include ‘ultra-early disease prediction and intervention by 2050’ and ‘realisation of a fault-tolerant universal quantum computer by 2050’.

We want to hear your grand visions for the future, and how these are aligned to the four strategic priorities of Pioneer Innovation.


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