NERC Big Ideas pipeline

Through the Big Ideas pipeline, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) seeks to engage with the widest possible community to identify exciting, adventurous, and potentially transformative ideas related to the environment. Through this engagement with stakeholders, we aim to ensure that the next generation of environmental research and innovation priorities are inclusive, innovative and in touch with our communities, government and society’s interests and priorities.

What is a Big Idea?

A Big Idea is compelling, ambitious and targeting a solution that requires research bigger than the scale and scope possible within a single research grant (more than £4 million).

A Big Idea could require fundamental or applied research and may take many forms, such as an environmental challenge or a market failure requiring research. Big Ideas should have the potential to generate transformational change and lead to a meaningful impact for stakeholders across business, policy and the wider society, including making the environmental science community more diverse.

NERC welcomes all Big Ideas that have a strong environmental component. Big Ideas might contribute to delivering NERC and UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI)  current strategic ambitions, as set out in the NERC Delivery Plan and UKRI Strategy 2022 to 2027, or may help to shape priorities for the future.

NERC particularly encourages Big Ideas that require collaborative working across disciplines and sectors,  especially from emerging research areas requiring novel approaches and technologies.

Recognising that Big Ideas might cross the boundaries between UKRI councils, NERC works together with other UKRI Councils to identify potential synergies across remits and develop ideas in a connected and agile way wherever the Big Idea may be submitted.

This is not a funding opportunity and there is no dedicated funding attached to Big Ideas. Rather we seek community insight to enhance our pipeline of ideas for future strategic direction and research investments, so we can respond to opportunities as they arise.

Other avenues through which NERC seeks community insight to inform specific processes include:

Who can submit a Big Idea?

Big Ideas can come from any individual or group, at any career stage and from any interested parties. This includes those who use environmental science, such as business, policymakers and non-governmental organisations. We encourage collaboration across sectors in the development of Big Ideas.

How to submit a Big Idea

Big Ideas should be submitted via the online submission form.

Big Ideas can be submitted at any time and will be reviewed approximately quarterly on a rolling basis.

Big Ideas will be reviewed by NERC, working across UKRI, and prioritised for further development based on strategic importance, timeliness, and potential for transformative science. NERC will endeavour to provide feedback to all submitters after initial review and prioritisation.

How Big Ideas will be used

Prioritised Big Ideas will be used to inform future strategic activity. For example, Big Ideas could be:

  • directly scoped into new areas of research funding by NERC or other UKRI councils
  • used as evidence of need in a future UKRI spending review submission
  • used to shape earlier stage development activities, such as community building.

Big Ideas may be combined with other Big Ideas or insights from other routes to create something truly transformative.

Once a Big Idea is submitted, you are giving NERC (as part of UKRI) permission to develop it as deemed appropriate. This may involve NERC and other UKRI staff working with you and inviting others to be involved in further development of the Big Idea.

This is a new initiative for NERC, case studies from previously submitted Big Ideas will be shared once they become available.



Last updated: 17 August 2023

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