HERA Cultural Encounters Partners Mailing List

AHRC and HERA have recently set up a partner search mailing list for the HERA Cultural Encounters call. This is in order to help potential applicants find European partners for the call.

JISCMail: HERA Partner Search Mailing List

Once you’ve subscribed you can post a new message which should include your contact details and a short (200 word max) description of your proposed project. This will then be sent out to all list subscribers across Europe.

HERA have also released a list of all attendees at the official February 21st matchmaking event and their project ideas [PDF]. If any are of interest you should contact the proposer directly.


Cultural Encounters: AHRC Infoday

Last week the AHRC held a series of UK-based information days for the recently released HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area) Cultural Encounters call. These infodays gave potential UK applicants a chance to find out more background information to the call, and hear from the coordinator of a project which was successful in the last HERA round.

The AHRC has already published the presentations from the event on their website. I attended the session in London last week and my rough notes are available on Google Docs. These should be read in conjunction with the already published call guidance notes [PDF], National Eligibility Requirements [PDF] and FAQs [PDF].

Some edited highlights follow:

  1. Projects must be genuinely collaborative: This is not about creating a consortium where the individual partners carry out discrete research projects and then come together at the end to ask each other what they have learned. The partners must form a genuinely collaborative research team which integrates insights and approaches from all of the institutions involved throughout the project. This point goes for any non-academic partners which are involved in the consortium, too – these should not simply be “tacked on” to tick a knowledge exchange box, but should be integral to the research objectives.
  2. European “added value” is critical: You need to make a coherent and compelling case for why this project needs pan-European funding. Ask yourself why this work couldn’t be funded just by the AHRC, for example. The input of European partners must be integral to the research. Some subject areas can have a national focus, so think about how your research can bring together insights from different research cultures and contexts.
  3. European researchers, not research: The European focus applies to the researchers involved and not necessarily the research: i.e. you don’t have to focus on topics relevant to Europe, what’s important is that you address the Cultural Encounters theme with a research team based in institutions in HERA countries.
  4. Interdisciplinarity: This is not a requirement, but is strongly encouraged. This should not just be about combining insights from different disciplines, but more ambitiously reaching genuinely new insights which seem to shift disciplinary boundaries. Note the research can include non-humanities disciplines as long as it has a clear humanities focus.
  5. Consider PhDs carefully: You can recruit PhDs to your project, but you should carefully consider requesting PhD funding. The work you undertake cannot be dependent on PhD students – they must be able to stand alone, for example if their research takes them in a different direction. The level of work should be appropriate too: this is not a chance to get a cut-price postdoc! Moreover, having a PhD on the project means that your project must be 3 years in length, whereas you get extra flexibility if you don’t have a PhD. On the other hand, PhDs can bring a unique dimension to the project – in CinBA, for example, the PhD students used social media and blogging to help the research reach new audiences.
  6. Focus areas are suggestions: The list of focus areas in the call document is a suggestion of areas you may consider addressing – it is not a requirement. Your research may cut across several of these, or address an entirely different aspect. As long as your project fits within the overarching theme of cultural encounters it will be eligible for funding.
  7. Think carefully about resources available: €1M doesn’t actually go very far when spread across a three year project and split among 3+ institutions research teams. In many UK institutions employing 1 postdoctoral researcher full time for three years plus FEC overheads will eat up nearly a third of that total. Think about whether you need to employ a postdoc for the full duration of the project; could you use their time more effectively by bringing them in six months into the project, for example?

Get in touch with us if you’re a Northumbria member of staff interested in the call and are thinking of putting together an expression of interest.


Cultural Encounters – HERAnet Releases €18M Call

HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area – a network of European funders of humanities research) has just released a new call for proposals from researchers in the arts and humanities to address “cultural encounters“. This theme is inherently interdisciplinary and touches on research in history, social change, politics, cultural identity, conflict, communication and economic development. More details on the call are available on the HERAnet website:

HERA Joint Research Programme 2012: Cultural Encounters

The call will fund a consortium of researchers from at least three eligible European countries to carry out a research project over a maximum of 3 years, for up to €1M. UK participants will be funded under standard AHRC rules at 80% of Full Economic Cost. This is a two-stage call and the outline proposals are due by 4th May 2012, 14:00 CET (13:00 GMT). To apply you need to fill in the template form [.doc] and submit via the online HERA submission system.

Because the domain covered by “cultural encounters” is potentially so vast, the call for proposals [.pdf] document picks out three key focus areas, listed below. These are intended as a guide. Applicants are free to address topics which cut across one or more of these areas, or to propose an entirely different approach as long as it falls within the scope of the overall programme:

  1. Cultural Encounters over time and space: “The focus here is on the role of cultural encounters from historical and geographic perspectives, where cultural change may have played a complex role as an agent of, and response to, encounters among people with different languages, literatures, religions, institutions and traditions.”
  2. Social and political dimensions of cultural encounters: “This area focuses on how societies and policies have attempted to manage cultural encounters and diversity in different ways. This may include the analysis of concepts and models of the co-existence of cultural differences from historical, philosophical, theoretical and social perspectives, where phenomena such as migration, displacement, and the formation of multicultural communities will be important. It could include analysis of the cultural and political values that shape these concepts and models, and the institutional structures that support or challenge them.”
  3. Practices of translation, interpretation and mediatisation in relation to cultural encounters: “The third area focuses on how cultural expressions in different forms are interpreted, translated, and/or transformed across cultures, languages and sectors. This spans everyday life as well as professional and artistic practices, and includes virtual encounters on the internet as well as in encounters in real life (e.g., media, museums, literature, art, music). It embraces analysis of cultural texts as well as analysis of behaviour and professional practices in different cultural settings.”

Potential applicants should note that European added value is an important part of the assessment criteria. This means that the research carried out should be of higher quality and have more impact than if it had been a unilateral project. It does not mean all proposals need to address EU-specific topics or themes, although these could of course form part of a research project in this theme.

There is a matchmaking event on 21st February in Berlin to find potential partners for the call, but unfortunately the deadline has passed to be included in that. However, the AHRC are running some of their own UK-based information days on the Cultural Encounters call on the 13th March (Edinburgh) and the 15th March (London). More details are available on the AHRC website.

Please get in touch with us at an early stage if you need advice and guidance on developing an application.


AHRC Launches Expanded International Placement Scheme

Are you an AHRC-funded postgraduate or early-career researcher? Now you have an opportunity to apply for a short-term fellowship at one of four internationally-renowned research libraries and institutes.

The AHRC has just launched an expanded scheme which offers 3-6 month placements at one of four destinations in 2012/13:

This provides an excellent opportunity not only to take advantage of the world-class research facilities on offer, but also to expand your academic network overseas.

Here are more details on the awards and eligibility from the AHRC:

The scheme is open to UK postgraduate students and early career researchers funded by the AHRC and successful applicants receive an award from the AHRC to contribute towards their flight costs and a monthly allowance in additional to their normal stipend/salary paid as part of their AHRC funding.

Applicants can apply to spend from three to six months at the overseas institution with dedicated access to their world-class research facilities, expertise and networking opportunities.

For the purposes of this scheme, “early career” means you need to be within 8 years of the award of your PhD, or within 6 years of your first academic appointment. And note that ESRC award holders are also eligible to apply to the Library of Congress placement scheme, but not to the other destinations. Further information is available in the detailed call guidance notes available at the links above.

As we reported last month, this is part of the AHRC’s wider international strategy. The focus on early stage researchers is significant as the AHRC believe international links made at this stage of an academic career usually last longer and are more productive in terms of stimulating future research collaborations and impact.

The deadline for applications for the International Placement Scheme is 15th March, 2012. Please contact us for advice and support with your application.


AHRC Study Tour 2012 – Knowledge Exchange and International Opportunities

This is part four in a series on the 2012 AHRC Study Tour.

Knowledge Exchange
Jo Lansdowne – Knowledge Exchange Strategy & Development Manager.

AHRC are moving from Knowledge Transfer to Knowledge Exchange, funding ‘collaboration’ between academics & non-academics, recognising that Knowledge Exchange is a 2-way process.  The small dedicated schemes focusing on Knowledge Transfer will end and instead AHRC are embedding Knowledge Exchange in all of its schemes, though they will still fund KTPs through TSB. This term, embedding, appeared regularly throughout the day and the same applies to their international opportunities – discussed below – where the move is away from smaller scale specific schemes towards larger, multipurpose, higher impact grants.

The Creative Economy is the major focus of Knowledge Exchange and AHRC have moved supporting a small number of longer, larger grants for Knowledge Exchange Hubs. The Creative Economy covers 4 key areas:

  • cultural promotion & conservation – museums, cultural tourism
  • creative activitiesperforming arts, fashion, gaming
  • creative communicationsadvertising, experience economy, broadcasting
  • creative interfacesdesign industries

The types of activity in each of the Hubs will depend upon the needs and aspirations of a Hub’s target organisations and businesses and could involve a range of different knowledge exchange models, creative engagements and interactions. There are currently 4 Knowledge Exchange Research Hubs:

  • Design in Action – baased in Dundee – food, sport. ICT, rural economy
  • CreativeWorks London – led by Queen Mary College – creative economy
  • The Creative Exchange – based in Lancaster (NW) – content creation & distribution
  • REACT – led by University of the West of England, SW & S Wales – creative economy & SMEs

AHRC also provides targeted research support, for example:

  • Digital R&D for Arts & Culture – jointly with Arts Council of England & NESTA
  • Brighton Fuse – £1m grant awarded to expand the creative, digital and IT sector in Brighton and Hove.
  • Strategic Partnerships

Jo’s slides can be viewed on the AHRC website.

International Opportunities
Naomi Baeumont – Head of International Strategy

AHRC’s Priority Regions are:

  • South Asia
  • North America
  • Europe
  • China & Brazil

AHRC look to engage with early career researchers as links made at this stage in your career are usually enduring.

Current interactions with Europe:

  • Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA): upcoming call with €19M available. Linked to the AHRC Translating Cultures theme. www.hera.org
  • Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) on Cultural Heritage & Global Change – possible joint calls in the future www.netheritage.eu
  • Engagement with European Commission on the Socio-Economic & Humanities theme in Horizon 2020.

Worldwide Interactions:

AHRC have a number of worldwide Agreements & MoUs: Germany, Ireland, Japan, Taiwan, as well as an open responvive mode scheme for international collaboration with Brazil & North America.

There are a number of current and planned co-funded programmes:

  • digging into data – USA, Canada, Netherlands
  • Humanities and Wellbeing – links with USA under the Science in Culture theme

Under the Research Networking Scheme proposals for FEC up to £30,000 for a period of up to 2 years may be submitted.   An additional threshold of up to £15,000 FEC can be requested to cover the costs of any international participants or activities in addition to the £30,000 fEC scheme limit.  Applications can be made at any time.

The International Placement Scheme is aimed at Early Career Researchers who are currently holders of an AHRC grant. The Scheme provides support for access to international collections and libraries and will cover flights and additional living expenses. The placement should add value to an existing AHRC award.

In the future AHRC will be looking to work strategically with British Council. Furture avenues of collaboration have been identified in India and there are already relationships with the SHRC in Canada that are still to be explored.

Naomi’s slides are available on the AHRC website.


AHRC Study Tour 2012 – Peer Review and Fellowships

This is the third part of a series on the AHRC 2012 Study Tour.

Dr Sue Carver gave a short overview and update on the AHRC’s peer review process. A bit of background first: The AHRC Peer Review College (PRC) was established in 2004 with 460 members, and now has over 1,300 across five different groupings: academic, knowledge exchange, international, strategic, and technical. Peer reviewers from these groupings are sometimes used for different elements of a single application or for applications to different calls, for example, where a bid includes a technical appendix. The AHRC has a service level agreement of sorts with each reviewer to ensure that they get no more than 8 proposals per year to review.

Membership of the PRC is valuable both for institutions (used in internal peer review processes) and individuals (esteem and improving knowledge of writing bids). There is clearly a high degree of awareness among many research-active staff: a recent AHRC call for membership of the PRC drew in over 300 applications for membership, despite the fact that the call was targeted towards particular themes and research areas.

In terms of the process for funding applications at AHRC, the PRC is a central part of the picture:

  • Application submitted via Je-S
  • Checked in AHRC for eligibility
  • 3 peer reviewers are selected from PRC, plus 1 technical reviewer where necessary
  • Reviews are completed, returned and checked for quality
  • Applications are sifted in AHRC: if not 2 fundable grades then it is rejected
  • Applicant notified and given opportunity to respond to reviews
  • Application, reviews and PI response are forwarded to panel
  • Panel meets and makes decisions on academic ranking of applications
  • AHRC funds as far as they can down this list until funding runs out

Four key points were made in the update:

  1. A new grading scale (from 1-6) came into use from 1st December 2011. This means that grading is now harmonised across all research councils;
  2. From 1st April 2012, resubmission to AHRC will be by invitation only. Again this brings AHRC into line with other research councils, such as the ESRC. This policy is also an important part of their demand management strategy;
  3. In response to a question on the place impact in peer review, we were told that this comes in as a secondary criterion during ranking of proposals. Where two proposals are equivalent in scientific excellence then the one with the higher quality Pathways to Impact statement will be ranked higher;
  4. Where the AHRC has invited applications through highlight notices, a decision will be taken internally in AHRC as to whether to fund additional highlighted projects which may be ranked lower in the scale.

Katherine Warren, AHRC’s Strategy and Development Manager, focused on the recent major changes to the Fellowships scheme.

The most significant change is that AHRC is moving away from funding Fellowships which support “completion” to supporting visionary individuals with the potential to set research agendas. Often the research supported will be at an earlier stage of development. In addition:

  • Fellowships will adhere to the “longer and larger” maxim: 6 months minimum, 18 months maximum (or 24 months maximum for the early career route);
  • There will be fewer and more prestigious awards. Katherine made the point that the AHRC will “only fund the best”. They see this as one way to increase impact from the awards they make;
  • Fellowships will be used to sustain undersupported subject areas and to bolster AHRC’s strategic priorities.

In the early career fellowships route, part of the focus will be on helping the fellow to develop their people management skills. In this regard it will be more like the ESRC’s Future Research Leaders scheme. But the HEI must also be willing to demonstrate its support of the potential candidate: there must be an existing contract in place and further commitment (such as sabbaticals, internal funding, and training for leadership) should be evidenced in the Head of Department’s supporting statement.

Katherine emphasised the importance of internal selection of candidates including linkage and alignment of a candidate’s programme of research to institutional research strategies and aims. The steer was very much to get institutions thinking: “who are our top few people?”. However, the AHRC have stopped short of putting limits on numbers of applications though, much like the ESRC’s position on Future Research Leaders, they have indicated that they will keep this policy under review.


AHRC Study Tour 2012 – ‘Emerging Themes’ Overview

This is the second part of a series on the AHRC 2012 Study Tour.

Adam Walker – Strategy & Development Manager provided a whistle stop tour of the AHRC ‘Emerging Themes’. Although these are still referred to officially as “emerging”, the point was made that by now many of these have “emerged”.

The Main Themes are:

  • Science in Culture: looking at the historical evaluation of science, creativity & discovery, imagery & museums, public debate & enagement
  • Digital Transformations: how can we transfrom arts & humanities
  • Care for the Future: how the past can inform future thinking; custodianship of cultural heritage
  • Translating Cultures: need for diverse cultures to understand & communicate verbal & non verbal artforms; cultural understanding in a globalised economy & society

The main aims of the 4 emerging themes are:

  • knowledge exchange
  • capacity building
  • informing public policy
  • partnership activities – large consortia grants
  • build on previous programmes

Each of the main themes has a series of more focused sub-themes. Details can be found on the AHRC website, under ‘Emerging Themes’.

Connected Communities: this is a cross-Council theme, led by AHRC. Annual summits are being held for existing award holders with the opportunity for follow-on funding. There will be a Development Workshop announced in March for an event in May/June looking at Communities, Culture, Environment & Sustainability.

Advisory groups have been held for the 4 main emerging themes. There are development workshops planned and it is anticipated that future calls will be for longer, larger grants with a greater focus on the sub themes.

Current open Highlight Notices:

  • The highlight notice for the fellowship scheme has been extended until December 2012 and the highlight notice in the networking scheme until the end of July 2012. Both schemes remain entirely open to proposals addressing any topic and proposals to the scheme do not need to address any of these themes.
  • Care for the Future: a research grants scheme highlight notice is open,  looking at humanities approaches to environmental change (value up to £1.5m for a large consortia of either a group from one university OR a consortia of HEIs)

Although no commitment was made, Adam indicated that there have been discussions around opening up highlight notices for other themes within the responsive-mode standard research grants call.

Finally, there will be a Development Workshop, associated call & activities considered on community resilience, & provisionally on Communities, Culture, Diversity & Cohesion announced in 2013. There will be Devlopment Workshops announced under all of the other Themes but these are still to be decided.

Adam’s slides are available at: http://www.slideshare.net/AHRC/arma-themes-presentation


Final Reminder: NERC Peer Review College Call!

NERC has today issued a final reminder for those who want to nominate themselves to be part of their Peer Review College:

We have reduced and equalised the number of review requests per member in order to make involvement in NERC peer review activities more manageable and to allow NERC to widen the expertise-base of the College by increasing the number of members from 450 to 600.

We are looking for members with all types of environmental sciences expertise, including those from the public and private sector user communities. Those selected will play a vital role in determining the research that NERC funds and in maintaining its quality.

Those interested have until 27th January to respond by completing the nomination form, available on the NERC website. Note that if you’re nominating yourself you’ll need a senior colleague to support your application.

There has been a spate of calls for peer review membership among the research councils recently, with AHRC adding to its burgeoning 1,300-member College at the end of 2011 and the ESRC’s call still open. The benefits of membership include opportunities to network and to gain an insight into the peer review process, as well as improving your own proposal writing skills.


AHRC Study Tour 2012 – Mark Llewellyn on Future Strategic Directions

This is part 1 of a series on the AHRC 2012 Study Tour: First up was Professor Mark Llewellyn, AHRC’s new Director of Research with a wide-ranging talk covering most of what AHRC currently does as well as future directions for the funder.

And when we say “new”, we mean it! It turns out Mark had only been in the job 20 days when he delivered this presentation – he was formerly Professor of English Studies at Strathclyde. Phil Ward, Research Funding Manager at Kent, has already offered his own useful analysis of what Prof. Llewellyn’s appointment might say about the AHRC’s underlying goals. In any case, Prof. Llewellyn did a good job of summing up the state of play at the research council as well as giving some reasonable indications about what AHRC will be interested in over the next year or so. In what follows I’ve picked out some of the key points from the session. You can also take a look at the presentation slides, available on the AHRC website. And remember to leave a comment if you’d like to ask a question.

“Commissioned” Research

One of the points Mark made fairly early on was that AHRC’s remit is wide – over 50 disciplines are represented and supported by the funder. As with other research councils, this support is primarily channelled through their “responsive” mode: a no deadlines, open all year funding stream for anything within AHRC’s remit. After briefly covering the AHRC’s “emerging” themes (which will be the subject of tomorrow’s more detailed post), Mark briefly mentioned the possibility of a new “commissioned” research funding mode which would respond flexibly to priorities raised by the research community. Not a lot was said about this in the presentation – suggesting it is still at an early stage of development – but the presentation (slide 5) shows that it is clearly separate from the emerging themes as well as the cross-council priorities. This is speculation, but perhaps it is one way of the AHRC responding to criticisms last year over the perceived introduction of the “big society” into their research agenda (an issue on which both Mark and the audience were noticeably silent).

The issue of forming longer-term partnerships with the research community was clearly at the forefront as Mark began his presentation with the observation that “grants don’t just stop”. Of course the funding ends, but there are many more events and activities which outlast the duration of the grant. There was a clear indication that the AHRC intend to take an increasing interest in longer-term outcomes and outputs of the research they fund, not just through the RCUK Research Outcomes System, but also in the nature of the relationship between funder and researcher. This may well signal a subtle shift towards the “funder as sponsor” model adopted by the EPSRC.


One of the words of the day for Mark and other AHRC presenters was “embedded”. The significance is this: although the AHRC has and will continue to have separate strands of activity devoted to, say, Knowledge Exchange and International research partnerships, the expectation is that these activities will be embedded and integrated across the AHRC’s research themes and schemes. Mark made the point that funding for Knowledge Exchange doesn’t just have to be chanelled through specialist KE themes. This shouldn’t be too surprising, especially since research councils have been hammering on about including costs for impact activities within grants for quite some time now. The picture is of  longer, larger research grants (see below) which also make time for international and industrial engagement, and of researchers who are prepared to be leaders both within and outside academia.

Demand/Expectation Management

Mark wants to work with research organisations and research offices to share best practice on this issue, both processes and user experiences. From “our” perspective, he suggested that demand management might be better framed as expectation management, although whose expectations wasn’t made clear (research managers’ or academics’?) – and who is doing the managing?

One specific point is worth highlighting here: many institutions understandably call on members of the AHRC Peer Review College to act as internal peer reviewers. Mark acknowledged that this is a good way of sharing peer review expertise but cautioned that institutions shouldn’t overburden PRC members. One suggestion was that PRC members could focus on reviewing applications by early career researchers only. Another was to ensure that membership of internal peer review groups included a mix of PRC members and more junior colleagues, giving the opportunity for those who have not had the benefit of working as a peer reviewer to gain an insight into this process.

On the issue of peer review, Mark also indicated that he wanted members of the PRC to feel more like a community. Peer review is therefore to be given its own section on the AHRC’s new-look website, and there is likely to be some investment in online training for the 1300+ member College.

“Longer and larger”

This was another of the key phrases of the day, along with the corollary – “fewer” – which was mentioned slightly less often. In common with all the other research councils, the AHRC are strategically positioning themselves to invest in a smaller number of longer, larger grants which deliver greater impact. None of this is new, of course, having been highlighted in the Delivery Plans published at the end of 2010. However, Mark was keen to point out that it did not necessarily mean calling for projects worth £4M. He insisted that it was also about engaging with researchers in development of research activity and suggested that AHRC would start running EPSRC-style research “sandpits” to do this.

Mark acknowledged that the calls announced to date for the four existing “emerging” themes (Digital Transformations, Translating Cultures, Care for the Future, Science in Culture) might have given the impression that longer and larger was not the priority – there have been a number of small scale research development calls as well as highlight notices on the £45K max Research Networking scheme. These were designed to scope the research area, and would be followed by a larger scale call, in much the same way as has happened in Connected Communities.

There will be more from the AHRC Study Tour tomorrow.


AHRC Study Tour 2012 – Introduction

Last Friday Sam King and I took the long train down from Newcastle to Swindon to visit the Arts and Humanities Research Council for an ARMA-sponsored “Study Tour” (it took 5 and a half hours to get there – a substantial journey, but not quite the epic 7 and a half hours it took me last time I visited Research Councils HQ). AHRC have helpfully uploaded the agenda and all of the presentations on their website:

AHRC/ARMA Study Tour 2012

Study Tours are a useful opportunity for research support staff like us to meet with research council staff and hear about their latest strategic priorities, discuss any policy shifts, and find out about new or revamped funding opportunities. Despite having the smallest budget of all the UK research councils, the AHRC is the primary funder for many researchers in arts, humanities and related disciplines. One of the messages which came across clearly throughout the day was that their funding has a significant effect on the research community and the UK’s economic, social and cultural well-being (see, for example, their recently published impact report for 2011).

Over the course of this week, we’ll be writing about the main insights and messages from the day on this blog. We’ll also arrange an AHRC update event in the near future open to all Northumbria staff to elaborate on some of the key points and discuss potential opportunities for funding. If you’d like to ask any questions in the meantime, please either leave a comment on the blog or contact us.

Here’s the full list of posts:

  1. Mark Llewellyn on Future Strategic Directions
  2. ‘Emerging Themes’ Overview
  3. Peer Review and Fellowships
  4. Knowledge Exchange and International Opportunities
  5. Research Careers, Block Grant Partnerships and Final Questions