AHRC Highlight Connected Communities and Design

Grabbing Dinner in Beijing by Trey Ratcliff CC BY-NC-SA 2.0The AHRC this week announced a new highlight notice for their Research Grants (both standard and early career routes) on Connected Communities and Design. Applications can be up to £1.5M FEC for standard grants and up to £250K for the early career route.

What are they looking for?

They’re looking for projects which intersect across Arts and Humanities, Design and Connected Communities. Projects will be inherently interdisciplinary, and can include expertise and approaches from beyond the arts and humanities disciplines, but they must include design and arts and humanities subjects at their core.

Projects must also engage with communities throughout all stages of the research process, and involve strong collaborative partnerships with organisations outside the Higher Education sector.

Part of the rationale for this highlight notice is to stimulate innovative projects based on design and so participants should think carefully about how their project might contribute to the development of national research capability in design.


The AHRC have put together a package of what they call “stimulus materials” to provide additional context to the call and to encourage potential applicants to think creatively about projects. These include an annotated list of projects previously funded under the Connected Communities theme, several case studies, tips on putting together successful projects, and a page entitled “What sorts of projects can be funded?” which expands on the brief descriptions on the main call page.

What’s the deadline?

The highlight notice will be in effect until 15th January 2014, and applications should be submitted via Je-S in the usual way. Applicants should take note of the need to provide additional information around the fit to the Highlight Notice within the Case for Support. Note also that the standard £1M FEC limit has been raised for this highlight call and in addition projects are able to attach three studentships rather than the usual two, but again it’s important to emphasise the fit to the call highlight.

How will my application be assessed?

The assessment process for highlighted grants is often misunderstood, so it’s worth quoting at length from the AHRC here:

Applications submitted under the highlight notice will be considered in accordance with the standard peer review process and criteria for the AHRC’s Research Grant Scheme. If, following peer review, they pass through the normal sift process they will be moderated by a prioritisation panel. Depending on the number of applications received under the highlight notice, applications will either be assessed by the most relevant subject panel alongside other non-highlight proposals, or by a separate moderating / prioritisation panel which will consider all the applications received under the highlight notice in that grants round.

Although applications submitted under the highlight notice will not be given any additional priority within the peer review process, the AHRC may consider supplementing the budget for grants rounds to support additional highly rated applications under the highlight notice for which there might not be sufficient funds within the existing budget for the scheme. As a result, applications addressing this highlight notice may have an increased chance of funding, but only if they fully meet the excellence criteria for the scheme and high international standards of scholarship, originality, quality and significance as judged through peer review.

As usual, Northumbria staff interested in developing a bid to this call should get in touch with your relevant Research Funding Manager at an early stage.


Notes From Rick Rylance’s Recent Policy Seminar at Northumbria

Rick RylanceProfessor Rick Rylance (AHRC Chief Executive and Chair of RCUK Executive Group) recently visited Northumbria University to deliver a research policy seminar in which he outlined his vision on the future of research, gave some insight into current government policy on research, and outlined several principles which guide research council investments. The following are brief notes intended to give a flavour of the seminar. If you’d like to discuss any of these issues in more detail, please get in touch.


Thinking ahead, Prof Rylance had some interesting thoughts on the future of research (and research funding):

  • The pure vs. applied research distinction will become increasingly meaningless/blurred
  • Research will increasingly be generated between organisations (research and non-research) as part of a knowledge economy, rather than in individual institutions
  • Multiple funding sources will become the norm for research projects
  • Research involving international partners and networks will become more widespread
  • Interdisciplinary research within and across research council remits will become more commonplace

In this context, Prof Rylance highlighted a Royal Society report – Science as an open enterprise – released last summer which explores how the power of big data and digital technologies are increasingly opening up new data-based methodologies for research across disciplines, blurring the divide between researchers and “citizen scientists”, as well as making research over greater distances feasible.


The government has generally taken a sympathetic view of research and science. The 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review was favourable for research in comparison to other policy areas even though it was a flat cash settlement (i.e. a real-terms loss). However, Prof Rylance warned that the sector can’t become complacent and we need to collectively keep making an evidence-based case for the importance of continuing to fund research (see, e.g. the AHRC’s Cultural Value Project below).


  • There should be no duplication in funding: this means, for example, that the research funded by British Academy, AHRC and ESRC should be distinct, and also that there shouldn’t be duplication between what comes through QR from HEFCE and that from RCUK.
  • Research is seen as an investment, not a cost: this relates to the impact agenda, which is increasingly important and will remain so for the forseeable future. There is now a very broad acceptance about a variety of impacts. The AHRC’s recently announced Cultural Value Project seeks to engage with and shape this agenda by making an evidence-based case for the value of arts and humanities research to culture and society.
  • On the concentration agenda: The key statistics here are that 75% of AHRC funding goes to 30 institutions and 39% goes to just 10. However, there is a recognition (supported by the last RAE) that excellence is distributed. So there is a need to support excellent research wherever it is found and this means collaboration is key. Reduced administrative budgets for Research Councils mean that larger grants will be favoured, which reinforces this approach.

The presentation was followed by an enjoyable and wide-ranging discussion which covered open access publishing, the place of design in the AHRC funding landscape, demand management, and interdisciplinarity, among other topics.


From Resilience to Informed Consent: Research Forum Themes for 2013

Disruptors Roundtable by Scott Beale CC BY-NC-ND 2.0Northumbria University runs a regular series of informal research meetings to bring together staff from across the campus who might have common or compatible interests.  Hosted by the PVC Research and Innovation, Professor Peter Golding, the aim of the Research Forum is to give people a chance to find out about cognate research to their own being undertaken around the university and to foster inter-disciplinary dialogue.

The themes for this season’s Fora are as follows:

  • Monday 25th February 2013 (12.30 – 3.30): Social Networking (Boardroom 1, Sutherland Building).  This forum will take the widest possible view of social networking and is interested in any aspect of technological development, security, engaging with students, business intelligence, distribution and use of social media and services.  Whether it’s via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, so-called ‘social media’ play a major part in many people’s lives. ‘Social Media’ also provide a fascinating topic for research, and this has been recognised in many fields.  If you use such media as research tools, or see them as important aspects of the industrial, social, political, economic, or public service fields with which you are concerned,  this area has potential for research.
  • Thursday 28th March 2013 (12.30 – 3.30):  Resilience  (Boardroom 1, Sutherland Building).   Resilience is defined as ‘positive adaptation to adversity despite serious threats to adaptation or development’ and spans every aspect of professional and personal living.  The focus of this Forum will be to consider how robust resilience is developed and sustained across disciplines including child development, disaster development,  business continuity, local government, public policy, etc.
  • Monday 22nd April 2013 (12.30 – 3.30):  Well-Being (Boardroom 2, Sutherland Building).   Well-Being has been the concern of philosophers since Aristotle, and is, in many respects the essence of human existence.  Embracing more familiar topics such as welfare or quality of life, in recent years well-being has become much more of a focus for debate, though academic dispute continues about its precise definition.  This Forum will consider the nature of well-being and its impact.
  • Thursday 23rd May 2013 (12.30 – 3.30):  Informed Consent (Boardroom 1, Sutherland Building).  It is a standard requirement of research involving human subjects that they give their informed consent to the investigation.  This simple maxim causes considerable practical and conceptual difficulties for empirical work across a range of social, medical, economic, and other fields, including many undertaken by researchers in laboratory and engineering subjects. This Forum will share understanding and explore best practices

The primary purpose of the Fora is simply to provide an informal and collegial occasion for relevant and appropriate staff to communicate their research to colleagues and to find out about cognate research that might be of interest.

Presentations will be relaxed and brief (maximum 10 minutes) and designed to inform a general audience about individual research interests.  Lunch will be provided. PowerPoint presentations are not encouraged.  To help us to accommodate this model comfortably, we feel the optimum number of delegates is around twenty for each event.

The next University Research Forum will take place on Monday 25th February in Boardroom 1 (Sutherland Building) with the focus being “Social Networking”.  If  you are a member of staff at Northumbria and are interested in attending this event please email Jackie Buckham by lunchtime on Monday 18th February 2013 to register your interest and to receive joining details.  If a particular Forum is oversubscribed, we will work with individual Faculties to identify appropriate staff to ensure a fair and representative balance is achieved.  If you would like to register your interest in attending the future events, please also email Jackie Buckham.


Future Directions for Design Research: Initial Scoping Study Released

You may remember back in Spring this year the Design Council and AHRC jointly invited the design research community to comment on barriers and opportunities to funding and to highlight gaps in design research. This consultation has now concluded and an initial scoping study [PDF] has been produced outlining the key findings and suggesting possible future areas for research funding:

Design Council – Measuring the Value and Role of Design

The key messages in the report are:

  • An ‘open call’ approach to funding design research is generally favoured, ensuring that design remains at the centre of any multidisciplinary approach
  • Thematically, healthcare and service design were both seen as strong options for future calls, and indeed Design Council are currently leading a study on service design to conclude in November, for which there may be small amounts of funding available – contact Ruth Flood to find out more.
  • A range of funding mechanisms were suggested, allowing for both large and small grants, with a general trend towards ‘sand-pit’ collaborative development approaches
  • Working with business and policymakers is seen as important, but this cannot be the sole approach to research
  • Large-scale collaborative grants were seen to be the right approach for multidisciplinary research, but the importance of access to small grants was also emphasised
  • There was strong endorsement of AHRC and Design Council working closely together
  • Further research is needed to evidence the value of design to the economy and, in particular, innovation: designers, economists and business practitioners should collaborate on this
  • There are opportunities to put design at the centre of sustainability focused projects in science and business
  • Further academic research should be conducted to demonstrate the impact that improved environmental/urban design can have on human outcomes in health or broader well-being

The immediate next step is to carry out work on service design and anyone interested in encouraged to contact Ruth Flood (Ruth.Flood@madano.com) from Madano partnership – the consultancy which carried out the initial study.


Extending Working Lives: MRC and ESRC release two calls

Hot on the heels of the Design for Wellbeing: Ageing and Mobility in the Built Environment call released a couple of months ago, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) have jointly released two major new calls for research on the theme of Extending Working Lives:

Extending Working Lives: Research Partnerships Awards

This calls for proposals which comprise “partnerships of academics and public/private employers or stakeholders addressing research challenges and employer needs associated with an ageing workforce, within a workplace or policy setting.”

Extending Working Lives: Interdisciplinary Research Consortia

This calls for proposals which “bring together existing UK academic expertise to understand the determinants of working later in life and the relationship between work, health and wellbeing of older workers.”

The deadline for both calls is 4pm on Tuesday 4th December 2012. These are both outline stage proposals, and successful applicants will be invited to develop full stage proposals in early 2013. In addition, for the MRC call an initial “partnership building workshop” will take place from 8th – 10th October. To attend this you need to fill out a short Expression of Interest form by 4pm, 5th September 2012.

Like Design for Wellbeing, these calls are part of the cross-Council Lifelong Health and Wellbeing theme. The two calls come in the context of unprecedented demographic change (i.e. an ageing population), the recent abolition of the default retirement age, and the linking of state pension age to rising life expectancy. But what does a growing proportion of older workers mean for government policy makers, employers and employees themselves?

Research challenges

Both calls seek research addressing one of the following two challenge areas:

Determinants of working in later life:

  • What is the relative importance of, and interaction between, individual and external determinants affecting workforce participation in later life including an individual’s decision to stop paid employment or transition to a different type of job or role?
  • How might these factors change over time, and how might they interact with each other?
  • Which determinants are modifiable and how?
  • What models can be built to predict outcomes from these variables?
  • What factors, including retraining and skills development, impact on engagement of older employees and can this knowledge be used more effectively in the workplace?

Work, health and wellbeing:

  • What are the relationships between work, physical and mental health and wellbeing? How does retirement or leaving the workplace in later life affect health and wellbeing?
  • How does design of the workplace or workplace interventions including training impact on productivity of the older worker and how can these be modified to everyone’s benefit?
  • How is older workers’ health and wellbeing affected by actual and potential work related policies?
  • What are the perceptions and expectations of health in old age and how do these affect work participation?
  • Can different outcome measures used by different disciplines be effectively combined, compared or standardised to assess common issues in the field?

Partnerships and Consortia

The MRC Research Partnerships call is focused on building up partnerships and networks between academia and and public/private employers or key stakeholders who would “not normally interact”. To this end they have arranged a Partnership Building Workshop over three days in early October (8th – 10th). You need to complete an Expression of Interest by 5th September to attend this event, and participants are expected to develop applications to the outline call for proposals.

It is never explicitly stated that attendance at the workshop is compulsory, but given the emphasis the MRC place on it and access to potential stakeholders it is likely that participants will stand a better chance of developing successful outline applications in the research partnerships call.

Note that applicants to the MRC call can be from across population science, health, economic and social sciences.

The ESRC Research Consortia call seeks to join up existing disparate and complementary research groups to address the research challenges outlined above. The research may include:

  • secondary data analysis and linkage of existing data, surveys and labour force data; augmentation of existing surveys and cohort data collection eg qualitative questions to add value to quantitative data
  • some primary research
  • theoretical work

International collaboration will be encouraged for this call. Applications should be up to three years in length for a total value of £1.5M (at 80% FEC).

Given the interdisciplinary and strategic nature of both calls, prospective applicants are encouraged to contact RBS to discuss applications at the earliest opportunity.


Care for the Future: Thinking forward through the past

The AHRC has issued a call for research grants within the theme of Care for the Future. This call specifically focuses on  arts and humanities led research which provides new insights on the challenges of enviornmental change and sustainability through a “temporally-inflected lens”:

Care for the Future Highlight Notice [PDF]

This is another of AHRC’s “Emerging Themes” which are attached to a number of schemes, including Networks and Fellowships, but this is the only instance where researchers can apply for a standard research grant (or the early-career variety) with a highlight notice. This means it’s possible to undertake a very significant research project under this scheme as research grants allow applicants to request more resources than Fellowships or Networks.

In this case, the normal grant limit of £1M has been raised to £1.5M for the standard research grant route (the limit for early career grants remains at £250K). This reflects the fact that research which draws on disciplines outside the traditional arts and humanities remit is particularly welcome – although all applications must of course be led by arts and humanities research. The opportunity is open until 30th October 2012.

‘Environmental change’ is defined broadly and includes climate change, environmental hazards, agriculture and food security, water,landscape and natural resources. The issues may be at any environmental scale and be focused geographically anywhere in the globe. ‘Sustainability’ is also defined broadly but with particular reference to inter-generational relationships, and the broader ways in which the past, the present and the future inter-relate, in respect to issues of environmental change. There is no limit to how far back in time (or how far forward in the future) the temporal horizon may reach, but proposals must demonstrate a significant temporal dimension which extends beyond contemporary or near contemporary themes.


Research for Cyber Security

EPSRC and ESRC have issued a joint call for research consortia to explore current and future challenges in cyber security:

Consortia for Exploratory Research in Security – EPSRC

The call is part of the research councils’ Global Uncertainties Programme which seeks to examine and understand the causes of insecurity and predict, prevent and manage security risks and threats generally. This call is specifically focused on cyber security with an emphasis on novel and ambitious research solutions to protect UK interests in cyberspace: “It is estimated that at least 20 foreign intelligence services are currently operating to some degree against UK interests in cyberspace. It is widely expected that cyber attacks will be a key aspect of future warfare and it is strongly suspected that this has already begun to happen.” Phishing training and testing platform is used to reduce the risk from phishing and other cyber attacks.

The consortia are expected to work across and between disciplines and to draw on expertise from a range of institutions where necessary. Single discipline proposals, while eligible, are expected to be the exception rather than the norm. EPSRC specifically welcome proposals which include novel mathematics and/or social science content:

Mathematics will be a key theme of the CEReS call; not in the sense of the utilisation of established mathematical techniques to solve known problems but with a view to developing genuinely new mathematics which may, or could reasonably be expected to, contribute in future to improving cyber security. We expect to commit a significant proportion of the available CEReS funding to projects with a strong novel mathematical component.

The deadline for outline proposals, which must be submitted via Je-S, is 14th June 2012. Funding per consortium is expected to range between £500K and £1M for 2-4 years. There is £4M available in total for the call.


Connected Communities Research Development Workshop

The AHRC’s Connected Communities programme is hosting a research development workshop on 22nd – 24th May at Paintworks in Bristol. The theme is communities, cultures, environments and sustainability and the workshop is being hosted in collaboration with the Living With Environmental Change cross-council research partnership.

The workshop brief [PDF] has full details, but participants will be expected to work across disciplinary boundaries to identify and define challenges and opportunities, explore future research agendas in this area, and start to outline collaborative funding proposals. This is in essence the AHRC’s version of the EPSRC’s Sandpit events which are similarly interdisciplinary and usually based around a “grand challenge” or research theme.

Here’s what the AHRC say about the event:

The overall aim of the workshop will be to stimulate the development of innovative proposals for transformative, cross-disciplinary, community-engaged research with the potential to make a significant contribution to the ways diverse communities respond to the challenges posed by environmental change, supports the transition of communities towards more sustainable ways of living and cultivates the development of sustainable environments, places and spaces in which community life can flourish. The workshop will foster cross-disciplinary and collaborative approaches by bringing together researchers from a wide range of disciplines and other experts from policy and practice communities. A key theme will be the potential to engage with diverse cultural communities in all stages of the research.

Potential participants need to write a short two page expression of interest to apply to be part of this workshop, the deadline for which is 25th April. Full details on how to apply are again given in the brief, but please contact us if you’re interested and would like support and comments on your EoI.


Northumbria Research Forum: Climate and the Environment

The next Northumbria Research Forum will take place on Friday 24th February, on the theme of Climate and the Environment.

Climate change and its impact on the way we live may well be the most pressing issue facing humankind.  Research into ways of living, social and physical planning of our environment, legal, technological, environmental and social aspects of climate in our lives all invite research and analysis. This forum will offer an opportunity to present existing research and consider ways forward.

The Research Forums provide a simple platform for staff to communicate their research to colleagues and to find out about cognate research that might be of interest. They provide an opportunity to bring Northumbria’s research community together around a variety of research themes and disciplines, and to reflect issues and topics where research originating from diverse disciplinary bases might be taken further in collaboration.

Presentations are expected to be informal and brief (maximum 10 minutes) and should be designed to inform a general audience about the research interests and activities of a colleague. PowerPoint facilities will be available, but are not encouraged.

The Forum takes place on the 24th February and is scheduled from 10.30am – 2.30pm, although it may conclude with lunch dependant on final numbers attending. It will be held in Room 205, Sutherland Building. Lunch and refreshments will be available.  It is not necessary to attend the full Forum and you are welcome to join/leave the Forum as teaching committments allow. All Northumbria University staff who wish to attend should register on the forum website.


EPSRC Wants Innovative Solutions to Flood Risk

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Council are looking for an interdisciplinary mix of researchers to attend a “sandpit” event on Innovative Solutions to Flood Risk in April 2012.

Sandpits are collaborative residential workshops where small groups of researchers (20-25 people) from a range of disciplines work together over a number of days to generate project proposals for a specified theme. The benefits of taking part are significant: you get to collaborate with other leading researchers on a relevant topic, and there is a relatively high chance of proposed projects being funded. More details are given in the call for participants [PDF]:

The scope of the Sandpit will address the three Risk Themes identified in the report:
• Understanding Risk
• Managing Probablility
• Managing Consequence

It is not expected that these themes will operate in isolation as there are many issues which may be seen to cut across these themes. The Sandpit intends to explore the engineering and physical science aspects of these key areas whilst recognising that this is a multidisciplinary area.

The call document strongly emphasises the fact that EPSRC are not focusing on one particular disciplinary area: “Applications are encouraged from diverse research areas across engineering, physical sciences, natural environment, life sciences, the social sciences and the arts and humanities”. Nor is track record in flood risk management or engineering solutions to flooding essential to success: “Please note that we are not looking for your academic publication or research track record but rather evidence of how you might approach multidisciplinary problems in a novel area.”

The assessment is based on the following criteria:

  • The ability to develop new, adventurous and highly original research ideas
  • The potential to contribute to research at the interface between disciplines
  • The ability to work in a team
  • The ability to explain research to non experts

To participate you need to fill in a two-page expression of interest form and send to sandpit@epsrc.ac.uk by 20th February 2012.