Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Pre-announcement: Design Exchange Partnerships: design the green transition

Apply for funding to develop design-based solutions for specific net zero and climate crisis challenges facing UK coastal and island communities.

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for AHRC funding.

We are particularly keen to receive applications from multidisciplinary design researchers, especially those in the early stages of their career.

Your project could focus on:

  • decarbonisation
  • environmental sustainability
  • climate mitigation
  • the circular economy
  • the reduction of waste.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £40,000, plus a 5 to 10% non-academic partner organisation contribution. AHRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

This is a pre-announcement and the information may change.

The funding opportunity will open on 1 September 2022. More information will be available on this page by then.

Who can apply

Researchers and supervisors must be based at a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)-eligible research organisation or independent research organisation.

Non-academic partners must be either a:

  • micro or small and medium-sized enterprise-sized, UK registered business, charity or not-for-profit
  • similarly sized department of a public sector organisation.

Subcontractors are not eligible for this funding opportunity.

Part-time applicants (minimum of 0.8 full-time equivalent) are welcome.

Job share applications for the research associate will be considered provided:

  • both candidates can demonstrate a suitable arts and humanities-led design research background
  • both associates participate to an equal extent in all aspects of the project
  • clear and robust handover and communication arrangements are in place.

What we're looking for

AHRC is now inviting proposals to the scaled-up Design Exchange Partnership scheme, which seeks to demonstrate tangible impact on local communities. In particular, we are keen to see this in places where investment can make the biggest difference to everyday life, including ex-industrial areas, deprived towns and coastal communities.

This first full round will focus on the specific net zero+ and climate emergency challenges faced by the UK’s island and coastal communities.

A range of different types of design intervention can be supported, from product or service level innovation through to strategic, systems-level design thinking.

Individual project objectives might be:

  • the design of an everyday product from sustainable materials
  • devising a new form of service delivery that supports the business’s growth while reducing its overall carbon footprint
  • identifying user needs for low carbon products and services
  • the development of roadmaps towards circular business models.

The project should demonstrate human-centred design research processes. You can include activities to:

  • identify high-value innovation opportunities and define what makes a desirable, fit-for-purpose solution
  • create ideas for new or significantly improved products or services
  • test and improve ideas by using fast, low-cost visuals, prototypes or simulations
  • clearly communicate ideas ready for further investment and research and development activity.


You should aim to start your project no later than 1 February 2023 and end your project no later than 31 January 2024.

Projects will be funded at 80% full economic cost (FEC) with a minimum non-academic partner contribution of 10% of FEC (5% for micro organisations, defined in the Department for International Trade small and medium-sized enterprises action plan (PDF, 289KB). Part of this contribution can be in kind, up to 5% of FEC.

How to apply

This funding opportunity will be using a bespoke application portal with a light touch application form.

Programme launch workshop

In support of applications to this opportunity, Future Observatory will host a programme launch workshop in September 2022. This is facilitated by the commissioning team at AHRC alongside Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) and its expert network of Knowledge Transfer Advisers.

This will provide an opportunity to hear more about the aims of the programme and to ask questions of the commissioning team.

You will be able to:

  • identify whether the scheme is a good fit for your project or partnership
  • hear more about the opportunities and common pitfalls of academic, industry or public sector collaborations
  • receive in-depth guidance on the application process.

A recording of this event will be hosted on Future Observatory’s website and linked on the application portal.

Although this event will be beneficial in addressing any queries and uncertainties you may have, it is not compulsory and will not form part of the assessment process.

Application development surgeries

In October, we will be running a series of application development surgeries. These will provide an opportunity for you to talk through your proposed project and partnership in 15 minute private sessions with KTN and AHRC representatives and receive pre-application feedback and suggestions.

Although this event will be beneficial in addressing any queries and uncertainties you may have, it is not compulsory and will not form part of the assessment process.

How we will assess your application

Assessment will be undertaken by AHRC peer reviewers and KTN assessors on the basis of the following criteria:

  • the quality and applicability of the research involved
  • whether the proposed project complements and supports the non-academic partner’s current organisational or departmental strategy
  • the appropriateness of the proposed project team’s composition in terms of experience, interests, strategy and overall aims
  • the likelihood of successful delivery in a relatively short project period
  • clear outcomes of benefit to all partners, and measurable environmental and social impacts (applications may also demonstrate commercial outcomes and impacts, but environmental and social benefits should be foregrounded)
  • a clear relevance and fit to the aims and theme of the Design Exchange Partnerships programme
  • a clear and deliverable work plan, including appropriate supervisory and collaboration arrangements
  • a clear breakdown of the proposed use of funds.

All other assessment criteria being equal, AHRC will take funding decisions to ensure a balanced and representative portfolio of projects.

You should expect to receive notification of a decision by 20 December 2022.

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal, please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

Alistair Oakley, Investment Manager


Include ‘DEP Application Query’ in the subject line.

We aim to respond within five working days.

Additional info

The UK government has now set in law the world’s most ambitious climate change target, cutting emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels, aiming to bring the UK more than three-quarters of the way to net zero by 2050.

Realising this ambition requires targeted innovation across the multidisciplinary sectorial spectrum. There is a growing recognition of the role of design-led solutions and the role of design researchers as facilitators of the necessary multi and interdisciplinary innovation.

In 2021 and 2022, AHRC explored this potential through the timely establishment of the Design Exchange Partnerships pilot. It included the first cohort comprising 15 distinct but complementary design-led projects addressing specific net zero+ challenges in the real world. The challenges presented in reaching net zero+ goals impact the day-to-day lives of people and communities across the UK.


Coastal and island communities are especially vulnerable to climate change because of rising sea levels, wave heights and accelerated coastal erosion.

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has found that by 2050, more than a billion people worldwide will be put at direct and significant risk from coastal-specific climate hazards with more than $14 trillion of infrastructure assets severely exposed by 2100.

Severely accelerated sea level rises resulting from rapid continental ice mass-loss could bring these impacts forward by decades. Adaptation will need to occur much faster and at a much greater scale than ever done in the past. A mix of infrastructural, nature-based, institutional and socio-cultural interventions are needed to reduce the multifaceted risk facing these communities.

These vulnerabilities are exacerbated by the many other socio-economic challenges these communities face, such as:

  • high proportions of older residents and transient populations
  • low employment levels
  • seasonality of work
  • physical isolation and lack of infrastructure.

The above information is taken from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ‘Impacts of climate change on disadvantaged UK coastal communities’ report.

Coastal and island communities also form a key demographic when addressing wider structural inequalities. A 2019 report by the Social Market Foundation consistently showed disproportionately high numbers of coastal and island communities amongst those local authorities with the worst outcomes on average pay, unemployment, health and per capita economic output.

Meanwhile, Office for National Statistics data shows that the gaps between these communities and the rest of the country have grown over the last decade.

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