Embedded digital researchers applying transformative technologies

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Apply for funding for a placement with a non-academic organisation. You will help the organisation develop and use transformative digital technologies to support environmental solutions and catalyse further activity.

You can use the following technologies applied within an environmental context:

  • artificial intelligence (AI)
  • digital twinning
  • engineering biology informatics
  • quantum technologies
  • autonomous systems or robotics.

You must be a well-established researcher based at a research organisation eligible for UKRI funding.

Your host can be in any sector and must have a base in the UK. They may be:

  • a business
  • national or local government
  • third sector organisation
  • non-governmental organisation.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £62,000. We will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Who can apply

Normal individual eligibility applies and is in section C of the NERC research grant and fellowships handbook.

NERC research and fellowship grants for all schemes may be held at approved:

  • UK higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • independent research organisations
  • public sector research establishments.

Check if you are eligible for research and innovation funding.

Eligibility rules for UK research organisations can be found in section C of the NERC research grant and fellowships handbook.

Applicants must have a fully verified Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S) account.

For postdoctoral research associates (PDRAs) who do not hold an individual account, employing institutions may grant full accounts to applying PDRAs.

Alternatively, a lead figurehead applicant from the applicant’s institution (with Je-S account eligibility) may be used, with no time or costs allocated for them.

It must be clear in the application who the intended embedded researcher will be.

Individual researchers and non-academic host organisations may respectively be associated with and submit only one application to this funding opportunity. An academic institution may put forward multiple applications, each with separate researchers and non-academic hosts.

Host organisations

Non-academic host organisations cover:

  • businesses
  • national or local government
  • third sector organisations
  • non-governmental organisations.

Each placement must be based in a non-academic host organisation with a UK base. Host organisations must be named as project partners on submissions.

Should host organisations be multinational they must have a UK base to be eligible, in which case the UK base and activities relating to those normally conducted by the UK base should be the focus of the project.

It is important to highlight that any UK research organisation awarded a grant is responsible for the conduct and administration of that grant. It is accountable for the effective use of public funds and must therefore ensure that all grant monies are subject to proper financial management processes.

It is the research organisation’s responsibility to ensure that expenditure on collaborations in the UK and abroad is subject to robust controls to ensure value for money and propriety, and that all costs should be fully vouched and maintained for possible inspection and checks by, or on behalf of, UKRI.

Studentships are not eligible to apply for this funding opportunity.

Individual researchers may only apply once. Only one placement in a non-academic organisation is permitted.

What we're looking for

Project scope

The continued advancements in digital technologies, tools and techniques, coupled with the growth of data, communication systems and bandwidth, puts digital capabilities right at the heart of the drive to deliver leaps in understanding in environmental science and the formulation of innovative solutions.

Embedded researchers will play a key role in enabling the use of the following UKRI transformative technologies in an environmental context, that is:

  • AI
  • digital twinning
  • engineering biology informatics
  • quantum technologies
  • autonomous systems or robotics.

The role should focus on the application of best practice of transformative technologies to support environmental solutions in a non-academic context and act as a catalyst for further engagement or knowledge exchange in the context of the NERC delivery plan (PDF, 2.6MB) and wider NERC activities.

The exact length of deployment within the host organisation can be negotiated between the researcher and host, within the budget allocated for each project, but should be between three and six months.

The projects should fall within the arc of digital approaches as outlined below:

  • data acquisition
  • digital infrastructure and high performance computing (HPC)
  • data processing, algorithms and analytics
  • data visualisation, decision support tools or user engagement.

It is strongly recommended that in advance of applying, all applicants:

All theme areas of NERC remit are eligible for this opportunity. Applications are encouraged from all sectors.

What makes a good embedded researcher

By having a foot in both an academic and a non-academic host organisation, embedded researchers will act as knowledge brokers, linking the two (or more) sides and understanding the tensions and requirements that each context experiences.

This implies playing several potential roles, including:

  • identifying shared objectives
  • addressing research questions of mutual interest
  • facilitating connections and cooperation between research, policy and practice.

The embedded researcher can also act as a conduit for helping inform the host of NERC’s data and digital practices. The output value of these placements is anticipated to arise both through the findings of the jointly developed research and practice insight into undertaking this research, and the consideration for the embedded researcher as to what it means to act as an intermediary.

In order to work well, such co-production requires understanding of and mutual respect for the knowledge, language and expertise of all parties involved.

This challenges the nature of traditional research both for academic partners who are used to leading the research process and organisations who may be used to commissioning tightly defined projects.

The challenge is not one of a simple transfer of knowledge from academic knowledge ‘producers’ to decision making ‘users’, but on building connections between the knowledge, the people and organisations who produce and hold this knowledge, and their decision-making processes.

Linking to other NERC digital activities

Embedded researchers will share practice across the cohort funded through this funding opportunity, for example through meetings. They will participate in a final workshop to synthesise emerging experience and insight gained from their project.

To facilitate this the successful applicants will become ‘honorary’ members of the CDE SPF Expert Network (NERC). This will be supported by the CDE SPF Champions (NERC).

During their placement, successful embedded researchers may also be expected to:

  • collaborate with other NERC digital activities (for example the NERC digital solutions programme)
  • help raise awareness of the NERC digital estate on the part of external communities and what the NERC digital offer as a council is in this area.

How the embedded researcher and host work together

Each project will consist of one academic researcher who will undertake a placement embedded in a non-academic host organisation. The researcher should be well-established within their existing organisation and the wider community.

The researcher will continue to be employed by their academic institution but will spend a significant period of time embedded in the host organisation throughout the duration of the project. This is the equivalent of at least two days per week over the life of the project.

Virtual or hybrid embedding models are also permitted so the researcher does not need to be physically based at the host’s location. The approach should be agreed by the researcher and host in advance and be appropriate to the proposed project.

The successful researchers will be based within their host organisation while undertaking their project. The placement may be on a full or part-time basis, as appropriate to the project opportunity and all parties.

For example, set working pattern or days may be agreed between the researcher and host. If virtual or hybrid ‘in person’ and virtual approaches are undertaken these may be adopted flexibly throughout the project’s duration.

By being embedded, the researcher will establish a good understanding of:

  • day-to-day working
  • drivers
  • decision-making contexts
  • knowledge needs of both sides
  • barriers to action.

They will in effect be a proxy member of staff throughout the project. This will enable them to identify how the application of transformative technologies can support environmental solutions within the host organisation.

By working with both host organisation colleagues and academics, the embedded researchers will have the opportunity to gather relevant knowledge to catalyse further activity between academic and non-academic organisations as well as with NERC-led activity.

Project timeframe

The latest start date of grants will be 12 November 2021.

However, individual start dates at the host organisation, duration and working pattern of the placement should be flexible and negotiated between the researcher and host organisation as appropriate to each opportunity.

Activities must be completed by 12 May 2022.

Coordinating researchers and hosts

Pre-submission

A forum has been set up to facilitate connections between researchers and hosts. Access the forum (NERC).

Successful applications

Each embedded researcher will have a lead contact person within their host organisation with whom they will collaborate to guide the development of a work plan with flexibility to allow researchers to follow emergent opportunities for the host as well as their academic ambitions. For example, presentations at conferences and writing papers.

Coordination, guidance and support will be provided through regular meetings between the researcher and the host organisation to develop agreed activities, outputs and reports. There will be opportunities to share learnings from the placement with a wider digital environment community, and in particular with the CDE SPF Champions (NERC) and CDE Expert Network (NERC).

Scheme funding

Each researcher can apply for up to £50,000 (this is at 80% full economic cost, that is total project costs can be up £62,500), for projects lasting no more than six months.

The host organisation is responsible for all other costs of hosting the applicant, including training, equipment and consumables.

Details of the host organisation’s contributions should be included in the applicant’s project partner letter of support, with the host being named as a project partner. This should include details of any direct financial and in-kind support to the project.

How to apply

The application should be written in conjunction with the host organisation addressing an agreed approach as to how the researcher will undertake the project and any related activities.

Proposals must be submitted to the Je-S system. Applicants should select:

  • council: NERC
  • proposal type: Standard Proposal
  • scheme: Innovation
  • call: Digital Researchers SEP21.

Proposals should be submitted in standard grant format (with a reduced case for support page limit, see details below) following the guidance in NERC research grant and fellowship handbook.

What to include in the application

Case for support

Up to six pages comprising a combined researcher track record and CV (maximum one page) and description of project and work plan (maximum five pages).

The case for support should include:

  • a combined CV and description of how the skills and experience of the researcher applicant match the needs of the opportunity and how the opportunity supports the long-term career goals of the applicant (up to one page)
  • a project and work plan, describing:
    • how the project and activities will be achieved
    • anticipated benefits and outcomes for the researcher and host organisation from this collaboration
    • how the project will act as a catalyst for further engagement and knowledge exchange
    • a plan for how project outcomes will be disseminated.

Justification of resources

The justification of resources should:

  • be up to two pages
  • provide full details and a justification for all costs requested.

A grant of up to £50,000 at 80% full economic cost is available from NERC for a maximum period of six months.

The funding can be used for any of the following:

  • indirect costs
  • estates
  • staff time and administration support
  • communication support and networking.

Equipment will not be funded. No studentships should be included in proposals.

Letter of support

The non-academic host organisation (as a project partner) must provide a letter of support. This should confirm the suitability of the applicant and the agreed work plan for achieving the proposed activities as well as detailing the support available to the researcher when in post.

How to submit in the right format

All attachments, with the exception of letters of support and services or facilities or equipment quotes, submitted through the Je-S system must be completed in single-spaced typescript of minimum font size 11 point (Arial or other sans serif typeface of equivalent size to Arial 11), with margins of at least 2cm.

Please note that Arial narrow, Calibri and Times New Roman are not allowable font types and any proposal which has used either of these font types within their submission will be rejected.

References and footnotes should also be at least 11 point font and should be in the same font type as the rest of the document. Headers and footers should not be used for references or information relating to the scientific case. Applicants referring to websites should note that referees may choose not to use them.

Please note that on submission to council all non-PDF documents are converted to PDF, the use of non-standard fonts may result in errors or font conversion, which could affect the overall length of the document.

Additionally, where non-standard fonts are present, and even if the converted PDF document may look unaffected in the Je-S System, when it is imported into the research councils grants system some information may be removed.

We therefore recommend that where a document contains any non-standard fonts (such as scientific notation and diagrams), the document should be converted to PDF prior to attaching it to the proposal.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

All proposals received which meet the eligibility criteria will be assessed by an independent panel of experts in two stages:

Stage one: initial sift

An initial sift of the applications will be made based on the assessment criteria outlined below. For the most promising projects researchers will be invited to interview.

Stage two: interview panel

Researchers successful at the sift stage will be invited to a short interview (20 minutes). The researcher may bring either a representative from the host organisation or a senior member of their own organisation’s staff to attend the interview. Interviews are anticipated to take place week beginning 18 October 2021.

NERC will use the recommendations of the panel along with the overall opportunity requirements and the available budget in making the final funding decisions.

A decision is expected to be notified to applicants within two weeks of the interview panel meeting, which is anticipated to take place in early November 2021 (date to be confirmed).

Assessment criteria

Proposals will be assessed on the following assessment criteria:

Impact potential

The potential for the project outputs to be beneficial to the host organisation, and beyond (such as wider societal or business benefits) and the opportunity to catalyse further knowledge exchange.

A high score in this criterion will indicate a project that is well aligned with the key objectives of the use of digital approaches outlined in the NERC delivery plan (PDF, 2.6MB).

Project delivery and management

The appropriateness of the work plan will be considered, concentrating on whether the proposed deliverables can be achieved within the stated timeframe. The management of the project and its milestones will be assessed to ensure best possible success of the project.

Feedback

Applicants will be given feedback from the panel summarising the reasons why the proposal was successful or unsuccessful. No further feedback will be available.

NERC will use the recommendations of the panel along with the overall funding opportunity requirements and the available budget in making the final funding decisions.

Contact details

Get help with Je-S

Any queries regarding the submission of proposals through Je-S should be directed to Je-S help desk.

Email: jeshelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone: 01793 444164

Ask about this funding opportunity

Email: tom.doyle@nerc.ukri.org, copying in digitalsolutions@nerc.ukri.org

Additional info

Connection forum

To facilitate connections between academics and organisations interested in taking part in this scheme we have set up a collaboration forum (NERC). Please post basic details here of your collaboration opportunity.

Please note NERC will monitor the forum for inappropriate material, but does not endorse the material within the forum. It is not mandatory to make a connection via the forum.

NERC embedded digital researcher scheme

The embedded researcher scheme acknowledges the gap that can exist between the production of relevant knowledge and information using digital approaches, and their use in organisations to support business strategy and decision-making relating to environmental solutions.

The embedded researcher approach provides an opportunity for the co-exploration and implementation of digital approaches to support decision-making in a particular environmental context.

By spending significant time within a host organisation, embedded researchers gain a depth and breadth of understanding of the relevant decision-making contexts as well as challenges to the uptake of digital approaches in an environmental solutions context.

Examples of suitable hosts can include:

  • private sector organisations
  • national government departments
  • local government
  • arms’ length bodies
  • third sector organisations.

Any organisation will be using digital techniques in an environmental practitioner context and will benefit directly from the embedded researcher’s input to this process.

The embedded researcher scheme is designed to promote knowledge brokerage through the embedding of a researcher in a host organisation. The focus of the scheme is on co-production and implementation of digital approaches to provide support in an environmental solutions context.

The embedded researchers will bridge the gap between the environmental research community, NERC’s own data holdings and digital services and the digital practitioners,  illustrating how environmental challenges can be met through emerging technologies.

Responsible research

Through our funding processes, we seek to make a positive contribution to society and the environment, not just through research outputs and outcomes but through the way in which research is conducted and facilities managed.

All NERC grant holders are to adopt responsible research practices as set out in the NERC responsible business statement (PDF, 462KB).

Responsible research is defined as reducing harm or enhancing benefit on the environment and society through effective management of research activities and facilities, specifically:

  • the natural environment
  • the local community
  • equality, diversity and inclusion.

Grant holders should consider the responsible research context of their project, not just the host institution as a whole and take action to enhance their responsible research approach where practical and reasonable.

Reporting

Successful projects will be expected to engage with NERC head office throughout the project to update on progress, share learning and identify synergies with wider NERC activities.

Successful applicants will be required to submit a one-off end of project report and final expenditure statement to the NERC digital environment team. The report will be linked with report research outcomes on researchfish.

Finance

Successful projects will be funded via a one-off payment to the lead institution.

UKRI Standard terms and conditions will generally apply with some variation due to method of payment (purchase order or invoice).

Lead institutions must invoice NERC for the cost of the project by 14 January 2022 to ensure payment. A brief report to provide assurance of activities will be required prior to payment authorisation. This will be discussed with the NERC digital environment team upon notification of project award.

Supporting documents

Equality impact assessment (PDF, 197KB)

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