The sandpit will be an intensive, interactive, and inclusive environment where a diverse group of participants from a range of disciplines will work together for 5 days (1 day each week for 5 weeks).
The aim will be to immerse participants in collaborative thinking processes and ideas sharing in order to construct innovative research projects. The process will facilitate inter-institutional collaboration through which leading academic experts can form partnerships with relevant stakeholders to tackle the most pressing forensic science research challenges.
We wish to fund innovative, interdisciplinary forensic projects on the recovery, analysis and interpretation of relevant materials and data in criminal and non-criminal investigations and court proceedings. We will fund activities in 2 priority areas:
- digital evidence, tools, and techniques
- DNA transference and persistence
We expect to see projects that offer broad application and benefits across the justice system’s stakeholders and in contexts from crime scene to courtroom.
The sandpit will be led by a director, Professor Derek McAuley, University of Nottingham, who will be supported by a team of expert mentors. Stakeholders from relevant organisations and industry will also participate in the sandpit as ‘problem owners’ who set the scene for participants. Sandpit sessions will be facilitated by a professional facilitation company.
The sandpit process can be broken down into several stages:
- defining the scope of the challenges
- evolving common languages and terminologies amongst participants from a diverse range of backgrounds and disciplines
- drawing upon perspectives from relevant stakeholders and the expertise brought by the participants to share understandings of the challenges
- taking part in sessions focused on the challenges and using creative thinking techniques to identify approaches to help tackle these challenges
- capturing the outputs of the process in the form of highly innovative research project proposals
- reaching a funding decision on projects developed at the sandpit using ‘real-time’ peer review
The research ideas developed at the workshop could investigate some or a combination of the following challenge areas.
Digital evidence tools and techniques
- once access has been legally gained to data from digital devices, developing trusted and usable tools for users (at any point of the justice system process), including providing trusted automation when dealing with large and complex data sets
- making advances in handling, managing, processing, interpreting, and storing digital evidence
- tools or approaches that will improve how digital evidence is prepared, shared, and presented through the course of investigations and considered during court proceedings
- consideration of ways in which humans or organisations interact with and understand tools and techniques and the associated risks. These may be:
- related to the tools or technologies
- at the intersections of these
- the potential of other, transferable advances in digital technologies and methods for delivering reliable evidence. This could include but is not limited to, a focus on automated techniques, artificial intelligence, or machine learning approaches
- all planned projects should consider the social, legal, and ethical implications of digital techniques and technologies for criminal justice policy, practice and decision making and for those who have contact with the justice system
Projects could include a focus on any or multiple digital assets (we recognise here that digital assets are much broader than computers and phones).
We will not fund projects linked to advances in technology that involve breaking into encrypted devices and data disclosure.
DNA transference and persistence
- detection, persistence, transfer and analysis of DNA, body fluids, molecules in finger-marks, and particulate material under a range of conditions and in different environments
- the potential of advances in DNA sequencing to deliver high quality reliability in the criminal justice context, especially in relation to mixed or partial profiles
- human factors and decision making in the recovery of DNA
- how DNA related evidence is prepared, shared, and presented through the course of investigations and discussed during court proceedings
- the potential of other advances in DNA technologies and methods for delivering reliable evidence
Research projects could cover aspects of both of these 2 challenge areas.
Inputs, project considerations, outcomes, and impact plans
We do not require participants to develop specific plans for research activities prior to the sandpit. Ideas for activities will be developed collaboratively during the process.
Projects that emerge from the process might:
- build new knowledge and design and develop new technologies for application in forensic science
- further test or explore repurposing existing knowledge and technologies for application in forensic settings
Projects developed through the process will pitch for funding on the final sandpit day. We seek to support project proposals that show:
- novel, highly interdisciplinary approaches, clearly reflecting the distinctive opportunity for creating such projects that the sandpit provides
- clear evidence that the team has the capability to deliver their project as a high-quality multidisciplinary activity, provided both through the presentation and their activity during the sandpit
- clear relevance and the potential to make a distinctive and novel contribution to addressing the research challenges in this area
Project proposals will need to make clear their plans for output, outcomes, and impacts. When participants pitch for funding, we expect to see consideration of:
- application in a justice system context
- activity feasibility and scale
- technology readiness levels (where appropriate)
- plans for impact beyond the project in the short to medium term
- challenges linked to accreditation, validation to forensic standards, risk assessment, training, and support
Achieving the sandpit aims will require participants from an appropriate mix of diverse backgrounds and relevant disciplines. Researchers from a diverse range of disciplines are therefore encouraged to apply to attend this sandpit.
We are not defining the disciplines that should be represented but asking applicants to indicate how their expertise can address the challenge of improving the use of forensic science in justice system contexts.
Applicants need not have worked on the problem before. However, emphasis will be placed on working across disciplines to foster new collaborations and bring new thinking to the problem.
It is expected that up to £2 million of funding (100% full economic cost) will be made available to fund research projects arising from this sandpit.
Projects can be up to 12 months in duration. UKRI will fund 80% of the full economic costs of successful projects.
UKRI will look to fund projects within and across both our identified priority areas.