The Network Plus investment will further strengthen our communities to develop new cross-sector and multidisciplinary academic-led communities that work together to:
- identify opportunities
- address complex challenges
- accelerate solutions-based interventions.
We want to encourage a truly system of systems approach that will involve collaboration and the sharing of knowledge through utilising previous UKRI investments, such as the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC) facilities.
EPSRC, NERC and AHRC are looking to support and evolve the wider infrastructure and urban systems research communities and strengthen the value of our previous investments in this area. We expect successful bids to be cross-disciplinary, engaging across our portfolios.
We are interested in developing interdisciplinary communities with a focus on generating positive impact in addition to minimising negative impacts. We are keen to bring together communities in the UK, including:
- arts and humanities
- economic and social research.
This is to address national priorities exemplified and demonstrated at the local or regional level, including:
- social inclusivity
- community engagement
- impacts on communities
We are seeking networks of research leaders (at all levels) who can achieve the following objectives.
Be centred around net zero plus (climate and environmental change)
Bringing together UK capability, to encourage a truly system of systems approach. This will involve promoting collaboration and the sharing of knowledge to treat research in sustainable infrastructure and urban systems holistically.
Strengthen engagement between:
- local, regional and national leadership teams
- relevant research, science and technology, and business groups.
This should encourage collaboration at all levels and provide a unified voice for the research community.
Enhance the UK’s world leading research on sustainable and resilient infrastructure and urban systems
Engaging together to maintain and extend UK leadership in the area and develop our expertise as an export for the international market.
Consideration of routes to levelling up the UK
Bring in regional stakeholders, such as:
- industry: large and small or medium enterprises
- local leadership or government
- local community groups.
This is to solve place related research problems and come together to address national overarching challenges.
This should support places across the UK to grow their economy, improve wellbeing and reduce inequalities. We are seeking new collaborations, through wider stakeholder engagement, so that differing issues across the UK can be addressed.
Develop a skills pipeline
Develop a skills pipeline for urban systems and infrastructure research, fostering talent through postdoctoral programmes and industry by encouraging movement between the research and commercial sector.
Early career researchers must play an important role in the Network Plus.
Investment to improve diversity and grow skills
Investment to improve the diversity and grow the capability and skill base of researchers in the infrastructure, urban systems, design and environmental research community and their ability to address whole system challenges through multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches.
Link to UKRI investments
Network Plus proposals should utilise the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC) facilities and other relevant UKRI facilities as best as possible and if appropriate to the planned work. A Network Plus award may build on new opportunities highlighted by previous investments.
The purpose of Network Plus grants is to enable eligible researchers at UK higher education institutions, research council institutes, UKRI-approved independent research organisations and UKRI approved public sector research establishments to build and develop new multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary research communities focused around a complex challenge.
We expect networks to identify priorities and challenges, and to prepare the ground to be able to respond as a community to the development of new larger funding opportunities should they arise. This might be evidenced through outcomes of:
- multidisciplinary workshops and meetings
- development of shared research and innovation agendas
- insight reports.
Proposals should also consider ways to sustain the networking activity beyond the EPSRC, NERC and AHRC funding period outlined in this opportunity.
The networks should:
- be a new collaboration
- aim to form a new multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary research community and identify new research topics and approaches (addressing the sustainable urban systems theme)
- involve a group with a diverse range of expertise and experience
- be based in the UK, but may include collaboration with overseas partners
- demonstrate the added value that EPSRC, NERC, AHRC and any other funding would bring (particularly around maximising value and impact of current UKRI investments, for example UKCRIC facilities)
- identify a network of research leaders in the space who can be called upon to provide expert advice
- provide a plethora of important (bottom up driven) research challenges which have undergone some additional testing so that our research community are ready with high-quality proposals to respond to future strategic opportunities, for example, related to UK net zero, UK digital twins and levelling up.
The Network Plus awards could undertake a variety of activities including:
- feasibility studies
- horizon scanning.
It is essential that user and community engagement is considered in the wider network membership, including:
- regional and national policy makers
- unitary and other authorities
- local community groups.
Each proposal must demonstrate evidence of how they will connect with ongoing excellent research in the UK and lead further development of the network. All strands need to ensure they take a whole systems approach to address engineering, environmental and design challenges highlighted by this opportunity.
We expect the funded networks to be collaborative not competitive, they should work together where appropriate (for example, joint workshops). We also expect network representatives to attend knowledge sharing events, organised by EPSRC or others, to share best practice amongst the successful networks.
Throughout the activities of the Network Plus we would expect it to consider equality and diversity issues and reflect different genders and ethnicities as well as representation from different disciplines and organisations, and individuals at varying stages of their career.
We will prioritise multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary proposals and those that involve:
- local, regional and unitary authorities
- other users and intermediaries who can add value and potential for impact.
It is possible for proposals to cross strands where necessary.
Priority strand one: green Infrastructure development linked to blue, brown or grey infrastructure
We seek to transform our understanding and the development of our infrastructure so that it can be sustainable, resilient and adaptable. Our interests in this area include (but are not limited to):
- infrastructure for future readiness for connected, autonomous world, net-zero energy and resilient to climate change
- nature-based solutions to support a systems wide approach
- digitalisation of infrastructure
- prolonging the life of infrastructure and its value to user communities
- resource efficiency and embedded emissions of infrastructure
- ensuring infrastructure that guarantees our energy and water supplies and enables safe and reliable use of road, rail and air transport networks that connect our urban environments and is resilient to a wide range of environmental risks including increasingly extreme weather events and climate change.
Priority strand two: low carbon connected digital infrastructure with considerations between urban and rural environments
A longstanding problem of connectivity between places has been expedited due to recent global challenges. To address this, we seek engineering, environmental, arts and humanities research which is integrated with the systems questions from social and economic research.
Our interests in this area include (but are not limited to):
- being able to link the digital world to the real world in real time, and to high levels of fidelity (where required)
- digitalisation to support connectivity across the UK, identifying and addressing gaps in our understanding of infrastructure resilience, whilst also supporting a levelling up agenda to promote a more equitable society
- the responsible use of sensors, artificial intelligence and controls to enable systems resilience
- linkage to the work of related initiatives in digital twinning.
Priority strand three: sustainable urban systems
Part of the challenge for sustainable urban systems is in enabling economic growth whilst achieving environmental enhancement. Our interests in this area include (but are not limited to):
- understanding ecosystem health of existing UK urban environments, drawing on current infrastructures and future technological advances in sensing, observation and modelling
- advancing understanding of how blue and green spaces in urban areas function and to use this knowledge to determine how to sustainably manage them to increase the functionality, adaptability and resilience of urban areas and the communities which live and work in them, supporting economic growth and societal wellbeing
- understanding urban climate feedbacks between street, neighbourhood, and larger scale processes
- developing and testing scalable solutions for net-zero carbon emissions in the built environment, for example preparation toward the creation of urban living laboratories using cutting-edge smart monitoring sensors and ecological theory to look at the trade-offs between biodiversity and ecosystem services and infrastructure
- building on the opportunity of changes in urban function post-COVID, for example impact on retail and business environments, changes in travel patterns and increased demand for access to green space.
We will support costs of building multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary research communities, including:
- investigator salaries
- travel and subsistence
- horizon scanning
- feasibility studies and pump priming activities
- minor equipment
- administrative support.
Network Plus grants will not fund associated PhD studentships under this opportunity.
We will award 80% of the full economic costs of the project, and your organisation must agree to find the remaining balance. We encourage contributions from external partners which should be included in your proposal.
There is up to:
- £2,350,000 available from EPSRC
- £500,000 available from NERC
- £150,000 available from AHRC.
EPSRC, NERC and AHRC expect to fund in the region of £1,200,000 per strand.
Awards will be made for a 24-month duration.
Projects must start by 1 March 2022.
Requests for equipment will be considered if there is a clear need that cannot be fulfilled using existing equipment. This should be detailed in the case for support.
Any individual equipment must have a maximum value of £400,000 (including VAT). EPSRC will support equipment costs at 80% fEC.
Smaller items of equipment (individually under £10,000) should be requested under consumables (other directly incurred costs). EPSRC will have the final decision on whether to fund equipment requests.
Information on equipment funding.
Funding requested under the ‘directly allocated cost’ heading may include:
The principal investigator and up to four co-investigators can request funds to cover their salary costs for the time spent on setting up and leading the Network Plus. The salary costs of Network Plus participants should not be included in the proposal and we would not expect these individuals to be co-investigators.
Funding requested under the ‘directly incurred cost’ heading may include:
Travel and subsistence
Travel and subsistence enabling members of the Network Plus to meet together to exchange ideas and expertise. This may include visits by or to experts overseas. This may also include travel and subsistence costs to support secondments. Where possible collaborators should meet their own travel costs.
A sufficient level of administrative support should be requested to help in the coordination and management of the Network Plus and ensure smooth running of the Network Plus. Reasonable costs for monitoring and dissemination of the Network Plus output can also be included.
Organisation of activities
Funding can be requested for costs involved in running activities such as:
- networking events
- expert working groups
- virtual discussion forums
- problem solving workshops.
Applicants are encouraged to think creatively about the range of activities that could support the delivery of the Network Plus goals.
Research activity to support the research strategy developed within the Network Plus. Funds can be requested for PDRA staff, consumables, travel and subsistence and any other costs eligible under ‘directly incurred’ headings. This is likely to include a budget for feasibility studies that can be allocated to researchers at other universities. In this case, applicants will need to think carefully about how this budget will be managed.
We would expect some examples of the types of projects at the application stage, but the research challenges should evolve during the course of the network activities and should be co-created and collaborative in nature.
The timing of this funding opportunity is shorter than the normal timeframe for requesting the use of NERC services and facilities. However, if NERC services or facilities are needed, then please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your requirements. NERC can liaise directly with the specified service or facility to check if the request can be accommodated.
There is no guarantee that the service or facility will be able to accommodate the request for a technical assessment and quote in the timescale of the funding opportunity.
See the full list of NERC Facilities that require a technical assessment. This excludes:
These services have their own policies for access and costing.
A UKRI Data Policy must be adhered to, and an outline data management plan produced as part of proposal development. We will pay the data centre directly on behalf of the programme for archival and curation services, but applicants should ensure they request sufficient resource to cover preparation of data for archiving by the research team.
Applicants are expected to work within our responsible innovation framework.