Inform design of cross-council digital research environments

Apply for funding to inform the design of a digital research infrastructure to connect sensitive data from across the research councils.

Your proposal must be led by a UK-based research organisation.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £400,000. We will fund:

  • 80% of the full economic cost for:
    • higher education institutions
    • NHS bodies
    • independent research organisations
    • public sector research establishments (not NHS)
    • academic health sciences networks and centres
  • 100% of the full economic cost for small and medium enterprises
  • 100% of the full economic cost for non-profit research technology organisations and research council institutes
  • 100% of the full economic cost for charities.

Projects will run from January 2022 to August 2022.

Who can apply

All proposals must be led by a recognised research organisation, which should be UK-based and one of the following:

  • higher education institution
  • institute or unit funded by UKRI research councils
  • NHS body
  • independent research organisations
  • academic health sciences networks and centres
  • public sector research establishment (PSRE).

Check if you are eligible for funding.

At least one of the senior investigators must have a strong track record of grant support or research and innovation outputs.

Applications must demonstrate benefits across UKRI research councils.

Other organisations meeting UKRI eligibility criteria may participate. Evidence of active industry participation or third sector participation in a consortium is welcome but not essential.

HDR UK and ADR UK are actively committed to promoting equality and diversity, and for public involvement and engagement in all activities. We expect applications to also reflect these commitments.

What we're looking for

Alongside the other elements of the design and dialogue phase (see ‘additional information’ for a broader description of the DARE UK programme), the Sprint Exemplar Projects aim to establish whether it would be possible for the UKRI research councils to increase research impact. This is by aligning around a common federated data infrastructure architecture with shared standards for:

  • governance
  • ethics
  • metadata.

Areas to address

Applications are invited that address one or more of the following areas.

Driver use cases

Driver use cases which are based on real-example scientific problems, or reflect lessons learnt from programmes and projects previously funded to access, process, link and analyse different types of sensitive (be that personal or commercial) data from across:

  • the UKRI research council domains
  • government sectors
  • industry.

Technology demonstrators

Technology demonstrators that:

Each application will be expected to demonstrate one or more of:

  • novel development
  • technology scaling
  • the reuse of technology from an existing research council investment into deployment with sensitive data from another research council.

Establishing best practice

Enhancing the secure use of sensitive data in research, by establishing best practice for:

  • information governance and ethics
  • standards
  • training and career development
  • public involvement.

Applications will be expected to demonstrate how they would enable best practice across these areas that could be shared and adopted across UKRI research disciplines and other public and private sectors.

High-risk or high-return research proposals, embracing novel concepts or techniques, that will push the barriers in delivering novel TRE capability are particularly encouraged.

Key assumptions

Through the Sprint Exemplar Projects we are looking to test the assumptions shown below. Applications should demonstrate how they would support testing against one or more of these assumptions.

‘We are not starting from scratch’

Each research council already has established data infrastructures and data research use cases. There are opportunities for best practices from each of these to be adopted across different councils.

‘There is a cross council need’

There are strategic use cases that span research councils and require a common architecture. These use cases are high-priority, fundable research that would use data from across the research councils and this is expected to grow in the future. There is a research community with the skills and know-how to do this cross-council data enabled research.

‘A federated infrastructure is technically feasible’

We can technically make the data discoverable and visualise it so that people can find it and understand it, align metadata and API standards, and agree shared virtualisation approaches.

‘It is ethically and legally feasible and would be trusted by the public’

There are good governance practices which can be adopted and scaled across councils.

‘The projects must be deemed deliverable within the funding and time envelope set by UKRI’

By leveraging existing established technologies, architectures and standards this approach could be deployed in a phased way as shown in the outline DARE UK project plan.

‘There is strong buy-in from the research councils, the government, the data custodians and the researchers for this approach’

The key stakeholders from across the community see opportunities for them in the approach and are willing to commit resources to its development.

Funding available

The funding opportunity will support up to 10 Sprint Exemplar Projects, running for 8 months from January 2022 to August 2022.

The total funding for each project will be up to £400,000. There is no explicit minimum funding levels, however all projects will be assessed as described in this specification and will be expected to demonstrate the potential to make a significant contribution to informing the design of phase two of the programme.

Up to £2 million is available to fund the delivery of the projects. This is part of the UK Trusted and Connected Data and Analytics Research Environments (DARE UK) Programme funded by the UK Research and Innovation.

Successful projects must start no later than 4 January 2022.

Projects must conclude by 31 August 2022.

These are fixed period projects to support the design and dialogue phase of the DARE UK programme and inform the design of Phase 2: Build, Test and Establish. Therefore, requests for extensions, including zero cost extensions, will not be agreed.

Awards may include:

  • staff salaries (for example research staff, data architects, software engineers, project managers, technicians and other support staff), please note that PhD studentships cannot be supported through this opportunity
  • resources directly attributable to the project
  • research equipment essential for the project (up to an anticipated maximum of £20,000, no single item of equipment may exceed £10,000 including VAT)
  • travel and subsistence, and other meeting costs where relevant
  • indirect and estates charges or overheads
  • contributions and research costs from industry.

Funding model

Applicants will be required to demonstrate a spend profile that shows that at least 25% of the award will be consumed and invoiced by the end of the 2021 to 2022 financial year, with the remainder by the end of August 2022.

80% full economic cost under standard research council full economic cost rules is available for:

  • higher education institutions
  • NHS bodies
  • independent research organisations
  • public sector research establishments (not NHS)
  • academic health sciences networks and centres.

For industry delivery partners, applicants must comply with RGC2.3.1 to RGC2.3.11 of UKRI terms and conditions.

MRC will undertake diligence checks on companies requesting funding to ensure that public money is appropriately awarded.

MRC reserves the right to adapt the funding model available to companies to comply with future UK subsidy control rules. If this is necessary, MRC will communicate with applicants during the application process.

Large companies are expected to bear their own costs.

For small and medium enterprises up to 100% full economic cost is available subject to appropriate justification being provided, setting out:

  • why the involvement of the company is essential to the success of the consortia
  • how the funding to the company will be used to support the objectives of the consortia
  • why the company is not able to support the costs themselves.

100% full economic cost is available for charities, other non-profit research technology organisations and research council institutes, but the following rules apply:

  • they must be undertaking research (this may be experimental, theoretical or critical investigation work to gain knowledge, skills or understanding vital to the project)
  • they must meet requirements for dissemination of their project results
  • they must include their eligible costs for research purposes in the total research organisation involvement
  • they must make sure they are not applying for a grant towards costs which are already being paid by the public purse such as labour and overheads.

How to apply

All applications must be made by email to: informatics@mrc.ukri.org by 09:00 on 11 November 2021.

You must include ‘DARE UK’ as the first word in the subject title.

The application submitted through this email address will be taken to be the final version and will be the version used for assessment.

Submission of an application indicates the lead organisation’s formal acceptance of the proposal, approval of salaries and resources sought, as well as their acceptance of the terms and conditions of the award.

Applicants will be required to submit one bookmarked PDF, comprising all the following details and documents as well as the completed budget Excel spreadsheet. Each document should start on a new page.

Text should be single-spaced, with page margins of at least 2cm, using Arial 12 Font.

Please note that any documents that exceed the guidelines on length, above, may be automatically truncated before being submitted for review.

The PDF should include the following.

Consortia details and project summary

Maximum one page.

For the consortia details, please include the names of:

  • the lead organisation
  • the lead applicant
  • any co-investigators or collaborators and their affiliations.

Only a single lead organisation and lead applicant is permitted.

For the project summary, please provide the:

  • long title (max 120 characters including spaces)
  • short title (max 30 characters including spaces)
  • start and end dates
  • total funding request for the project
  • keywords (approximately 10 words).

Lay summary

Approximately 200 words, max 1,500 characters including spaces.

Please provide a lay summary of your project with a clear statement of the relevance and benefits to the public and cross section impact, suitable for a general audience.

If your application is successful, this lay summary will be used in communication materials for the DARE UK programme.

Scientific and technical abstract

Approximately 400 words, max 3,500 characters including spaces.

Please provide a scientific and technical abstract of your project, suitable for expert review.

If your application is successful, this scientific and technical abstract will be used in communication materials for the DARE UK programme.

Impact statement

Approximately 300 words.

Please provide an impact statement for your project. We define impact as the contribution of the proposed Sprint Exemplar Project to individuals and organisations who may participate in the subsequent phases of the DARE UK programme.

The Impact Statement should clearly describe how the proposed project will drive impact across two or more UKRI sectors.

Please consider:

  • the beneficiaries, end-users and stakeholders of the prototype or demonstrator
  • benefits that might be co-produced with the DARE UK community, including exploitation and commercialisation.

Sprint exemplar project proposal

Maximum four pages, covering:

  • a case for support structured with the following headings, in order:
    • background
    • aims and objectives (approximately 400 words, maximum 3,500 characters including spaces)
    • relevance and potential impact to the DARE UK programme, including evidence of user defined needs
    • alignment with scope for the Sprint Exemplar Projects specified in this guidance
  • proposed tools and methods
  • data access agreement status and confirmation of governance arrangements where appropriate
  • capturing and dissemination of lessons learnt
  • a work plan covering timeline, milestones and deliverables
  • evidence of project management capabilities and experience of having run similar sized projects in the past
  • a track record in leading similar consortia and delivering on time.

An additional single page appendix may be included to provide references or other supporting materials if needed. A single page Gantt chart may also be provided.

Summary budget

A one page summary (in addition to completing the Excel template provided).

Please provide financial details of the project, with the following individual expense lines shown:

  • direct staff costs (for example staff salaries, employers’ national insurance, subcontractors or seconded staff), indicate percentage of time for all staff, and name of staff where known
  • travel and subsistence expenses (identify the meetings and travel planned for)
  • computing costs (for example data access costs, hardware and software purchases)
  • other direct costs (itemised)
  • indirect and estates costs and overheads
  • industry partner costs (if applicable)
  • other (please specify).

Applicants cannot apply for costs that are already covered by other funding sources.

Applicants’ CVs

Please combine the CVs of all investigators and collaborators, in the following order:

  • lead investigator (maximum two pages)
  • other investigators (maximum one page each).

Heads of terms

Maximum six pages.

Please submit heads of terms. They should be compliant with UK Subsidy Controls (and in this regard must meet the intellectual property (IP) requirements specified in the ‘additional information’ section) and cover:

  • scope and aims of the proposed project
  • duration of project
  • key tasks and responsibilities of the partners
  • project management arrangements
  • financial and resource contributions
  • data management and governance
  • publications and announcements
  • withdrawal and change of control
  • termination.

If your consortium includes industry participation, your application should explain how you will satisfy UK Subsidy Controls both in terms of the funding that you are applying for and the relationship between consortium members.

Heads of terms are not legally binding but should be substantially similar to the Consortia Agreement (see ‘additional information’ section) that would be signed if the project were funded.

If the application is successful, you will be expected to complete contracting by 17 December.

Ethics and data: governance approval

Maximum one page (an additional single page appendix may be included for a data flow diagram if needed).

This section is only required for Sprint Exemplar Projects that are proposing to make use of data such as those addressing cross-council use cases.

All data that is to be used in the Sprint Exemplar Projects must be operated in line with robust governance and ethical standards that satisfy (amongst others) guidance provided by the:

  • Health Research Authority
  • Information Commissioner’s Office
  • National Data Guardian.

Please identify the lead contact with responsibility for data governance on behalf of the consortia. Provide details of the status of your governance arrangements, with clarity and assurance that the necessary approvals are in place to deliver the proposed project on time.

A statement is required to confirm that you have considered and agreed within the consortium:

  • how to manage ethical, legal and governance issues relevant to the project (for example data protection, research approvals and meeting information governance standards)
  • that the responsibilities of each consortium member are clearly established.

Where relevant, a data flow diagram should be included to demonstrate that these legal, ethical and governance issues have been identified and will be robustly managed.

Please note that given the time constraints of the Sprint Exemplar Projects proposals must utilise existing data and should not be reliant on new data collection.

Letter from employing organisation

Maximum one page.

The proposal should include a letter of support from the individual in the lead organisation (for example research office, financial director) authorised to confirm that they:

  • have read this application
  • have approved the costs submitted
  • are willing to host and manage the project and the grant should this application be successful.

Each letter must confirm that:

  • if not already covering the entire period of the project, then the contract of employment for the lead investigator will be amended or extended as necessary to enable the successful completion of the project
  • the project will be given full access to the facilities, equipment and personnel as required by the application
  • the indicative costs included in the application have been correctly calculated with the support of the research office (or equivalent)
  • the letter signatory is authorised to approve the submission of applications for funding
  • the application has met all internal approval procedures.

Please note that letters from collaborators are not required.

Declarations of interest

Maximum one page.

Please outline any private, personal or commercial interest relating to the application that the lead applicant, co-applicants or any collaborators have. These could include shareholdings in or research support received from any industry partner.

Details should be provided on how any conflicts of interest will be managed.

Risk register

Maximum one page.

Please provide a risk register identifying the key risks associated with the proposed project covering:

  • level of risk
  • potential impact
  • proposed mitigations
  • residual risk.

How we will assess your application

The selection of Sprint Exemplar Projects will be via an open competition, with an independent, specially constituted multidisciplinary expert panel administered by UKRI in collaboration with HDR UK and ADR UK.

All applications will be assessed against the following criteria:

  • innovative nature and added value of the proposed work
  • impact of anticipated outcomes and value to the DARE UK programme
  • level of cross council or domain collaboration
  • potential added value of combined expertise of co-investigators and partners
  • ability to deliver tangible outcomes that will inform later phases of the DARE UK programme
  • established expertise of the consortia
  • track record of the consortia in delivering simpler short and focused projects
  • value for money.

The panel will be chaired by an independent expert and will meet by the end of November 2021.

The assessment will include a virtual interview of shortlisted applications.

The decision of the panel is final and will not be open to appeal.

Contact details

Ask a question about the opportunity

Dr Yan Yip

Email: informatics@mrc.ukri.org with enquiries@dareuk.org.uk in copy.

Include ‘DARE UK’ as the first word in the subject title.

Additional info

Background

The formation of UKRI has provided an opportunity to develop a collective and coordinated vision for the research infrastructures in the UK. Specifically to create a coherent state-of-the-art national digital research infrastructure that will enable UK researchers and innovators to harness the full power of multi-dimensional data, modern digital platforms, tools, techniques and skills.

The DARE UK programme aims to deliver a novel national federated digital infrastructure to establish the next generation of TREs (secure, cloud-enabled environments for advanced analytics). It will:

  • define how organisations can best use data for public good whilst protecting sensitive information about individuals
  • define the technologies, combined with changes in wider governance, policy and business frameworks, that could enable the sharing and use of data in a privacy-preserving manner
  • support researchers to safely store, process, curate, link and analyse potentially sensitive data at a national scale, including use of advanced analytical algorithms (for example artificial intelligence or machine learning algorithms).

DARE UK’s scope includes all research conducted by UKRI councils that uses, or anticipates use of, large scale personal or sensitive datasets (linked and standalone) related to social, biomedical and environmental science.

The programme will review existing infrastructure within each of the councils, identify opportunities for joint-working and novel approaches and innovations. It is envisaged that the DARE UK programme would be delivered in three phases, with phases two and three dependent on the conclusions from phase one and the securing of the funding:

  • phase one: design and dialogue (around 13 months, July 2021 to August 2022)
  • phase two: build, test and establish (around 12 months, August or September 2022 to July 2023)
  • phase three: deliver, optimise and federate (around 35 months, August 2023 to May 2026)
  • phase four: scale up and broaden use cases to other sectors and research disciplines (indicates future activity not approved for funding currently).

The first phase (phase one: the foundational phase) of delivering to UKRI digital ambitions focuses on investment in a portfolio of high priority, timely and community validated digital infrastructure requirements, based on a prioritisation exercise conducted by UKRI’s councils.

Consortia agreement

Successful applicants will be expected to enter into a legally binding consortium agreement with their project partners within two weeks of the issue of an award letter and in advance of a project starting.

This agreement will allow the partners to think through and work out the arrangements for relative responsibilities in relation to governance, IP, reporting and access to data before a project starts.

Intellectual property

To be eligible for funding, the project must meet the IP arrangements (as set out below), and these must be reflected in the heads of terms (HoT), if required, to be submitted with your application.

All foreground project IP generated through a project shall be shared as open source under a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) or other equivalent permissive licence. Unless by doing so, there is a risk of disclosure of sensitive or personal data in which case the IP must be fully allocated to the lead research organisation named on the application.

Project results must be published in accordance with open access principles. Prior to publication, partners may have the opportunity to review manuscripts and raise objections but only when it is clear that publication will present a risk to their existing listed IP.

Project outputs will be published in accordance with the branding and communications guidelines that will form part of any award letter and HDR UK shall be entitled to make the same available to third parties as part of the DARE UK programme.

Outputs, monitoring and reporting

Exemplar days

Successful applicants will be required to attend the designated exemplar days as shown in the timeline section of this document. Exemplar days will be for all funded Sprint Exemplar Projects and will provide an opportunity for progress updates and cross-project dissemination.

All projects will be expected to participate in the follow events:

  • launch exemplar day: 4 January 2022
  • mid-sprint exemplar day: 21 April 2022
  • final exemplar day: 28 July 2022.

At each exemplar day all funded projects will be required to give a progress update presentation. The lessons learnt from all of the projects will be used to inform phase two of the DARE UK programme.

Participation in the exemplar days is a condition of funding.

Final report

Applicants will be required to submit a final report (no more than 10 A4 pages) by the date specified in the timeline section of this document. This should cover:

  • description of their project outputs
  • description of the likely impact of their project and how this contributes to the design of phase two of the DARE UK programme.

Payment and end of grant reconciliation

Awards will be made to the lead organisation, in the name of the lead applicant.  Research organisations and the lead applicant will be required to sign and submit an award acceptance letter within 10 days of receipt of the award letter confirming their acceptance of the funding and responsibility for the project.

Successful applicants will receive an award letter, setting out the value of the award and duration. Payment of funds will be made quarterly in arrears on submission of an invoice against incurred spend. The total value of all claims may not exceed the total value of the award.

No extensions or supplements will be made to the awards. However, costs of parental leave can be claimed from the award, in proportion to the percentage of that person’s time allocated to the project.

Applicants will be required to submit an end of grant reconciliation form, documenting spend on the project within one month of the end date of their project.

The final quarterly payment will be withheld until the final report has been received and the grant reconciliation completed.

Additional requirements

Receipt of funding for a Sprint Exemplar Project will not be a requirement of future involvement in the DARE UK programme.

Successful Sprint Exemplar Projects will be expected to work and share know-how to assist in the design of phase two of the DARE UK programme. It is expected that the lessons learnt from the projects will inform the development of the longer-term digital research infrastructure across UKRI’s domains.

The Sprint Exemplar Projects opportunity is an open competition and not restricted to current HDR UK or ADR UK funded or affiliated organisations.

What we will do with your information

In accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) 2018, the personal information that you provide within the application will specifically be used for administering this opportunity. The information will be viewed by HDR UK and ADR UK staff and selection panel members, and your information will not be used for any other purpose without your specific consent.

Webinars

There will be two webinars to give an opportunity to discuss the Sprint Exemplar Projects.

These are scheduled for:

  • 14 September 2021, 14:00 to 15:00
  • 12 October 2021, time to be confirmed.

Visit the DARE UK website.

Supporting documents

Financial resource request template (Excel, 74KB)

NOTE Council web content is being transitioned to this website – let us know if you have feedback or would like to help us test new developments.