Information management framework for environmental digital twins

Apply for funding to develop a roadmap for an information management framework (IMF) for environmental ‘digital twins’.

Digital twins are virtual representations of an object or system updated from real-time data. They use simulation, machine learning and reasoning to help decision-making.

You and your organisation must be eligible for NERC funding.

Your project must:

  • consider the key components for an IMF
  • identify what aspects of environmental digital twin IMFs currently exist
  • analyse key organisations with interests in this area
  • develop a ‘roadmap’, a plan for a future environmental digital twin IMF.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £250,000. NERC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Who can apply

Standard NERC eligibility rules apply (see 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 and your organisation are eligible for research and innovation funding.

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

Investigators may only be involved in one proposal submitted to this opportunity.

What we're looking for

An important first step towards an information management framework (IMF) for environmental digital twins is a sound understanding of the basic components of an IMF and what already exists. For further background on environmental digital twins and IMFs, see ‘additional information’.

Further research is required to build on and further our understanding of:

  • what components of an IMF for digital twins already exists within the environmental sciences community
  • what is required for an effective IMF for environmental digital twins.

Thus, NERC and the Met Office are commissioning a team to carry out the following:

  • consider and document the key components of an IMF for environmental digital twins
  • undertake mapping work to identify and document what aspects of environmental digital twins IMFs currently exist
  • stakeholder analysis of the key organisations with an interest in environmental digital twins who would be needed to maximise impact
  • develop a roadmap for an IMF for environmental digital twins.

This work should build on existing activities such as the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) proposed Pathway Towards an Information Management Framework for the built environment.

It will support wider UKRI, Met Office and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) interests in digital twinning.

The project will be expected to engage with both:

  • a parallel activity undertaken by the NERC research centres focused on developing feasibility or use cases for environmental digital twinning
  • the Met Office on its work developing prototype digital twins.

Funding available

A grant of up to £250,000 at 80% full economic cost is available from NERC and the Met Office for a maximum period of five months. The grant will run between beginning of December 2021 and end of April 2022. 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.

How to apply

Proposals are to be submitted via email to digitalenvironment@nerc.ukri.org by 16:00 (UK time) on 20 October 2021.

Please combine the information below into one PDF.

The application 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. 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 proposed programme.

Summary

Including:

  • project title
  • principal investigators and co-investigators (including contact information)
  • amount applied for in pounds.

Proposed programme

Up to three sides of A4.

Please provide a proposed programme of work including:

  • a previous track record (up to one side of A4)
  • underlying rationale, scientific and technological issues to be considered, including how it either builds on previous international research (for example, the CDBB’s IMF activities) or prepares the ground for future research
  • project objectives including their relevance to UK and international research work in the field
  • project delivery plan, including key milestones and deliverables, demonstrating how the project will deliver against the assessment criteria
  • plan for how the outcomes will be disseminated.

Justification of resources

Up to two sides of A4.

Please provide full details and a justification for all costs requested.

Responsible research

Up to one side of A4.

Briefly describe how your project contributes to the NERC’s Responsible Business Statement (PDF, 461KB) and the Met Office’s Environmental and Sustainable Procurement Policy, through active consideration of risk and practical actions taken to minimise social and environmental harm and maximise benefit.

Describe:

  • the key environmental material risks associated with this research proposal and what actions have been, or will be, taken to reduce environmental harm and maximise environmental benefit
  • how you will engage with the local communities associated with this research proposal (are there any predicted community benefits?)
  • what actions have been, or will be, taken to promote an open and inclusive approach to research activities which recognises the benefits of diversity (if recruiting, how will you address equality, diversity and inclusion?).

Project partners are allowed. A letter of support may be included for each project partner (up to one side of A4 per partner).

How we will assess your application

All proposals received which meet the eligibility criteria will be assessed by an independent panel of experts based on the assessment criteria outlined below.

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

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

Proposals will be assessed on research excellence, fit to scheme and appropriateness of the work plan, specifically the following criteria.

Assessment criteria

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

The alignment with the key objectives of the use of digital approaches outlined in the:

How well the application meets the objectives and requirements outlined in the ‘project scope’ section.

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.

Contact details

Ask about this funding opportunity

Email: sarah.campbell@nerc.ukri.org, copy in digitalenvironment@nerc.ukri.org.

Additional info

Background

A digital twin is a virtual representation of an object or system updated from real-time data. It uses simulation, machine learning and reasoning to help decision-making.

Environmental digital twins have the potential to significantly improve our understanding of the natural environment, by, for example:

  • providing insights and foresight into the impacts and consequences of climate change at different spatial scales
  • helping to anticipate and mitigate the effects of climate change
  • supporting the UK’s resilient net-zero carbon ambitions and broader sustainability goals.

Critically, to realise the value of environmental digital twins they need to be internally consistent and interoperable with other digital twins, for example, digital twins of the ‘built environment’, through a federated model.

A vital component of digital twins is an information management framework (IMF) that establishes the components necessary to enable effective information management across the digital twin ecosystem. It enables secure, resilient interoperability of data, and is a reference point to facilitate data use in line with security, legal, commercial, privacy and other relevant concerns.

Previous work has highlighted the importance of developing an IMF. For example the CDBB, a partnership between the University of Cambridge and BEIS, published:

Reporting

Successful projects will be expected to engage with NERC Head Office and Met Office throughout the project to update on progress, share learning and identify synergies with wider NERC and Met Office 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 and Met Office. There is no expectation for the successful team to report their research outputs through the UKRI reporting system (Researchfish) but they may be required to provide NERC and Met Office with any additional reporting requirements as requested.

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.

COVID-19

UKRI recognises that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities. We are committed to ensuring that individual applicants and their wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to their career such as:

  • breaks and delays
  • disruptive working patterns and conditions
  • the loss of on-going work
  • role changes that may have been caused by the pandemic.

Panel members will be advised to consider the unequal impacts that COVID-19 related disruption might have had on the track record and career development of those individuals included in the proposal. They will be asked to consider the capability of the applicant and their wider team to deliver the research they are proposing.

Where disruptions have occurred, applicants can highlight this within their application, if they wish, but there is no requirement to detail the specific circumstances that caused the disruption.

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