We’re looking to fund a leadership team to develop a ‘hub’ that will connect stakeholders and drive interdisciplinary innovation in behavioural research. This is part of a total £18 million ESRC investment over the next five years to create a new National Capability for Behavioural Research.
The aim of the national capability is to harness, connect and extend the UK’s existing capacity and capability in behavioural research, and support the mobilisation of research into policy and practice.
We take a broad definition of what ‘behavioural research’ encompasses which goes beyond individualistic approaches to behaviour change. Our definition includes research to answer fundamental questions about how and why people, organisations and groups behave in the way they do within wider societal and economic contexts.
We expect a broad range of disciplinary perspectives, within the social sciences and beyond, to be involved in the investment. Outputs from the investment should be targeted towards addressing major societal and economic challenges.
National capability objectives
The key objectives of this national capability are to:
- facilitate evidence-based decision making through timely, high impact, and independent research on human behaviour that meets the needs of policymakers, industry, and civil society
- build a critical mass of researchers with the knowledge and skills to transform our understanding of human behaviour by applying a diverse range of relevant methods. This objective will also be supported by a dedicated Centre for Doctoral Training Plus (CDT+) in behavioural research, which is the subject of a separate funding opportunity.
The hub will sit at the heart of a ‘hub and spoke’ model and be complemented by a series of ‘spokes’ (or centres of excellence) that will be established over time to deliver key elements of the national capability. The first spoke will be a CDT+ in behavioural research that will develop the next generation of PhD graduates, early career researchers and provide relevant training to non-academics.
Objectives and role of the hub
The interdisciplinary leadership team will play a critical role in building this new national capability by establishing, developing and running a hub that over the course of the grant must:
- connect and convene a diverse set of partners (academic, government, industry and civil society) to:
- breakdown disciplinary boundaries
- strengthen cross-sector engagement
- co-create and promote a vision for behavioural research
- build on excellence in existing research investments and infrastructures within the UK and globally
- deliver across the UK
- deliver a core programme of cutting-edge interdisciplinary research that realises the vision for this investment and addresses pressing challenges facing the UK
- design and manage a commissioning fund for exemplar projects that drive advances in behavioural research and research methods
- promote and maximise the value of using existing and novel data and data infrastructure to transform our understanding of behaviour
- build cross-sector capability to conduct and use behavioural research through the exchange of people and knowledge
- signpost and synthesise existing evidence to inform policy and practice across different sectors
- enable the activities and research funded to have impacts throughout the life of the investment and beyond
- build capacity in the research community, including in research design, methods, and impact across all career stages
- embed ethical considerations throughout the programme
- establish a model that ensures the spokes can deliver more than they could as individual investments
- coordinate learning and insights from spokes when commissioned
- have secured co-funding and developed a plan for sustainability.
The hub and members of the leadership team do not need to be based in a single research organisation.
Funding and duration
Funding is available for a single programme with a 100% full economic cost of up to £12.15 million. ESRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost for 60 months. This can cover the costs of:
- the leadership team
- hub staffing
- programme of work.
The research organisation or organisations must meet the balance of the full economic cost from other resources.
The commissioning fund will be ring fenced within the main award and will be funded at 80% full economic cost.
Funding can be used for:
- a director or two co-directors working in a job share capacity
- programme management and administrative staff, including monitoring and evaluation resource
- communications and knowledge exchange activities and the staff involved in these activities
- knowledge exchange fellowships and placements
- impact generation activities
- training and capacity building activities
- research staff
- research-related costs associated with a core research programme
- estates and indirect costs relating to staff employed in the hub
- funding for travel, subsistence and venue hire for meetings and events.
We welcome bids that include project partners that provide additional co-funding or in-kind contributions.
The CDT+ and all future spokes that make up the National Capability for Behavioural Research will be subject to separate funding awards. The leadership team will work closely with ESRC to develop further spokes. The ‘hub’ will not manage the spokes but will be expected to develop mechanisms to work collaboratively with them to achieve the overarching ambition of the initiative and contribute to the overall direction of the National Capability.
The award must begin in September 2023 and is expected to deliver to the following timeline:
- zero to 17 months: scoping, engagement and development of the hub, its vision and work programme alongside some early activity
- 18 months: submission and formal review of longer-term plans (specifics below under ‘stage gate review’)
- 19 to 60 months: implementation of longer-term plans.
A break clause will be written into the contract tied to a formal review of progress after 18 months.
The application should cover five years of activity and associated costs. Detailed plans for the first 18 months of activity should be provided and include deliverables that will demonstrate the functionality of the hub from the outset.
An overview of plans and approaches to delivering the longer-term ambition should also be included. We recognise that these plans will be subject to refinement and review during the first 18 months. Applicants should ensure that there is sufficient flexibility in the budget to accommodate any changes and include consideration of future virement of funds that must be in line with ESRC virement rules.
The leadership team should bring fresh perspectives to behavioural research and demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the variety of disciplines and methodological approaches that can contribute to our understanding of behaviour.
For example, this could include disciplines from the social, economic, life, physical and mathematical sciences, and approaches such as:
- data science and artificial intelligence
- human-centred design
- evaluation methods
- systems approaches
- social practice.
The director (or co-directors) must contribute a significant proportion of their time to the overall leadership and coordination of the grant. Very small fractions of co-investigator time should also be avoided unless clearly justified in the proposal.
We expect the leadership team to be complemented by a wider core team whose specialist expertise (academic or non-academic) will support the delivery of the funding opportunity objectives. These may include:
- programme management expertise
- a communication function
- knowledge mobilisation expertise.
Government Office for Science (GO-Science) post
We require applications to include a post that will be embedded within GO-Science and work across departments and devolved administrations. This post will help catalyse the exchange of knowledge and people between the research community and government, therefore supporting the development of the hub.
The post should be costed into the application and be at a sufficient level to work independently across large and complex organisations. ESRC and GO-Science will support the development of a job description for the post and participate in the recruitment process alongside members of the successful leadership team.
The person appointed will be employed at a UK research organisation eligible for ESRC funding for the duration of the award and will be seconded to GO-Science. ESRC will facilitate this process. GO-Science is unable to provide letters of support to any bids.
Equality, diversity and inclusion approach
Applicants should evidence within their proposal that they have considered equality, diversity and inclusion in how the hub will operate. This includes providing an inclusive environment for researchers at all career stages to thrive, with support for interdisciplinary and intersectoral engagement. Proposals should include an outline of the approach to a strong career development programme for all team members.
Partnerships, collaborations and sustainability
The successful team will be required to partner, collaborate and engage with a wide range of stakeholders to agree priorities and deliver the key activities of the hub. We expect the range of stakeholders to expand and evolve over time. The initial group of key stakeholders should include:
- existing and emerging UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) investments (including the CDT+ in behavioural research)
- government decision makers from across the UK.
Other important stakeholders include local government and business.
Proposals should explain how they can build upon, support and integrate with existing research and innovation infrastructures. This includes leveraging ESRC’s data infrastructure investments to realise the potential of data to transform our understanding of behaviour. Key relevant investments include, but are not limited to:
The hub will also be expected to explore collaboration opportunities with emerging UKRI investments, such as Digital Footprints and Population Research UK, once established.
Applicants must articulate how they will develop a research function that has the flexibility to respond quickly to emerging priorities, while providing a longer-term research resource to address important questions related to major societal and economic challenges.
Proposals should articulate how the hub will work with stakeholders to develop and prioritise a research programme over time. We do not expect the research programme to be set out in detail in the application as we anticipate that it will be developed during the first phase of the grant and will be reviewed at 18 months.
In addition to any core research programme undertaken by the hub, proposals must also outline how the commissioning fund will operate and be governed. We expect projects awarded through this mechanism to be co-funded by external stakeholders and plans for engaging potential co-funders for these projects should be included in the application.
Costs for the commissioning fund should be included in the total cost of the proposal. We expect the amount to be funded from the grant will be between £1 to 1.5 million (at 100% full economic cost) and should be spread over the course of the award. Justification for this fund is not required in the justification of resources section of the application. However, the budget to be ring fenced should be justified in the case for support.
The commissioning fund should be used to support projects and activities undertaken by researchers outside of the hub. Applications for these awards must comply with UKRI eligibility and full economic cost rules and undergo a competitive process consistent with the principles of fair and transparent review.
Funding for PhD studentships from this fund is excluded, however projects led by PhD students are permitted.
ESRC should be consulted throughout the fund’s commissioning process to ensure best practice is followed. The projects and activities funded are expected to engage with the wider programme of activities led by the hub and report their progress and outcomes to the hub leadership. To avoid conflicts of interest, principal investigators and co-investigators as well as any staff employed to work in the hub, are not eligible to apply to the commissioning fund. Funding to support their research activity should be costed under the hub’s core research programme.
Policy-focused fellowships and placements awarded though any component of the research programme would need to be developed in conjunction with ESRC to ensure alignment with both best practice and other relevant initiatives. Fellows would join ESRC’s wider policy fellow cohort to maximise connectivity and learning.
Management and governance
Applicants should propose a management and governance structure that includes:
- a strategic advisory group: an outline of the collective skills, expertise and experience that will be sought for the advisory group should be provided. Names of individuals are not required at this stage and ESRC will be able to facilitate connections to non-academic stakeholders as required. To embed connections, the successful team will be required to work with ESRC to ensure representation from relevant UKRI investments on its advisory structures. The director or co-directors may also be required to sit on advisory or governance groups relating to other ESRC investments to enhance the impact of the National Capability
- a link to an ESRC-appointed Behavioural Research Programme Board
- mechanisms for working in partnership with ESRC throughout the course of the grant to optimise the impact of the hub and shape the development of the wider National Capability for Behavioural Research.
The proposal should include a programme management structure and articulate how the programme will be managed day to day.
Project management resources and administrative support should be detailed. Explain how the leadership will provide adequate operational capabilities and resources to meet the demands of the planned activities.
Monitoring and evaluation
Proposals should explain how progress against the agreed deliverables will be monitored and reported to ESRC. Applicants should describe how formative evaluation will be costed and embedded into the programme, and how plans to measure and demonstrate the hub’s impact in the longer term will be developed.
The leadership team will also be required to contribute to any evaluation activity carried out on behalf of ESRC.
As with other investments of this nature and scale, we will be looking for evidence of long-term strategic support from the host research organisations (ROs). We recognise that the grant already requires a RO contribution of 20% and would encourage ROs to offer commitments appropriate to their plans for the investment.
We are committed to ensuring that host institution contributions are sustainable for ROs and ensure a level playing field for assessment. ROs have a degree of flexibility in what forms of support they provide and how these are profiled over the lifetime of the investment.
Stage gate review
An in-depth review will take place after 18 months. Specific deliverables will be confirmed on award but are likely to include:
- vision for behavioural research and longer-term work and evaluation plans
- core research programme
- evidence of stakeholder engagement
- effective operational procedures, including governance arrangements (for grant and commissioning fund)
- effectiveness of working relationship with ESRC.