Funding Calls

Managing funding calls is a key part of a Network+. Since this is with the EPSRC’s money, it is vital that their rules are adhered to, especially in terms of eligibility: Below are some steps to ensure this, and some general guidance around creating and organizing different types of funding calls. The contents for this section are:

Types of Funding Call

There are a number of different types of funding call:

Feasibility Studies

These are early stage research proposals that involve an initial small scale implementation that can be used to ascertain the feasibility of a longer term project, and establish if it is worth taking forward. These will typically last for several months and involve multiple institutions.

A full example of the Connected Everything Feasibility Study Application Process can be found in the Example of a Connected Everything Feasibility Study Section.

Internship Schemes

Internship schemes are a great way to engage with undergraduates who are interested in the research areas of the Network and require training in these areas. These can be modelled after the EPSRC Internships.

Examples of the AI3SD Funding Call for Internships can be found here.

The documents produced for this internship are:


Sandpits are interactive workshops, which take pace over several sessions, usually involving 20-30 participants; the director, a team of expert mentors, and a number of independent stakeholders. Sandpits have a highly multidisciplinary mix of participants, some active researchers and others potential users of research outcomes, to drive lateral thinking and radical approaches to address research challenges.

Sandpits are led by a director with a group of stakeholders and subject experts working as mentors in support. This group is not eligible to receive research funding so act as impartial referees in the process.

Sandpits are intensive discussion forums where free thinking is encouraged to delve into the problems on the agenda to uncover innovative solutions. Each sandpit is led by a director, defines the topic and facilitates discussions at the event.

The process can be broken down into:

  • Defining the scope of the issue.
  • Agreeing a common language and terminology amongst diverse backgrounds and disciplines.
  • Sharing understanding of the problem participants’ expertise.
  • Using creative and innovative thinking techniques in break-out sessions to focus on a problem.
  • Turning Sandpit outputs into a research project.

Sandpits are intensive events, for the well-being of participants, venues offer relaxation opportunities, and the timetable includes informal networking activities as a break from detailed technical discussions.

Due to group dynamics and continual evaluation it is not possible to ‘dip in and out’ of the process. Participants must stay for the whole duration of the event.

Sandpit funding is not spread evenly across participants: a variety of outcomes are possible, ranging from a single large research project, to several smaller projects, feasibility studies, networking activities, overseas visits and so on. Outcomes are not pre-determined, but are defined during the sandpit.

A useful example of running a sandpit can be found here.

Other Funding

As a Network you may decide to offer funding in other areas, such as ECR bursaries to travel to your own events or other relevant events, or funding to run workshops / events. It is important that you set this up properly. 

Another example is placements. Placements (often with Industry but not exclusively) provide PhD students or ECRs opportunities to engage with a partner, offering opportunities for collaboration and network building, which may prove useful during their career.  Exposure to different environments and applying academic knowledge in a different setting is a core network objective.  An example of a placement call can be found here.

Forms should be designed for the application process with clear guidance on the remit of the application. E.g. if this can be applied for over the duration of the Network or only during a specific time, the required financial information, and any upper application limits for the funding that can be requested. Here are some examples of other funding forms.

It is also advisable to set up template contracts for these different types of funding, so prospective applicants can see what will be expected of them. 

Preparing and Designing the Call

There are some key aspects to consider when designing a funding call. Two of the main ones are timelines and themes. Make sure you let your Network members know when the funding call will be announced well in advance of the formal announcements, and ensure that you leave several months between the call announcement and the submission deadline, and then a further realistic amount of time for the reviews to be completed. It is also practical to set a deadline for the start date of a project whereby contracts must be in place and work must have commenced. If you wish members of the project teams to present on their work at major events/conferences your Network is running, then consider aligning these dates for them to finish before or close to the conference. It is also good to focus the call on several key themes, even if you also permit other relevant applications. 

Organisation & Materials


There are two key documents to make available for the call, these are the Guidance Document and the Application Document (examples of these can be found on the AI3SD website on their Documents Page.

Guidance Document

This document provides information to the applicants about how to fill in the application form, and lays out what is expected of them both with regards to the application, and the project itself. It is advisable to include the following sections: 

  • Summary: This just provides a short summary of the funding call.
  • Priority Areas: This includes the main priority areas of the call.
  • Project Criteria: This lays out the rules for the project including how long the projects are expected to be, how much funding they can request, the remit of the research and links to associated EPSRC rules. 
  • Applicant Criteria & Descriptions: This explains the different roles individuals can take in a project, and who is eligible for each role according to EPSRC guidelines. Including PI’s & CO-Is, Project Partners. Staff, & Sub Contractors. 
  • Assessment Process: This explains how the applications will be assessed and what the assessment criteria is. 
  • Project Management and Expectations: This sets out any expectations of how the projects should be managed and how PI’s should coordinate with your Network to keep you informed of the process. For example, interim and final reports (explained further below). 
  • Intellectual Property: The intellectual property statement from the Network and ESPRC. 
  • Key Dates: The call announcement, Network+ Town Meeting date (if you are holding one, which we strongly advise), deadline for applications, and when successful applicants will be notified. 
  • Contacts: Where to find more information on the funding call and who to contact in case of questions (typically the Network Coordinator).
  • GDPR Statement: It is advisable to also include a GDPR statement about how you are going to use the data collected as part of the funding applications. 

Application Form

This document provides a template for the application form. This should start with formatting and page requirements (e.g. minimum font size, font type, no margin adjustments, max length of document) to both provide guidelines for applicants and ensure fairness. Further guidance can be given by suggesting max page lengths for specific sections to ensure that you get the level of detail you require. It is advisable to include the following sections: 

  • Project Details: Title, Priority Areas Covered, Lead Institution, Partners, Project Length, Expected start and end dates. 
  • Personal details of PI & CO-I’s: Name, Position, Employer Details.
  • Track Record: Track record of the teams skills and expertise, with notes to how this is relevant to your Network.
  • Problem and Approach: The problem the applicants are trying to solve and how they are going to solve it.
  • Project Aims. Methods and Pathways to Impact: The aims of the project, and how the applicants aim to achieve short medium and long term impact.
  • Finance requested: A summary table of the 80% fEC and 100% fEC costs for the project, and a justification of the requested budget. 
  • Finance Contact: Ensure that applicants provide full details (name, position, employer details) of a finance and research support contact for the application. 
  • Background IP Statement 
  • Additional Information 
  • Signatures: Applicants signature and a signature from the PI’s organisation sanctioning that they approve the application, the proposed finance budget allocation and the terms of the Award Agreement.

Template Award agreements

Contracts or “Award Agreements” will need to be set up and signed between the institution your Network is based at, and the institution of the PI of the project. As such it is advisable to get templates for these award agreements set up in advance such that a) potential applicants can view and check them and make sure that they and their institution are happy to sign up to the terms and conditions, and b) to streamline the process once you have selected the projects you wish to fund as the contracts can just be filled in and sent out for signatures. 

You can use these agreements to put in specific terms that you want fulfilled. For example in the AI3SD Agreements, it clearly states that invoices will only be paid upon receipt of the interim and final project reports, thus ensuring that the projects will be properly documented. 

Funding References

It is sensible to assign funding call references to each of your applications e.g. AI3SDFundingCall1_001 and email the applicants to acknowledge receipt of their application and assign them a reference number that can be used throughout the funding call. This makes it easy to differentiate between applications. 

Guidance & EPSRC involvement

It is advisable to discuss your upcoming funding call and documents with your EPSRC advisor to see if they have any suggestions or improvements. Further, it is also useful to ask them to post the funding call information on their website as well for additional publicity. 

Setting up contracts for feasibility studies etc. can be a very slow process so it is best to start this early as possible to make sure your Contracts Team understands the Network and the funding programme.  Also make sure you get a named contact from the Institution that is receiving the contract so it doesn’t get lost in their system. For example, the Contracts Team will draft the Collaboration Agreements between your institution I.e. funder, and the awardee’s (PI) institution.

Here is the example Network+ Award Agreement.

If any of your funding activity requires a project to recruit a post-doc, encourage them to start this process as soon as possible.  Even without Covid, it takes a lot of time to recruit and can really hold up projects starting. 

Reviewers & Reviewing

Recruiting Reviewers and organising reviews takes time! Make sure you give yourself plenty of time for the reviewal period, and start recruiting reviewers as soon as possible. Your Advisory Board (or academic team) is good place to start, and also asking your Advisory Board for suggestions about reviewers in particular areas of expertise. 

You should be looking to make your review process as simple as possible. It is advisable to use a web form (e.g. Microsoft Forms) that links to a spreadsheet, so that all of the comments and scores are automatically collated in one place for easy access and analysis. 

Here is an example of an AI3SD Review Form.

Finance Contact

It is vital to make sure that applicants to the funding call provide a finance contact, and that the application is signed off by an appropriate individual at the PI’s organisation authorising both the application itself and the proposed finance requests. This will help to ensure that the propose finances are viable and that the organisation behind the PI of the application is aware and happy with it. It also means that for the successful applicants, there are already details of the correct person to send the contracts and any queries to. 

FAQ Page

Producing a FAQ resource for your funding call can be very useful, as chances are many of your applicants will have similar questions. AI3SD ran FAQ sessions in each town meeting, and made these available as a web resource via their website. Further, for each question that was emailed in, they also added the answer to the website. This helped build up a detailed resource of answers for applicants.  

Example of Connected Everything Feasibility Study

This is an example of the Connected Everything Feasibility Study processes, which includes an anonymous application process:

The application process

When the feasibility study funding call is announced, applicants can apply through completing a 3 part application form; Part 1 includes the PI and team information, Part 2 is the research idea, Part 3 is the budget.  The call is also supported by a comprehensive call guide, frequently asked questions document and a workshop for people to learn about the call and ask further questions.

The process is designed so that 1 member from the CEII project team has a role which oversees the process of selection. This will ensure that all decisions are reviewed and made with the CEII themes and EDI information is properly considered to ensure diversity in final proposals selected.

The process for panel pitch selection is:

  1. All proposals (parts 2 and 3 only) have been reviewed by 2 members from the Connected Everything Advisory Board who rated the anonymous proposals against the selection criteria and gave overall comments with a recommendation to invite the applicant to the panel pitch, or not. Reviewers must declare any conflicts of interest (while appreciating this is harder with anonymous applications).
  2. This information was summarised and shared with the selection team comprising of at least 2 Co-investigators.  At this stage the information provided is still anonymous.
  3. There are x sessions available on the panel pitch day. 
  4. The selection team will consider ways to manage their unconscious bias during the selection process, specifically:
    1. Consciously focussing on fairness to make the selection less vulnerable to unconscious biases.
    1. Ensure the members provide the rationale for the decisions they make and encourage challenge in the meeting. Decisions should be justifiable against the rating scales / criteria.
    1. Challenge your colleagues where you see evidence of unconscious bias.
    1. Following objective decision making processes reduces the impact of bias. Ensure you have a clear understanding of the process, competencies and scoring process.
  5. The selection team will make the decision on proposals to go the panel pitch by:
    1. Ranking the reviewers recommendations for invite to panel pitch in order of:
      1. Yes / Yes
      2. Yes / No
      3. No / No
  6. Should there be any proposals which appear to have a similar reviewer rating then the selection team can use the demographic and project team information provided within the proposal and EDI form. Connected Everything II has been clear with applicants that it will trial ways to ensure that equality, diversity and inclusion is built into all their processes. Therefore we are keen to use positive action to ensure that there is a diversity in gender, ethnicity and disability in the proposals selected for the panel pitch, as well as representing the CEII research themes.
  7. The selection team’s decision will be discussed with Connected Everything named Investigator to ensure that the proposals selected ensure EDI considerations have been suitably considered.
  8. A generic letter has been drafted for communicating the outcome of review to each applicant. The Network Manager will then inform all the applicants of the outcome with their individual feedback and / or details of the next steps.

The process for awarding funding for feasibility studies at the panel pitch

  1. A panel has been assembled to make decisions on which feasibility studies will be funded. Members of the panel are from the CE project team, executive group, academics who have previously completed their own feasibility study and people who can offer specific expertise for the call. Where possible the panel is inclusive and reflects the diversity of the Network community.  Panel members receive all 3 parts of the application form ahead of the panel.
  2. A representative from the funder will be invited to attend the panel as an observer.
  3. Panel members are responsible for declaring any conflicts of interest. If there is one declared, then that panel member will not participate in that element of the panel pitch.
  4. Each applicant will have 5 minutes to pitch their proposal to the panel, with 10-15 minutes for questions.
  5. Should an applicant require any form of assistance in order to pitch this will be provided where possible. Should CEII not be able to provide the assistance requested then the pitch times will be reasonably increased to allow for appropriate communication to happen.
  6. Each panel member will complete a summary sheet at the end of the pitch session to record how well the proposal meets the selection criteria.
  7. Panel members will not discuss their decision on whether the feasibility will be funded until all of the pitches have completed. A brief and succinct discussion on the strengths and weaknesses after each pitch is appropriate.
  8. At the end of all the panel pitches the Panel Chair will lead a review of all the panel summary sheets to help aid the panel’s discussions of each proposal and the Network Manager will collate the information into a grid.
  9. The panel discussions will be based on the selection criteria only. The chair will ensure that each discussion is appropriate. All panel members are responsible for ensuring discussions are fair and no individual dominates the discussion.
  10. The panel will consider ways to manage their unconscious bias during the selection process, specifically:
    1. Consciously focussing on fairness to make the selection less vulnerable to unconscious biases.
    2. Ensure the panel members provide the rationale for the decisions they make and encourage challenge in the meeting. Decisions should be justifiable against the rating scales / criteria.
    3. Challenge panel members where you see evidence of unconscious bias.
    4. Following objective decision making processes reduces the impact of bias. Ensure you have a clear understanding of the process, competencies and scoring process.
  11. The chair will not declare their opinion on a specific feasibility study unless the panel cannot agree on an outcome.  The chair will summarise the panel decision which will be recorded by the Network Manager and this feedback will be shared with the applicant.
  12. The panel can award funding to a maximum of X proposals at no more than £XX,XXX (fEC) each.

Suggested questions for panel pitch members

These will be agreed the morning of the panel pitch. The chair and observers will not ask questions.  Other panel members will be given a theme in which to ask a specific question about. To ensure consistency the following areas for questions are suggested below:

Quality: Multidisciplinary and clear demonstration of “discipline-bridging” through activity     Involvement of ECR & industry stakeholders   Demonstration of transfer of concepts from other domains to manufacturing   Explore the novelty of the proposal
Impact: Potential to lead to strong dissemination materials   Paths to accelerate impact of research to ensure rapid transfer to industry  
Future: Potential for development of future funding applications
Operations: How have they considered responsible innovation in their proposed activity?   What are the keys risks in the project?   Explore the project plan in more detail.

Funding Reports

Funding reports are a useful output of the funded projects, both so members of the Network can see what has been achieved, and also to provide back to your funding body. Depending on the length of the project, you can either ask for one formal report at the end, or an interim report in the middle as well. It is advisable to link up funding report deadlines with payment deadlines and make payments conditional upon receipt and approval of the report. Links to example templates for Funding Projects can be found on the AI3SD Website: under Project Series Report Templates.

The Network Dissemination Report Section covered the front matter of a Funding Report, below is a list of advisable sections to include in the main body. 

  • Project Details: Title, Funding Reference, Lead Institution, Project Dates.
  • Project Team: PI details, CO-I details, other researchers & collaborators. 
  • Publicity Summary: A short lay summary of the project for use in publicity purposes. 
  • Executive Summary: A high level summary of the project. 
  • Aims and Objectives: A short summary of the aims, objectives and motivations behind the project. 
  • Methodology: A short summary of the methodology implemented in the project. 
  • Results: Summary of the results. 
  • Outputs: Details of any outputs e.g. talks, presentations, publications, news articles, datasets etc. 
  • Conclusions: Conclusions of the work carried out. 
  • Future Plans: Details of the next steps including planned talks or publications. 
  • References: References to relevant work. 
  • Data & Software Links: Links to any datasets or software that has been used in this project. 

You can also use part of this information to advertise the projects; if you intend to do so, make sure you get PI’s approval on the communication, images shared, etc. Some Network projects also require a final project presentation e.g. PowerPoint format, from the PIs.

Town Meetings

Town meetings can be a useful way to kick start your funding call. Their primary function is to provide prospective applicants with more information about the funding call. Here are a number of activities that can be conducted at Town Meetings to help applicants get the most of out your funding opportunities:

  • Presenting the Call: This helps applicants understand the remit of the call, whilst also providing publicity about it. 
  • FAQ Sessions: Encourage your attendees to ask questions about how the call will work and make a formal record of these on your website. Conducting this exercise at each funding call means that you will build up a thorough list of questions that prospective applicants might have. This will help provide clarity and potentially save time as the calls move on. 
  • Training Sessions: These meetings can also be useful to provide training to prospective applicants. This could be around a wide variety of useful skills, such as project management, coding skills (where applicable), research and data management, IP management and indeed how to write successful funding applications. 
  • Networking and Project Matching: These meetings can also be used for networking between prospective applicants, to potentially help match up different institutions / individuals who are looking for collaborations.