ESRC Digital Good Network

Digital Good Research Fund 2024, ‘Evaluating the Digital Good’: call for applications

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The aim of the Digital Good Network is to enhance our collective understanding of what a good digital society should look like and how we get there. 

In this second year, we invite research proposals that will help us continue to lay the foundations for this collective research.

What we’re looking for

Our first, 2023 Digital Good Research Fund call, Foundations of the Digital Good, was an intentionally broad invitation for researchers to help lay the foundations for the network, by exploring how to define the digital good across different technologies, dimensions and perspectives. 

This year’s call, Evaluating the Digital Good, builds on those foundations. By evaluation, we mean the systematic assessment of or judgement about whether digital developments and deployments contribute towards a good digital society.

Evaluating the Digital Good invites proposals which do one or more of the following:

  • explore whether and how the digital good can or should be evaluated
  • explore how to evaluate the digital good across different technologies, contexts and domains
  • consider the role of diverse communities, sectors and organisations in evaluating the digital good
  • test methodological innovations for evaluating the digital good.

We welcome applications which apply or demonstrate particular approaches to evaluating the digital good. These could deploy experimental, quantitative or statistical approaches, explore the outcomes, metrics or data that might contribute to evaluating the digital good, or critically interrogate the value of measurement in this context, or they could be qualitative in character. They could prioritise listening to and valuing different voices, responding to the specificities of the evaluation context or capturing collaborative, collective wisdom (Christou et al 2023).

To understand what we mean when we use the term ‘the digital good’ and how we are thinking about it, you may find it useful to watch our 2023 launch webinar entitled ‘What is the digital good?’. 

We have reviewed the disciplines, methodologies, teams and topic areas of existing Digital Good Network research, and have identified some gaps we would like to fill to enable us to meet our objectives.

As a result, we encourage applications which:

  • focus on sustainability 
  • use quantitative or computational methods 
  • include disciplines under-represented in current research teams: psychology, geography, economics, STEM disciplines
  • are led by, or include, Black British team members.

To read about the projects we funded last year and research being undertaken by the Digital Good Network’s core team, please visit our research page. But please note, we welcome novel proposals which include disciplines, methods, teams and topic areas that are currently under-represented amongst our existing portfolio of research, and that address issues we haven’t thought about!

Funding Available

We will dedicate up to £450,000 (£360,000 at 80% fEC) to funding applications that respond to this call. We will fund multiple projects in the range of £20,000 (£16,000 at 80% fEC) to a maximum of £50,000 (£40,000 at 80% fEC).

In keeping with standard UKRI funding procedures, we support projects at 80% of the Full Economic Costs. Lead institutions are expected to make up the remaining 20%.  Non-academic and/or international organisations can claim eligible costs at 100% of Full Economic Costs (justification for exceptional funds at 100% of the Full Economic Costs should be included in applications). 

NB: International co-investigators, and UK business, third sector and government body co-investigators should not exceed 30% of the overall cost of the grant (at 100% fEC) – see ESRC guidance here.

Further information, and advice on eligible costs, can be found in the ESRC’s Research Funding Guide.

Eligibility Criteria

The principal applicant must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for UKRI funding.

Proposals can also include:

We fund in accordance with ESRC’s Research Funding Guide.

Scope

Projects and applications must:

  • fit with the call’s theme ‘Evaluating the Digital Good’;
  • align with the Digital Good Network objectives and must address at least one of our three key societal challenges: equity, sustainability or resilience;
  • meet our objective of building research capacity and upskilling future digital society research leaders, by ensuring teams incorporate at least one named early career researcher (ECR) with a leadership role in the project and a clear plan for their development. This plan must be described in the application. By leadership role, we mean that the ECR(s) take some intellectual ownership of the project, in its design and execution. Successful applications will centre the ECR(s) in more than just data collection (e.g. as a research assistant).  We follow UKRI’s definition of early career researchers;
  • meet our objective of building an interdisciplinary network by ensuring that teams are interdisciplinary. By interdisciplinarity, we expect discrete disciplines to work together (e.g. psychology and cultural studies), rather than different sub areas within one discipline (e.g., economic sociology and historical sociology);
  • meet our objective of effective engagement with policy, industry, practitioners, communities or civil society, by ensuring that projects connect researchers with relevant communities or organisations to address challenges relating to the digital good.

How we will assess your application

Upon receipt, applications will be checked against the eligibility criteria and any applications that are not eligible will be desk rejected.

Eligible applications will then be screened by a member of our Management Team to ensure that they fall within the scope of the call.  Applications that fall outside the scope of the call will not proceed to review.

Applications considered to be in scope will each be reviewed by two members of the network’s core team and College of Experts. Principles of peer review, including relating to conflicts of interest, will be strictly adhered to.

Scores will then be collated and ranked and any discrepancies discussed. Members of the Directorate will make a final decision on which proposals to fund based on a) this ranking, b) a portfolio approach (ensuring diversity of disciplines, topics and approaches) and c) alignment to the Digital Good Network’s aims.

If all available funds are not distributed in a call, they will be rolled forward to the subsequent call.

Review Criteria

Fit to the opportunity

The proposal should specify:

  • what aspects of the digital good it addresses (to understand what we mean when we use the term ‘the digital good’ and how we are thinking about it; you may find it useful to watch our 2023 launch webinar entitled ‘What is the digital good?’)
  • which of the network’s three societal challenges it addresses
  • how it addresses the call theme
  • how it might contribute to the development of the Digital Good Index.

Commitment to adhere to Digital Good Network statements

This includes whether teams:

  • explain the approach to EDI, and the ways in which the team is diverse
  • explain how the project will develop early career researchers
  • explain the approach to i) sustainability and ii) internationalisation, if relevant to the proposal.

Teams

The proposal should explain the way in which it includes interdisciplinary teams and early career researchers. A primary aim of the Digital Good Research Fund is to enable early career researcher development, so all teams must include at least one named early career researcher with a leadership role in the project.

In addition, proposals will be assessed against some of the following standard UKRI assessment criteria, where relevant to the call:

Research excellence and scientific impact

This includes:

  • how the proposed research will generate new knowledge and lead to new insights
  • clearly described and justified research methods and research design
  • clearly described and justified data management and access plans that identify the risks to, and mitigations for, accessing, managing and sharing data, if data management is part of your proposal.

Outcomes, impact and engagement

This includes whether:

  • the proposal sets out clear, measurable, and achievable outcomes that demonstrate evidence of the research’s planned impact, and which goes beyond a list of outputs
  • the project has potential for practical or applied outcomes, a policy impact or both
  • there is evidence of well thought-through and realistic plans for engaging diverse publics or knowledge exchange that maximise opportunities for academic, societal, economic and user impact.

Value for money

This includes whether:

  • the funds requested are essential for the work
  • the importance and scientific potential justify funding on the scale requested
  • there’s a clear allocation of duties and responsibilities 
  • the proposal represents good value for money.

Conditions of Funding

It is a condition of funding that lead applicants commit to a member of their team contributing to the network by:

  • attending the annual project showcase event associated with the call round, in February/March 2025

AND

  • making a contribution to the Digital Good Network training programme (eg, giving a talk or running a workshop)

OR

  • producing Digital Good Network website content (eg, a blogpost or short video) about your research.

The costs of making these contributions will be covered by the network and do not need to be included in your proposal.

We also require that successful project teams:

  • engage in appropriate data management planning and ethics approval processes and are willing to show evidence to this effect if requested.  Our Research Data policy can be found here.

Full terms and conditions can be found here.

Timeline

  • Call launch: Friday 19 January 2024.
  • Deadline for submissions: Thursday 25 April 2024 4pm (UK time).
  • Decisions communicated to applicants: by end June 2024.
  • Research cannot start before: 1 August 2024.
  • Research must be complete by: 30 June 2025.
  • Showcase of funded research: February/March 2025.

Support for applicants

  • Watch our video about our funding opportunities.
  • Watch our video of our live Q&A that was held on Tuesday 30 January 2024.
  • Sign up for tickets for our Computational Methods webinar: Friday 9 February 2024.
  • Apply for our Pre-submission sandpit/webinar, online: Tuesday 20 February 2024. (Deadline to apply: Thursday 8 February at 9:00am UK time) - NOTE: DEADLINE EXTENDED!
  • Sign up for tickets for our webinar for ECRs: Tuesday 27 February 2024.

Please see our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section below.  If you have a question that isn’t answered in our FAQs please contact the team on info@digitalgood.net.  Please note: we are not able to provide feedback on individual applications before submission.  All enquiries will be answered similarly, so as not to advantage one applicant over another.

How to apply

Download the Digital Good Research Fund 2024 Application Form and apply by 4pm (UK time) on Thursday 25 April 2024.

If you need an alternative format please email info@digitalgood.net to discuss your requirements.

Please email your application and attachments in one .pdf document to applications@digitalgood.net by 4pm (UK time) on Thursday 25 April 2024.

Supporting Documentation

  • As part of your application, we will ask you and your team to fill out an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Monitoring form. The information collected in this form will help us work towards our goal of building an inclusive and broad network (link given on application form).
  • We will require a one page CV from the Principal Investigator (PI) and all named Co-Investigators (Co-Is).
  • We require letters of support from each project partner.
  • We require a letter of support from the PI’s institution.

Please consult the application form for full details.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Last updated 6 February 2024.

Eligibility

Can applicants be named in more than one proposal?

Yes - we do not impose any limits on this.

Does the early career researcher (ECR) have to be working in an academic institution, or can they be working in a non-academic institution?

Teams can include people who are not employed by a university. Proposals can include co-investigators from UK business, policy, or civil society. This would be in accordance with UKRI’s policy on working with other organisations

Can people on fixed term contracts apply?

Team members on fixed-term contracts can apply. Those whose contracts are due to end before the proposed project completion date must accompany their application with a letter of support from their employer, stating that they will extend the contract for the duration of the project if the project is successful.

Can PhD students apply?

PhD students can’t be named applicants (that is, as PIs or Co-Is).  They can act as research assistants, if research assistant hours are costed into the proposed project. The amount of time that a single PhD student can dedicate to a project is determined by the guidelines of the PhD student’s university / research organisation. Such guidelines exist to ensure that PhD research does not suffer because the PhD student is committed to lots of additional activities. Please note there are other opportunities targeted at PhD students, including our annual summer school, and internships, to be announced in the future.

Can international applicants apply?

The principal investigator must be based at a UK research organisation that is eligible for UKRI funding. Proposals can also include eligible international co-investigators (in accordance with UKRI’s international co-investigator policy).

Can we include non-academics from international organisations in our proposal?

There is guidance on including international project partners in the ESRC’s International Co-Investigators Policy Guidance. Guidance on Project Partners (p6) and Consultants (p7) is relevant in response to this question.

A lot of discussion about the digital good has felt very geared towards quantitative work. To what extent would qualitative applications be welcome?

We certainly do welcome qualitative applications. We aim to be interdisciplinary - we welcome novel proposals which include disciplines, methods, teams and topic areas that are currently under-represented amongst our existing portfolio of research and that address issues we haven’t thought about! Please see the note on disciplines and methods in the 'what we're looking for' section above, which details those we are especially keen to invite in this call.

Considering that this call is focused on evaluating the digital good, am I right in assuming that no exploratory/pilot research will be appropriate, and that it will be more about evaluating existing initiatives/ideas?

No, this is not necessarily a scheme that looks to fund to evaluate existing inititatives (though in some cases, this might be an appropriate activity for the fund, if it falls within the call's scope). We are intentionally not being overly prescriptive with this scheme to encourage applications that understand the call in different ways. Non-exhaustive examples include carrying out empirical research which you then evaluate yourself, or proposing new approaches to conceptualising and undertaking evaluation.

Application and Budget

Can we employ research assistant(s) and include their cost in the budget?

Yes.  There is some guidance on this in the ESRC Research Funding Guide.

Should PI and Co-I time be costed into the budget?

It is up to applicants whether they want to cost investigator time into their proposals or include investigator time as an in-kind contribution.  For full information about the costs that can be included in ESRC grant applications, go to the ESRC Research Funding Guide.

Will you offer feedback on drafts, for example via video call consultations?

Unfortunately we are not able to provide feedback on draft applications. If you have any questions you can contact us at info@digitalgood.net.

What costs can be covered by the grant?

For full information about the costs that grants cover, view the ESRC Research Funding Guide.

Who are defined as 'partners'?

Project partners are very specifically defined as partners who are not paid through the project, and who contribute in-kind or other resources to the project.

Will inflation be applied to the costs post award or should we include this within the costs we provide at the application stage? 

Please apply for the amount of money that you require.  Amounts will not be amended after funding has been granted.

In the web guidance there are specific points required to align the proposal with the vision of the Digital good network. Where can I read more about this? 

Information about the Digital Good Network vision can be found on our What We Do webpage, and in the video recordings from our lunchtime seminar series in early March 2023, especially the first seminar, where Digital Good Network directors discussed 'What is the digital good?' You can watch the recordings here. A fuller statement of our vision can also be found online.

Are we expected to include references, and if so are they part of the word counts on the form or can submit a separate document with the application?

We do not require references.  If you do wish to submit them they can be a separate document and therefore are not part of the word count.

Does this scheme allow the payment of a participation fee/ hourly fee for participants? If not, can participants be offered travel/subs as an incentive to participate?

An appropriate level of incentive to participants for their time can be costed in (eg. gift vouchers for interviews/ honorarium), as can things like travel and subsistence.

Would it be possible to resubmit a bid that failed at this coming round or are you following the ESRC resubmission rules which says that’s not allowed?

Each call round will have a different focus, so a word-for-word resubmission of a previously unsuccessful application is unlikely to meet the criteria of two successive call rounds. 

Are childcare costs recoverable?

These are not eligible costs.  For full information about the costs that can be included in ESRC grant applications, go to the ESRC Research Funding Guide.

Does the Digital Good Research Fund have any restrictions on the number of applications per institution, or are multiple applications per institution permitted?

We do not have any restrictions on this.

Is it possible to go to a conference a few months after the end of the project using the project budget?

No, we would not cover costs for conferences taking place after the end of the project.

Can someone be listed as a Co-Investigator on a proposal and a subcontractor? If the Co-Investigator is providing their time 'in-kind' can they then charge for the work of their company, or would it be better for this person to include their time within the subcontractor fee?

Yes, they can simultaneously provide time in kind and charge for the work of their company. However, it is possibly more straightforward to include their time in the remit of the subcontractor fee.  

The relevance sections of the guidance (ESRC Funding Guide) are below:

Subcontractors: A subcontractor is a third party organisation, or third party person not employed on a grant, who is subcontracted by the host organisation to deliver a specific piece of work. This subcontracted work will be subject to the procurement rules of the host Research Organisation. All costs that support the delivery of the subcontract are eligible and will be paid at 80% fEC unless otherwise stated, these should be outlined and fully justified in the proposal and will be subject to peer review.

Dual Roles: An organisation or individual may act as both a Project Partner and Subcontractor on a project, however this must be fully justified and will be subject to peer review. This dual role may be required, for example, when an organisation or individual is contributing to the project in kind, but is selected to deliver other work to the project involving substantial costs to be covered via a subcontract.

For the research fund, what view do you take on investigators costing in their time? Universities expect PIs to cost themselves in for a certain amount of FTE but I noted on the website you say this is optional. Would costing in our time disadvantage the application?

No - this will not disadvantage you. In fact, many of the investigators from our first round of funded projects costed in their time. We state that it's optional as we appreciate that some researchers have 'research time' built into their working week; therefore some people may choose not to cost in investigator time in order to be able to use the (limited) funds for other costs.

The research fund invites proposals that (among other things) "explore how to evaluate the digital good across different technologies, contexts and domains". Does this mean that a proposal needs to span multiple contexts etc. or would you welcome proposals that focus on evaluation of digital impact/issues in a specific context?

No - proposals do not need to span multiple domains. Many of our existing projects focus on one specific context. Rather, we want to encourage a range of applications that cover a range of different contexts and domains.

Post Award

If we’re successful in being awarded funding, who would be the funder?

If you need to name the funder for your institutional costing processes, please use ‘the ESRC Digital Good Network at the University of Sheffield’. If successful, the funding contract would be with the University of Sheffield.  

When should successful projects start and end?  

The start date is any time from 1 August 2024. Projects don't have to start in August 2024, but we do want them to be finished by June 30 2025, unless there is a good reason to pause or delay (eg. parental leave).

The annual project showcase where the funded work is expected to be presented is in early 2025. How much work would you expect to be completed by then?

There are no set guidelines on this. Recipients of DGRF funding will have a well articulated project that they should be prepared to present at the showcase, but we appreciate that there may not be many concrete results at this stage.

Could you please tell us a little bit more about the annual project showcase event? Where was the previous event held? Which stakeholder groups were in attendance? What are you hoping to achieve with the second annual project showcase?

Our first showcase event took place in Sheffield in January 2024. Its aim was to bring together people involved in the Digital Good Network (core team members, PhD students, funded interns, members from the College of Experts, and research fund recipients) to help with our objective of network building. We have not yet finalised plans for future showcase/network building events, but we would expect the attendance of a representative from each successful project to attend the next showcase. Please be aware that travel and accommodation for this will be covered by the Network, so you should not include these costings in your proposal.