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How can impact funding help us “build back better”? Opportunities for researchers in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

In today’s blog, Dr Madeleine Beveridge, Knowledge Exchange and Impact Coordinator in Edinburgh Research Office outlines how university impact funding can help make a difference to people’s lives outside academia.

Funding Impact in light of Covid

The past 18 months have been incredibly difficult for both university researchers, and external organisations. Charities, businesses, and public sector bodies have all seen reductions in capacity while trying to find ways to adapt their services, or responding to increased demand.

The pandemic also highlighted challenges that existed pre-Covid, for example around inequalities and access to services, food insecurity, precarious employment, and social isolation. People began to talk about “building back better”: how do we ensure that as society rebuilds, it does so in a way that avoids these pre-pandemic pitfalls?

Now that restrictions are lifting, those images of a deserted Old Town and empty bypass have started to fade. We may wonder if we have missed the boat in terms of creating a more equal and sustainable society. While it is true that behaviours often do revert to the mean extremely quickly (I too queued outside my local garden centre for fancy flowerpots as soon as it was open again), it’s also true that academics at Edinburgh have used their research in arts, humanities and social science to make a real difference in some of these areas.

Since April 2019, we have awarded £606,930 from the University’s ESRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA)– supporting 55 projects and 93 partnerships with external organisations. Almost 60% of our PIs are Early Career Researchers (ECRs), something we were particularly keen to encourage in light of Covid and the potential impact on ECR careers. Many projects that received IAA funding go on to further develop these collaborations, with almost half of projects receiving follow on funding from other sources.

Although we waived match funding for our successful Rapid Response scheme in Spring-Summer 2020, the core scheme does require match funding from partners, and we initially wondered whether we would receive fewer applications once we reverted to this model. In fact, applications have doubled since autumn 2019, and match funding has actually increased: a sign that partners are willing to commit their own time and resource to work with academics where there is potential to make a difference.

What sort of projects get funded?

The majority (27%) of ESRC IAA projects aim to tackle social inequalities. The next biggest areas of impact are improving health and wellbeing (16%), supporting the economy (16%), supporting green transition (11%), improving educational outcomes (11%) and encouraging citizen participation (7%).

Projects achieve these changes in a range of ways, for example: mapping cultural engagement across Edinburgh (Morgan Currie, SPS), organising online “food stories” workshops with volunteers (Mary Brennan, Business), developing a pilot Micro-mobility app highlighting safer cycle and walking routes through Indian cities (Bhattacharya, Law); creating new guidelines for AI in education (Knox, Education). You can find a list of successful projects on our new Engagement Hub (EASE log in required).

The key criteria for any internal KEI funding is that projects must aim to create impact outside academia, and be based on underpinning research. This means that you can’t use the funding to do primary research itself, and that the activities you plan must use or be informed by your (completed or ongoing) research. We sometimes get applications that are clearly a Good Thing, but where these cannot demonstrate a link to relevant research, we do have to turn these down.

As mentioned above, ESRC IAA projects also need to be submitted with at least one partner (non-academic) organisation, who must match the amount requested in cash or in kind (e.g. staff time).

If you have an idea for using your research to improve people’s lives in Scotland, the UK, or beyond, we invite you to apply for one of the funding schemes outlined below.

KEI funding opportunities for arts, humanities and social science

The University has specific funding available to support researchers in developing knowledge exchange with a clear pathway to non-academic impact. For researchers in arts, humanities and social science, the main schemes are:

  • School specific scheme: some schools have designated funds to support early stage KEI.
  • CAHSS Knowledge Exchange and Impact Grants: £2-3k or exceptionally £5k; timelines below.
  • ESRC Impact Acceleration Grants: Up to £20k; timelines below.
  • ESRC Impact Acceleration placement scheme: Up to £12k; open deadline.

We have recently launched the Autumn 2021 calls for the CAHSS Knowledge Exchange and Impact Grant, and ESRC Impact Acceleration Grants.

We are running an information session for researchers about both schemes on 9 September:

There will be a separate Q & A event for staff in School Research Offices who support these applications, on 7 September:

Timeline for CAHSS Knowledge Exchange & Impact Grants

  • 3 August 2021: Call opens.
  • 5pm on 28 October 2021: Deadline for full applications (School deadlines will be earlier).
  • Week beginning 15 November 2021: Decisions from panel.

Timeline for ESRC Impact Acceleration Grants

The Impact Acceleration Grants offer a larger amount of money, and therefore have a longer review process, including shortlisting and a pitch to peer session for applicants to present their projects.

  • 3 August 2021: Call opens.
  • 5pm on 4 October 2021: Deadline for expressions of interest (EOI) (non-binding, however we can’t accept full applications that don’t submit an EOI. Early submissions encouraged).
  • 5 pm on 4 November 2021: Deadline for full applications (School deadlines will be earlier).
  • Week commencing 3 December 2021: Shortlisting complete; applicants notified.
  • Week commencing 10 December 2021: Pitch to peer session for shortlisted applicants; decisions from panel.
  • Week commencing 10 January 2022: Earliest start date for projects.

We’re looking forward to seeing your applications!

Further information

Find Funding – Knowledge exchange and impact funding (EASE log in required) – details of opportunities and information on the application process.

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Madeleine Beveridge


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