Don’t be fooled by the large sums of money available from the Global Challenges Research Fund – competition is fierce for these funds, and many researchers are leaving empty handed because they failed to understand that this is new type of funding. Standard UKRI calls only require an acceptable pathway to impact (and will let you revise your pathway if it isn’t acceptable and they like the research enough). In GCRF there are no second chances for a poor impact summary or pathway to impact. You also have to explain how your research contributes towards Official Development Assistance (more on that later). This is one of a number of factors feeding into an assessment of “GCRF relevance”, and if you don’t get a high score on that criterion, you are unfundable, no matter how good your research is. In short, GCRF requires us to take impact to a whole new level, just to get the chance to compete.
I’ve now sat on two GCRF panels, helped write a call and served as a reviewer, and I want others to learn what I’ve learned from this process, so we can all avoid wasting time on bids that are doomed to failure from the outset. I blogged about my experiences on an early GCRF panel last year and developed a range of resources for GCRF applicants to help people build partnerships, co-produce pathways to impact with in-country partners and create a Theory of Change. During my most recent panel experience I jotted down lessons as they emerged in a Twitter thread (which I had vetted by BBSRC before tweeting). Here, I have reproduced the key lessons, with the luxury of a few additional words, as I’m not writing on Twitter now. Although none of these should come as a surprise, the reaction on social media suggests that they are proving extremely useful to many people.
Interdisciplinarity social science often underpins impact, but don't include research or impact goals that require social science (like assessing barriers to adoption of your new ideas/tech) if you don't have a social scientist on your team
Include a monitoring and evaluation strategy in your pathway to impact - what are your milestones and how will you know when you have achieved impact? Actually collect data using indicators linked to your goals (tip: counting project website views isn't a great indicator)
Be specific in your ODA statement, including some figures of possible, to say exactly what level if benefit might be achievable (tip: don't just say how many million are affected by an issue and imply you will save them all)
GCRF panels grade proposals on GCRF relevance and if you do not score well in this area, you are unlikely to get funded even if you score well on scientific excellence. There are lots of factors, but the most common reason I saw for this was a poor pathway to impact
I often give up hope when I get a set of mixed reviews with some big negatives, but a strong PI response can save your proposal - we saw a couple of bids return from the dead on our panel
There are no rules on what the balance should be between funding for UK versus developing world partners, but if a large imbalance to UK institutions cannot be justified, your scores may be compromised.
Check out my resources for GCRF applicants: https://www.fasttrackimpact.com/gcrf-resources
GCRF training for UK academics: https://www.fasttrackimpact.com/gcrf
About the author
Mark is a recognized international expert in research impact with >150 publications that have been cited over 14,000 times. He holds a Research England and N8 funded Chair in Socio-Technical Innovation at Newcastle University, and has won awards for the impact of his research. His work has been funded by ESRC, STFC, NERC, AHRC and BBSRC, and he regularly collaborates and publishes with scholars ranging from the arts and humanities to physical sciences. He has reviewed research and sat on funding panels for the UK Research Councils (including MRC, BBSRC, ESRC, NERC), EU Horizon 2020 and many national and international research funders. He has been commissioned to write reports and talk to international policy conferences by the United Nations, has acted as a science advisor to the BBC, and is research lead for an international charity.
Mark regularly advises research funders, helping write funding calls, evaluating the impact of funding programmes and training their staff (his interdisciplinary approach to impact has been featured by the UKRI, the largest UK research funder, as an example of good practice). He also regularly advises on impact to policy makers (e.g. evaluating the impact of research funded by Scottish Government and Forest Research), research projects (e.g. via the advisory panel for the EU Horizon 2020 SciShops project) and agencies (e.g. Australian Research Data Common).