EPSRC Accepting Applications for Protecting Citizens Online – Complementary Projects

Funding from the SPF Protecting Citizens Online (PCO) programme to support research projects that address the needs of citizens online, help them control how their data is used and protect them from online harms.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), in collaboration with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), is administering a call to support research projects that address the needs of citizens online, help them control how their data is used and protect them from online harms.

This is the second of two phases that make up the Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) Protecting Citizens Online (PCO) programme. It aims to fund a portfolio of projects that complement and align with (but not replicate) the National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence Online (REPHRAIN), which was funded through phase one.

The call specifically seeks to fund research into the diverse and changing realities of citizens’ needs online, and empower them to understand and control how their data is used. This will create user-focused tools to mitigate online harms whilst enabling data sharing to maximise societal benefit in the digital economy.

Projects are expected to address at least one of the following three research themes:

  • Understanding citizens’ needs and empowering them in ever-changing threat contexts, where those aiming to exploit users’ data regularly adapt their approaches as privacy and harm reduction measures are put in place
  • Navigating information asymmetries between state, companies and citizens, and enabling citizens to make informed decisions about their data transactions and online behaviour
  • Understanding the balance between the use of data-centric applications for the common good and protecting citizens’ interests in the digital age

Projects should be interdisciplinary and collaborative in nature. Projects are expected to engage with REPHRAIN during its lifetime, including attending all-hands meetings and undertaking joint work to incorporate project outcomes into the REPHRAIN Map and the REPHRAIN Toolbox in order to achieve the wider aims of the PCO programme.

Standard EPSRC eligibility rules apply. The grants are open to UK higher education institutions, research council institutes, UKRI-approved independent research organisations, NHS bodies with research capacity and public sector research establishments (PSRE). Full guidance on institutional eligibility is available here.

Individuals resident in the UK may apply if they meet at least one of the following conditions:

  • Are employed at the submitting research organisation
  • Hold a fixed-term contract that extends beyond the duration of the proposed project, and the host research organisation is prepared to provide all the support normal for a permanent employee
  • Hold an EPSRC, Royal Society or Royal Academy of Engineering fellowship aimed at later career stages
  • Hold fellowships under other schemes (please contact EPSRC to check eligibility, which is considered on a case-by-case basis)

The investigatory team must comprise a mix of disciplines relevant to the research questions. It must be balanced across the technical and social sciences and humanities, with at least two co-investigators from disciplines within different research councils’ remits.

The proposed project must involve collaborations with at least one of the following: industry; government; policy; and third sector project partners. In addition, projects must demonstrate engagement with citizens, and co-design integrated at the heart of the research methodology.

The total value of this fund is £11 million to support four projects. Individual projects should have a full Economic Cost (fEC) of £3.44 million, and applicants can apply for a maximum of £2.75 million.

Projects must last for three years starting on 1 April 2022 and ending on 31 March 2025.

Mandatory intent to submit forms should be submitted by the 22 June 2021 (16:00) deadline.

Applications should be submitted by the 6 July 2021 (16:00) deadline.