Public Policy Challenge Fund

This call is a University-wide initiative funded via its allocation from Research England’s Quality-related Policy Support Fund (formerly Strategic Priorities Fund). Researchers from all disciplines and Divisions are eligible to apply. This call is only open to researchers at the University of Oxford.

Researchers are encouraged to join the Oxford Policy Engagement Network (OPEN) before applying. Application takes less than 10 minutes.

The deadline for applications is 12:00 GMT, 30 November 2021.

Applications should be submitted through IRAMS.

The guidance below is also available to download:

Useful contacts

Applicants are encouraged to approach their departmental or divisional grants team in the first instance. Please address enquiries about eligibility to For support in developing proposals, please contact

1. Introduction

The University is keen to support researchers who share a vision of public policy powered by the world’s best available research evidence and expertise, equipping them to share their knowledge and expertise with the policymaking community so that, together, research and policymaking communities can contribute to better policies that protect what is valuable, and change the world for the better.

Many researchers are developing partnerships with members of the policymaking community in national and local governments, and arms-length bodies; in national parliaments and devolved assemblies; in civil society; in the UK, and around the world, including in international organisations. Through co-design, collaboration and co-production, they are ensuring that research of the highest quality clarifies, or expands, the range of options open to policymakers.

Strategic aims

This call is open to researchers from all disciplines and Divisions at the University who can contribute to one or more of the aims of the Oxford Policy Engagement Network (OPEN) Strategy:

  • To share evidence with policymakers and support its use in decision-making, improving access for the policymaking community to the best available evidence and expertise from across the University, and inviting them to reciprocate;
  • To understand policymaking better, deepening our understanding of how research can inform policymaking, and developing the relevant skills to catalyse that process, where possible through engagement;
  • To broaden and deepen policy networks, by creating and developing more opportunities for engagement, including through participation in relevant internal and external networks; or
  • To strengthen leadership for policy engagement, by promoting greater reward and recognition of excellence in policy engagement at all career stages.

This call is funded by Research England’s Quality-related Policy Support Fund (formerly Strategic Priorities Fund), allocated to invest in new interdisciplinary programmes and to help solve pressing public policy challenges.

The Policy Engagement Team supports award-holders before, during and after their projects, individually and as a cohort.

2. Scope

The OPEN Steering Group is looking for practical and innovative proposals from members of any department or faculty at the University that enable them and their policy partners to share evidence, expertise and experience for mutual benefit.

 The Steering Group would particularly welcome proposals that contribute to

  • Securing global net zero, adaptation to protect communities and natural habitats, mobilising finance in support of those, or strengthen related collaboration; or
  • Social or economic aspects of the UK government's levelling-up agenda.

The Steering Group will prioritise proposals that:

  • Contribute to clear policy-related goals;
  • Define realistic outcomes that relate to clearly identified policies, and to outputs that are clearly connected with those; and
  • Focus on activities that enable collaboration, co-design and co-delivery of those outputs with those who make or shape relevant policies.

Proposals may relate to continuation of ongoing or earlier activities, or substantially new activities. The former must clearly demonstrate the added value of further funding and the potential for timely impact.

Under the terms of this funding, proposals may also include costs already incurred since 1 April 2021, subject to the eligibility criteria set out in Section 4.

Proposals should not normally exceed £50,000 in eligible costs. (These are set out in Section 4 below.) Cash or in-kind contributions from partners should be quantified and entered in IRAMS.

At least £500,000 is available for projects in the scope of this call, all of which must be completed by 31 May 2022.

The following kinds of activity are among those that may be supported:

  • New research, produced in partnership with policymakers, particularly to better understand local, regional or national challenges, enabling the policymaking community to inform the research agenda, and both partners to apply research to policy challenges
  • Seminars or workshops that facilitate the use of existing research, and the exchange of knowledge, between universities and policymakers
  • Activity aimed at improving the dialogue between universities and policymakers
  • Activity and training to better equip researchers at all career stages to communicate effectively with policymakers
  • Academic placements in the policymaking community, and placements of members of the policymaking community at the University
  • Co-design of tools and resources that emerge from research that can maximise the use of research outputs in the policymaking community

3. Eligibility

Applications are welcome from members of any department or faculty at the University of Oxford. Departmental approval is required.

Researchers are encouraged to join OPEN before applying. Application takes less than 10 minutes and can be completed here.

Many departments have internal eligibility criteria, approval processes and other guidelines to which all applicants should adhere. Please consult your departmental administrator.

Applications are expected to involve at least one named partner in the policymaking community.

The Principal Investigator must hold an academic post, or a research fellowship awarded competitively, and intended to enable the holder to establish an independent research career. If you are in any doubt of your eligibility, please contact for clarification. A PI on a fixed term contract must ensure their current contract extends until at least 31 August 2022.

Early Career Researchers (ECRs) (i.e., within four years of the submission of their doctoral thesis) who do not meet the criteria above may apply as Co-Investigator.

DPhil and Masters students are not eligible to apply.

College-based academics at Oxford must apply via a department or faculty. Awards can only be held in departments or faculties, not in colleges.

Retired and Emeritus Fellows are ineligible.

If the PI moves to another university during the course of their project, this funding will not transfer with them.

4. Eligible costs

Eligible costs can include any of the following

  • Salary costs of ECRs and project staff, e.g. research assistants
  • Travel and subsistence (for researchers, external partners or delegates)*
  • Project costs (publishing, venue hire, transcription, IT)
  • Consultancy/professional fees, e.g. for external partners
  • Equipment

Funding for this call is not provided on a full economic cost (FEC) basis. Estates and indirect costs are not covered by this funding but 100% of direct costs will be covered.

* Travel and accommodation costs are also eligible, but should be calculated with close attention to travel and other restrictions as they affect partners and other participants at time of application.

Applicants are expected to demonstrate in their proposal that there is a genuine commitment from partner organisations. Cash or in-kind contributions from partners should be quantified and entered in IRAMS.

In certain circumstances it may be appropriate to cover some costs of a partner organisation, where these are essential to the success of the project but would otherwise be prohibited by cost. VAT cannot be recovered so must be included in the costs where necessary.

Efficiency, cost-effectiveness and value for money should be clearly demonstrated in the application. Payments will not be approved for miscellaneous expenses or unspecified items. Applicants who are unsure about the eligibility of a specific expense, should contact the Policy Engagement Team for further guidance.

5. How to apply

DEADLINE: 1200 GMT, 30 November 2021

Applications should be submitted via IRAMS.

Complete the online section of the application
Download and complete the Case for Support template from IRAMS 

Combine the Case for Support with the other supporting documents into a single .pdf file 4. Upload the .pdf file to IRAMS, which should comprise:

  • Case for Support, with all relevant fields completed 
  • Letter(s) of support from external partner(s)
  • Statement of support from Head of Department

* Please check with your department for internal approval procedures and deadlines.


  • Apply through IRAMS. Complete the online form and download the Case for Support.
  • If you are requesting funding for any costs already incurred (since 1 April 2021), please make this clear in the budget section of your application, and ensure that the project start date in IRAMS also reflects this.
  • The earliest start date for new activity is 1 January 2022.
  • Projects must be completed and all funds spent by 31 May 2022. No extensions can be given after this date.

Case for Support

Project details | These should include the following:

  • Project partner(s) – Have you had any relevant previous meetings or collaborations with your project partners? When did they take place? (Maximum 100 words)
  • Project overview – What challenge(s) you and your partners will tackle, and how you and they will tackle it/them; how this project relates to the strategic aims of the call, either of the priorities identified in Section 2 (above), and the latest relevant developments in research and policymaking environments. (Maximum 100 words)
  • Project goal – What is the ultimate goal of this collaboration? What difference will it make? To/for whom? (Maximum 100 words)
  • Project outcomes – By the end of the project, what will be the benefits to research and policy, in terms of societal benefit, impact on policy, legislation, regulation or approaches to them? How will success be measured? (Maximum 200 words)
  • Project outputs – What outputs will you and your partners jointly or separately deliver? How will these contribute to achievement of the outcomes identified? (Maximum 200 words)
  • Activities – What is required to deliver the outputs listed above? Who will do what? By when? How will partners collaborate in designing and delivering the proposed outputs? (Maximum 200 words)
  • Monitoring, evaluation and learning – How will you monitor and evaluate progress, and learn from this project? You are encouraged to consider this guidance, these resources and tools. (Maximum 200 words)

Relevant research publications | Applicants should provide a list of up to five publications relevant to the proposed project to demonstrate their experience and the quality of their research in this area. Applicants’ career stage will be taken into consideration when assessing relevant experience so as not to disadvantage ECRs.

Declaration of Interest | In keeping with the University’s conflict of interest policy, please use the space provided on in IRAMS to disclose activities/relationships with any of the external organisations partnering in your project that might give rise to conflicts of interest or the perception of conflicts, and describe how, if necessary, they will be managed or avoided. Conflicts of interest may be financial or non-financial or both. For more information on declaring interests, please see the Research Support guidance page.

Research Integrity and Ethics | All awards must, in addition, meet current University requirements and policies concerning research integrity and ethics. If your fellowship involves human participants or personal data, you should ensure that an ethical review is completed prior to commencing your project. Further information can be found on the Research Support website.

Statement of support from lead partner

A letter (or e-mail) of support (maximum 1 side) should be provided by the lead partner organisation. The organisation should demonstrate an understanding of the proposed activities, their role and contribution to the project.

The letter should describe how the project will benefit the partner organisation and outline the support that will be provided to the applicant. A named individual from this organisation will be required to be responsible for overseeing the project.

Any award made in the absence of such a letter will be conditional on provision of one.

Statement of support from the Head of Department

A short statement of support from the Head of Department for the Academic Lead (1 side, maximum) should be provided. It should explain the benefit of the project to both the applicant and the department/faculty and detail any contributions the department/faculty plan to make to the project. In cases with multiple Academic Leads from the same department, a single collective support statement from their Head of Department is adequate.

It is important for the department/faculty to give support because they will be responsible for providing administrative and HR support to applicants throughout the project. This may include financial management, negotiating contracts, hiring new staff and providing desk space as required.

This statement must come from the Head of Department/Faculty rather than the head of Institute or Centre (where relevant), and should include a signature. Where the head of department is one of the Academic Leads, the proposal should be approved by either a Deputy Head or Research Director/Coordinator.

Where proposals include staff time for researchers based in a different department to the Academic Lead(s), a statement should be provided by all departments involved.


A breakdown of the project costs is required. In IRAMS, please give a clear breakdown of the resources requested up to a maximum of £50,000.

Please consult your administrator about the preparation of costings. The department or faculty is responsible for confirming the accuracy of the costings.

6. Selection process

The OPEN Steering Group will make final decisions, based on an assessment of the applications against the selection criteria outlined below. Applicants will be notified by email of the outcome of their application by 17 December 2021.

7. Selection criteria

The OPEN Steering Group aim to support high quality proposals which (a) show strong potential to deliver policy impact arising from excellent research and (b) demonstrate a commitment to co-design, collaboration and co-production with the policymaking community.

The following criteria will also be considered at review stage:

  • Quality and potential of partnership – Applications showing the potential of the relationships and scoping work to lead onto future collaboration will be prioritised.
  • Contribution – Contribution to knowledge for partners in the policymaking community and likely importance of the research expertise to those partners;
  • Design and methods – Effectiveness of project design and methods, particularly involvement of policymaking partners throughout the project;
  • Usefulness – Timeliness of the outcomes for external partners and the ability of the project to meet external partners’ needs; and
  • Value for money – including demonstrable investment (cash or in-kind) by partners, if appropriate.

8. Sharing best practice

We would like to use successful applications as an exemplar for future applicants. Please bear this in mind if your application is successful. All sensitive data will be removed from applications before they are shared. You will be given an opportunity to opt-out of sharing your proposal. We would also like to invite successful applicants to share their experiences of policy engagement. This may take the form of helping to deliver a briefing or training session, sharing ideas with other colleagues or helping to provide materials to raise the profile of policy engagement in the University. We will contact applicants on an individual basis with requests for support when appropriate.

9. Reporting

Successful applicants will be required to submit two reports:

  • End-of-project report – This will enable the award-holder to evaluate outcomes and progress towards the planned goal, demonstrate the impact and benefits for both the researcher and the partner organisation, and detail any future plans for ongoing engagement. This will be requested by the Policy Engagement Team in April 2022 (or earlier, for relevant projects) and will be drawn on for reporting to Research England. 
  • Impact report – This will enable the award-holder to outline further impacts achieved in the six months following the project’s completion, and will also be requested by the Policy Engagement Team.

10. Further guidance, resources and support

Exemplar successful applications | Several previously successful HEIF KE Fellowship applications can be found on the SharePoint site curated by SSD’s Research, Impact and Engagement Team.

Eligibility queries | See Section 3 (above). Applicants in any doubt about their eligibility should email

Advice from the Policy Engagement Team | For support in developing or refining an application, get in touch with the relevant Divisional contact named on page 1 (above) at your earliest convenience and no later than 10 working days before the deadline to ensure adequate time is available for review and revisions.

Please find below some sources of inspiration, information and guidance from the Policy Engagement Team and others at Oxford:

Oxford’s Experience in Policy Engagement – news, stories, and advice from OPEN Fellows and other policy-engaged researchers at Oxford

Policy Engagement: guidance and resources

Social Sciences Division impact case studies – lay summaries of successful impact stories

TORCH KE Fellowships and other projects – run by the Humanities Division

Oxford Impacts case study series

Oxford’s KE and Impact pages

... and from elsewhere:

‘Engaging with local government: A Guide for Academics’ (University of Cambridge)

‘Guidance on Planning and demonstrating Effective Policy Engagement’ (Arts & Humanities Research Council)

‘How to engage with policy makers: a guide for academics in the arts and humanities’ (Institute for Government, Arts & Humanities Research Council)

‘Routes to Policy Impact: A Practical Guide for Academics and Researchers’ (University of Nottingham)

ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize - watch winners’ impact videos

ESRC Guidance for Collaboration 

ESRC Impact case studies – read case studies or watch videos

ESRC Impact Toolkit

Policy Impact: A ‘how to guide’ for researchers (University of Cambridge)

Rebuilding a Resilient Britain: outputs from a programme in July 2020, convening researchers, funders and policymakers to identify evidence and uncover research gaps around cross-cutting Areas of Research Interest (Government Office for Science)

Research England’s Knowledge exchange pages

Science for Policy Handbook (Elsevier)

Transforming Evidence (blog)

In December 2020 researchers at Oxford won support from Research England’s Strategic Priorities Fund (now the Policy Support Fund) to work with a wide range of partners in local, national and international contexts, including

Health Education England, promoting ethical use of genomic health information for individuals and society;

The Church Commissioners, focusing on a review of the Mission and Pastoral Measure (2011);

The International Chamber of Commerce (UK), working to define and address the major concerns, challenges and opportunities around UK trade policy; and

The Oracy All-Party Parliamentary Group, informing its ‘Speak for Change’ inquiry and co-authoring the final report;

The UK Cabinet Office, focused on improving the policy relevance and scope of the Oxford Covid-19 Government Response Tracker;

UNESCO, to develop understanding of the geological foundations of the Sustainable Development Goals through designation of a UN International Geodiversity Day.

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