OPEN Fellowships 2021: Call for applications

This call closed on Monday 4 October 2021.

The University’s vision is of one Oxford, bringing together staff, students and alumni, colleges, faculties, departments and divisions in ways which benefit society on a local, regional, national and global scale, and fostering a culture in which innovation and collaboration play an important role. Accordingly Oxford’s researchers are increasingly recognised not only for their expertise and findings, but also for their ability to collaborate with policymakers and others to create new insights that inform and improve public policy.

The Oxford Policy Engagement Network is a growing network of researchers, doctoral students and professional services staff at the University of Oxford who share a vision of public policy powered by the world’s best available research evidence and expertise. Our partners are 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. Our research has made many of us passionate advocates for specific policy outcomes. We are nonetheless convinced that the greatest mutual benefit – to our research and to public policy – depends on engagement that enables co-design, collaboration and co-production with the policymaking community. We want to ensure that research of the highest quality clarifies, or expands, the range of options open to policymakers. More information about OPEN and its aims can be found in the OPEN Strategy.

This call closed on Monday 4 October 2021.

About the OPEN Fellowships

The University awards only a handful of OPEN Fellowships each year, drawing on its allocation from the Higher Education Innovation Fund. These are intended to enable recipients:

  • To understand better how research can inform policymaking, and develop the skills to catalyse that process;
  • 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 invite them to reciprocate; and
  • To develop and leverage networks and other resources to generate benefits to research, policy and the wider world.

Fellowships may involve a researcher spending time working closely with, or even embedded in a policymaking partner organisation for up to 9 months, or someone from such an organisation working closely with, or embedded in a University department or faculty. Partnerships could involve law-makers at devolved, national or supra-national level; civil service policy professionals and others who support law-makers; statutory bodies with responsibilities that are sectoral (e.g., regulators), regional (e.g. local councils) or subject-matter-related; international or intergovernmental organisations; or non-governmental organisations. 

For a lot of people, research and policy tend to exist in different worlds, but I have always wanted my research to be used by policy makers and others to deliver public benefit at the earliest opportunity. 
Dr Sivapriya Mothilal Bhagavathy, OPEN Fellow 2019
Department of Engineering Science

In the last three years, OPEN Fellows have worked with a range of UK policymakers, including:

  • Health care organisations in Wales to better understand and address factors affecting the success or failure of health technology projects;
  • Local authorities in Oxfordshire to develop innovative maps of natural capital, informing plans for a multi-billion-pound development region;
  • Climate change specialists at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to estimate more precisely the warming impact of short-lived greenhouse gases, and so help accelerate reduction in global warming.

Outside the UK, other OPEN Fellows have worked with policy partners:

  • At the Indian Ocean Commission to strengthen maritime security in the Indian Ocean;
  • In government ministries in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan to strengthen co-ordination between them in managing the rapid expansion of artisanal and large-scale mining; and
  • In Botswana, to rapidly scale-up and evaluate a 'low-tech' SMS and phone call intervention to stem children's learning losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Policy Engagement Team supports OPEN Fellows before, during and after their projects, individually and as a cohort.

Discover selected case studies of previous OPEN Fellows.


The deadline for applications is 5 p.m. on 4 October 2021. Applications should be submitted through IRAMS.

This call is a University-wide initiative funded via its allocation from the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF). Researchers from all disciplines and Divisions are eligible to apply.

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

This call is only open to researchers at the University of Oxford.

Thematic priorities

The panel welcome proposals relating to any areas of research and public policy. Proposals that contribute to improved public policy responses to COVID-19 (mitigating impact, supporting recovery, or both) would be particularly welcome.

See Selection Criteria below.


The University’s OPEN Steering Group, which includes representation from all four Divisions, 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. They will prioritise proposals that:

  • Contribute explicitly to one of OPEN's four overarching aims, set out in the OPEN Strategy;
  • Contribute to clear policy-related (as opposed to only research-related) goals;
  • Define realistic objectives that relate to a clearly identified policy (or policies), and to impact that is clearly connected with that (or those); and
  • Focus on activities that enable collaboration, co-design and co-delivery of those outputs with those who make or shape relevant policies.

This scheme will not fund:

  • Research consultancy;
  • Knowledge Transfer Partnerships;
  • Studentships or internships for Research Council-funded DPhil students, where these are funded through Research Council Doctoral Training Grants; or
  • Academic conferences lacking clear prospects of enabling policy engagement.

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

Proposals might support policymakers in one of the following ways:

  • Building partnerships with a view to shaping the policy agenda in local, regional, national or international contexts
  • Improving or supporting evidence-based policymaking
  • Developing and sustaining strategic relationships with key policymakers
  • Improving and diversifying the breadth of policy engagement at Oxford through policy partnerships

Proposals should not exceed £20,000 in eligible costs (these are set out in the Eligible Costs section below). Cash or in-kind contributions to project costs from external partners are expected to amount to at least 10% of funds requested. 

For 2021-2022 at least £80,000 is available for these fellowships, which must be completed by 31 July 2022.

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

  • Academic placements with policymaking or influencing organisations
  • Policy practitioner placements at the University of Oxford
  • Policy or evidence seminars (to facilitate knowledge exchange and develop ideas)
  • High-level stakeholder meetings
  • Policy practitioner meetings/workshops
  • Activities to facilitate the development and management of relationships with non-academic users/stakeholders
  • Co-design of tools and resources that emerge from research that can maximise the use of research outputs in policy practitioner communities
  • User-led and co-produced research, where researchers are engaging directly with users in jointly shaping the research agenda and in applying research to current issues relating to policy, strategy or practice

Policy Fellowships

The range of possible policy engagement activities and partners is broad. Fellows – whether from Oxford, or from within an external organisation – will work closely with their partners. If the Fellow is an ‘outgoing’ academic working with, or embedded in a policy partner organisation, they will share their knowledge to the benefit of their research/the academic field and the policymaking partners e.g., by providing innovative ideas for improving policies and processes, by contributing to improved service delivery, capacity building or product/service development or by providing specific expertise for an area they are working in. Researchers will benefit from the practice, knowledge and perspectives of the policy partners, feeding this experience back into their research to enable it to be more relevant and useful to end users.

‘Through the OPEN Fellowship, we developed a national policy brief translating our research into strategies for maximising the data that wildlife rangers collect to tackle elephant poaching. I’m thrilled to report that the draft brief has been endorsed by senior Zimbabwean government officials and work is now underway to begin implementing our recommendations.’ 
Dr Timothy Kuiper, OPEN Fellow 2020
Department of Zoology

If the Fellow is an ‘incoming’ partner from an external policy organisation, they will benefit from working closely with researchers, e.g. learning/using research skills, utilising data, literature and equipment not normally accessible to them or developing critical analysis skills. The aim is that this involvement with research will feed into their normal practice and forge closer relations between the University and their organisations and networks.

Funding will be provided flexibly to cover project costs as required. This can include costs to cover salary or salary buy-out of the academic or incoming partner, as well as well-justified direct project costs, for projects of up to 9 months. Fellows (whether outgoing academics, or incoming practitioner partners) will be expected to spend most of the project time (no less than 50%) working with their partner organisation; significant partner engagement is required. 

In terms of salary costs, the award can be used as follows:

For established researchers, the award is intended to provide the following options:

a) A period of buy-out from a current contract with a college, department or faculty (subject to agreement of all parties); or

b) Hourly-paid research assistance roughly equivalent to the value of a term’s buyout (this must be supported through your faculty/department);

For early career researchers (ECRs) undertaking the Fellowship, supported by a senior researcher as PI, the award can provide salary costs for the duration of the award, either full-time or part-time. The award size has been calculated based on six months of salary at the Division’s standard entry level for postdoctoral researchers - grade 7, point 1. However, salary rates above 7.1 can also be used for existing employees on higher points of the scale.

For incoming visiting Fellows from external organisations – salary costs may be eligible. Please see the Eligible Costs section below for further guidance.


Applications are welcomed from members of any department or faculty at the University of Oxford. Approval from the Head of Department is required.

Researchers are encouraged to join OPEN before applying. Application takes less than 5 minutes and can be completed here.

The OPEN Fellowship has enabled me to expand my horizons beyond academia, engaging with Public Health England and others to inform public health policy on adaptation and resilience to climate change. 
Dr Neven Fučkar, OPEN Fellow 2020
School of Geography and the Environment

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

All applications must include at least one external non-academic partner organisation.

An Academic Lead on a fixed term contract must ensure their current contract extends significantly beyond the proposed project end date.The Principal Investigator must hold an academic post or be a PI on a research contract 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.

  • Early Career Researchers (ECRs) may not serve as Academic Leads but may apply as Fellows. ECRs are defined as being within four years of the submission of their doctoral thesis. This limit can be extended in exceptional circumstances e.g., extended periods of illness, maternity or paternity leave, etc.

A Fellow should be an academic employed by a department or faculty who will spend time working closely with or, if possible, be embedded within an external non-academic organisation/s or a practitioner from the partner organisation who will spend time at the University

  • Early Career Researchers (ECRs) may apply as Fellows
  • DPhil students are only eligible to apply as an ECR Fellow if they will have submitted their thesis and are awaiting examination at the point their project will commence. Masters students are not eligible to apply.

College-based academics at Oxford wishing to serve as an Academic Lead or Policy Fellow 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.

Project staff not already employed by the University must be able to demonstrate their eligibility to work in the United Kingdom.

NB: If you move to another university during the course of your project, this funding will not transfer with you.

Eligible costs

Eligible costs can include any of the following:

  • Salary costs for ECRs
  • Salary buy-out/teaching replacement for Fellows
  • Salary costs of 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

* 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.

Policy will only work if it’s informed by the best available evidence. But merely producing research evidence isn’t always enough. One of the most effective things we can do for good policy is help to build practical tools.
Dr Michelle Cain, OPEN Fellow 2019
Oxford Martin School

** Funding for these schemes 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.

* In certain circumstances it may be appropriate to cover some costs at the partner organisation, if the participation of the partner organisation is essential to the success of the project, but would otherwise be prohibited by cost. Please also note that VAT cannot be recovered so must be included in the costs where necessary). If the Fellow is incoming from an external organisation, or a partner is delivering services in aid of the project, any additional costs including VAT need to be checked and factored in to the budget at application stage.Applicants are expected to demonstrate in their proposal that there is a genuine commitment from project partner organisations. Cash or in-kind contributions to project costs from external partners are expected to amount to at least 10% of funds requested. [In 2020 in-kind contributions from partners amounted to 21% of funds requested by successful applications.]

Efficiency, cost-effectiveness and value for money should be clearly demonstrated in the application. Payments will not be made for miscellaneous expenses or unspecified items. If you are unsure about the eligibility of a specific expense, please contact us for further guidance.

How to apply


Applications should be submitted via IRAMS.

  1. Complete the online section of the application
  2. Download and complete the Case for Support template from IRAMS
  3. Combine the Case for Support with the other supporting documents into a single PDF
  4. Upload the single PDF file to IRAMS, which should comprise:
  • Case for Support, with all relevant fields completed
  • Letter(s) of support from external partner(s)
  • A CV (for ECR or incoming Fellow) – max. 1 A4 page
  • Statement of support from Head of Department
  • Breakdown of costs presented as an X5 admin output.

*Please check with your department for internal approval procedures and deadlines. Some departments require significant notice to check and submit proposals, so we advise that you seek guidance from your departmental administrator as soon as you are considering making an application.


Apply through IRAMS. Complete the online form and download the statement of support. Complete the statement and create a combined PDF which includes all of the documents listed above.

The earliest start date under this call is 8 November 2021.

Projects must be completed and all funds spent by 31 July 2022. No extensions can be given after this date.

Case for Support

ECRs should confirm their eligibility by stating either the date of their Doctoral Award or the date of their thesis submission.

Project details | These should include the following

  • Overview – What are the challenge(s) the Fellow and partners will tackle? How will tackle it/them? And how does their project relate to recent/current developments in research and policymaking environments?
  • Goal – What is the ultimate goal of this collaboration? What difference will it make? To/for whom?
  • Outcomes – By the end of the project what will be the benefits to research, policy or and when – in terms of societal benefit, impact on policy, legislation, regulation or approaches to them? How will success be measured?
  • Outputs – What will the Fellow and partners jointly or separately deliver? How will these outputs contribute to achievement of the outcomes identified above?
  • Activities – What is required to deliver the outputs listed above? Who will do what? By when? How will the Fellow and partners collaborate in designing and delivering the proposed outputs? How will they manage the fellowship placement/visits in practice? How will they monitor progress?

List of publications | Applicants should provide a list of 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).

Additional budget information | Please provide headline budget information in this section. The total of requested resources cannot exceed £20,000 and should match the PRICE on the costing output(s). Cash or in-kind contributions to project costs from external partners are expected to amount to at least 10% of funds requested. If these are in kind, applicants should, in consultation with partners, estimate their monetary value.

Declaration of Interest | According to the University’s 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 Services guidance page.

Research Integrity and Ethics | All awards must, in addition, meet current University requirements and policy 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.

Letter of support from external partners

A letter of support (1 side, maximum) should be provided by each partner organisation with whom the project is proposed. 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.

The letter should describe how the project will benefit the partner organisation; and outline the support that will be provided to the applicant and the arrangements that will be made to host the secondment. Include a named individual from this organisation responsible for the project.

In instances where obtaining a support letter is particularly difficult/inappropriate at the proposal stage, we may accept applications without, and subsequently offer a conditional award pending presentation of a letter of support.

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 detailed breakdown of the project costs is required. In IRAMS, please give a clear breakdown of the resources requested up to a maximum of £20,000.

You are also asked to provide an FEC costing. This should be presented in the form of an admin output from the University’s costing and pricing software, X5. Please ask your research administrator or finance officer to produce the X5 costing for you. (See Call Doc B for instructions for this costing). 

The total requested in IRAMS should match the PRICE on your X5 costing output.

Include the X5 admin output as part of your combined PDF of supporting documentation.

Selection process

Funding will be awarded competitively by a process of peer review. The OPEN Steering Group will make the final decisions, based on an assessment of the applications against the selection criteria outlined below. To date, applicants have enjoyed a 42% success rate.

Applicants will be notified of the outcome of their application during the week beginning 8 November 2021. Results will be issued by email. Feedback from the panel review will be available on request.

Selection criteria

The Steering Group aim to support high quality proposals which (a) show strong potential to accelerate and deliver impact in policy arising from excellent research and (b) demonstrate commitment to developing productive partnerships with policy partners. Proposals that contribute to improved public policy responses to COVID-19 (mitigating impact, supporting recovery, or both) would be particularly welcome.

The panel will also consider the following criteria when reviewing the applications:

  • 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 external partners beyond the academy and likely importance of the research expertise to those partners;
  • Design & methods – Effectiveness of project/activity design and methods, particularly involvement of external partners at all stages of the project (co-design, co-delivery and policy-making involvement in dissemination are encouraged);
  • Usefulness – Timeliness of the outcomes for external partners and the ability of the project/activities to meet external partners’ needs;
  • Value for money – Value for money, including demonstrable investment (cash or in-kind) by external partners, if appropriate.

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 being a Fellow and of their 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.

Short summaries of the awarded projects will be prepared, in consultation with the PI and Co-Is. These summaries are intended for a lay audience and will be shared via the Social Sciences Division website. We will provide these materials to award holders for their own use, to publicise their project via their departmental/personal websites.

Reporting requirements 

In order to meet the conditions of their grant, award holders will need to submit periodic reports. Reporting requirements are intended to be light-touch and reports should be brief. Reports will be the key mechanism to collect critical information for reporting to the funders and will assist the SSD Research & Impact Team in monitoring progress and managing any issues that arise. 

A schedule of reporting dates will be provided with award offer letters. Award holders (PIs) will be contacted with an email reminder closer to the dates that reports are due for submission. The emails will include a number of questions to help shape your reports.

  • Mid-project report – For projects exceeding 6 months in length, a progress report is required at the mid-point of activities. This report should outline progress with the delivery of the project, highlight any interim lessons learned, and outline any particular challenges with the project, partners or finances, which might delay or impede successful project completion. For awards shorter than 6 months, no mid-project report is required.
  • End-of-project report – The end-of-project report should evaluate the project, demonstrate the impact and benefits for both the researcher and the partner organisation, and detail any future plans for ongoing engagement with the partner organisation. This report should be submitted within 1 month of the end of the project.
  • Impact report – The impact report should briefly outline further impacts achieved in the 6 months following the project’s completion. The aim is to capture any impact that has developed since the project’s completion date.



  • 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 Eligibility section 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 below at your earliest convenience and no later than 10 working days before the deadline to ensure adequate time is available for review and revisions.

Get some inspiration for your KE and impact activities from Oxford:

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

Policy Engagement: Guidance and Resources

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

ESRC IAA funded project summaries – short summaries of projects funded to date

TORCH KE Fellowships info

Oxford Impacts case study series

Oxford’s KE and Impact pages

… and from elsewhere: 

ESRC Guidance for Collaboration

ESRC Impact Toolkit

ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize - watch winners’ impact videos

ESRC Impact case studies – read case studies or watch videos

‘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)

LSE Impact Blog

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

Rebuilding a Resilient Britain: outputs from a programme in July 2020, covening 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

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

Science for Policy Handbook (Elsevier)

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

Transforming Evidence (Blog)

Useful contacts

Applicants are encouraged to approach their departmental/faculty grants team in the first instance. The lead contacts for this funding are the University’s Policy Engagement Team. Please address enquiries relating to eligibility to

For support in developing proposals, please contact

  • Humanities | Jessie Simkiss, Humanities & Public Policy Officer
  • Social Sciences | Will Pryor, Head of Policy Engagement
  • Maths, Life and Physical Sciences | Jess Hedge, OPEN Co-ordinator
  • Medical Sciences | Naomi Gibson, Policy & Public Engagement Coordinator
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