ACCESS - Advancing Capacity for Climate  and Environment Social Science
ACCESS - Advancing Capacity for Climate  and Environment Social Science
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Flex Fund FAQs

Round 2 grants (from £200,000 – £240,000)  

Call for applications

Flex Fund webinar 

Please find a recording of the webinar that took place on Monday 19 February 2024 here. The webinar included a Q&A session which you might find helpful. Questions were recorded on an online noticeboard which remains open until Friday 26 April. 

1. What is ACCESS?

ACCESS is a five-year climate and environment social science project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. It is led by Professor Patrick Devine-Wright of the University of Exeter, with Professor Birgitta Gatersleben of the University of Surrey as Deputy Director. ACCESS aims to provide social science leadership and new solutions to support the transition to a sustainable and biodiverse environment and a net zero society. ACCESS runs until 31 January 2027.


2. What is the aim of the ACCESS Flex Fund?

The ACCESS Flex Fund aims to develop new ways of thinking, new approaches and new networks that will enhance the visibility, use and impact of the social sciences to address the transition to a sustainable and biodiverse environment and a net zero society. It also aims to provide project leadership opportunities for researchers who have not had that experience.


3. How large is the Flex Fund?

The ACCESS Flex Fund has a total value of £1,000,000 at 100% full economic costing (fEC) and has two separate rounds. Round 1 grants were awarded to 9 projects in July 2023 with each project receiving up to £30K. In Round 2, we are looking to fund about three projects between £200-240K each. Applicants to Round 2 are not limited to teams who were successful in Round 1. That said, Round 2 can offer a pathway to larger grant funding for project ideas that are funded in Round 1 (e.g. moving from smaller scale pilot projects to larger scale implementation).  


4. Who is eligible to be part of the application teams for a Round 2 award? 

Lead applicants will need to be employed in an institution eligible to receive UKRI funding for the duration of the project, but are not required to have an existing contract for that period.  

PIs and Co-Is who are working across more than one project at the same time should ensure that their total commitment time across the projects does not exceed their contracted hours (which we normally take to be around 37.5/week). 

Since one aim of the Flex Fund is to provide project leadership opportunities for researchers, applications to Round 2 MUST have an early career researcher (ECR) in the project team, either playing a Principal Investigator (Project Lead) or Co-Investigator role.   

Where internal institutional rules prevent ECR applicants eligible under the rules of this call from acting as Principal Investigator (PI), the application may nominate another person as PI and mentor to the applicant. However, project management will be expected to be undertaken by the applicant (i.e. the person eligible under the rules of this call). Funding for a different PI must constitute less than 5% of project costs. 

Applicants whose contract ends before the proposed research must include a confirmation letter from the eligible Research Organisation they intend to be based at, stating that they will be supported for the entire duration of the grant if it is successful.


 5. How is ‘Early Career Researcher’ defined for the Flex Fund?

There is no standard definition of ECR used throughout academic and non-academic communities. The one we are using for this call is the following: an ECR is an individual employed to conduct research activities on a precarious contract (e.g. fixed term or project-funded). Or who has not previously held a research grant (as Principal Investigator) exceeding £100,000. This includes grants from organisations other than UKRI. This restriction does not apply to Co-Investigators playing a supporting role in a project or to named research staff.  

For public sector non-academic organisations, a Research Officer or Senior Research Officer, as defined by the Government’s Social Researcher Technical Framework could be considered as the equivalent to an ECR. In line with the ESRC, we are happy for ECR’s to self-identify. 


6. How is the ACCESS Flex Fund different from other ESRC funding calls?

The primary aim of the ACCESS Flex Fund is not to support new social science research. Instead, it will support a portfolio of diverse activities such as knowledge transfer, engagement, communication, network building etc. Some illustrative examples (but not restricted to these) include:   

  • pilot projects to experiment with new ideas, methods or practices that advance the use of the social sciences to address climate and environmental challenges  
  • develop and test new materials to communicate social science to target audiences (e.g. videos, infographics)  
  • events to promote collaboration across disciplinary or sectoral boundaries (e.g. workshops involving experts from different disciplines or sectors)  
  • events to address challenges associated with the ACCESS Guiding Principles of Environmental Sustainability, Knowledge Co-Production, and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (e.g. workshops involving Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) researchers; engagement activities with different groups; explorations of low-impact research activities)  
  • skills and capacity development to enable cross-boundary collaborations (e.g. training)  
  • research involving primary or secondary data analysis (e.g. gauging the contributions of particular disciplines or approaches in informing environmental policy or practice on a given topic)  

Eligible costs for this call will deliver these types of activities, subject to the ESRC Research Funding Guide  


7. How must my application relate to the ACCESS Guiding Principles?

All applications must follow the ACCESS Guiding Principles (Knowledge co-production approach (KCP); Equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI); Environmental Sustainability). All successful proposals will be expected to follow ACCESS guidance in relation to these themes and their application as a condition of award. Project teams will be expected to design their proposals in relation to these Guiding Principles, monitor their implementation, and share learnings with the ACCESS Leadership Team, e.g. a reflective opinion piece on using the Guiding Principles, in order to refine our approach over time.    

  • In terms of KCP, applications will need to demonstrate how they co-produce activities with project partners, stakeholders and publics.
  • In terms of EDI, what this means is that applications will need to demonstrate how they propose to deliver projects that are inclusive and diverse.
  • In terms of Environmental Sustainability, what this means is that applications will need to provide justification for any project activities that will produce environmental impacts (e.g. flights producing greenhouse gas emissions).  

Furthermore, applications will need to demonstrate how they integrate the 3 principles altogether, rather than adopt a ‘silo’ approach to each one. 


8. Is the Flex Fund mainly aimed at people working in universities?

No. We welcome applications from teams that bridge disciplinary and sectoral boundaries. We strongly welcome regionally diverse applications that involve collaborations between individuals and organisations from diverse disciplines and sectors: academia (natural sciences, engineering and physical sciences, arts and humanities, social sciences), the public sector, NGOs and charities, and business. While applications must be led by a researcher based in an eligible Research Organisation, we will look to fund projects that involve a diverse cohort of people across different roles, organisations and career paths, and sectors.   

We will share and promote collaboration opportunities via our Flex Fund online noticeboard  and our webinar. Please note that the webinar will be recorded and will be available to watch  How to apply to the Flex Fund Round 2


9. Is it possible to submit more than one application to the Round 2 Flex Fund?

Academic applicants are limited to 1 PI submission and 2 Co-I submissions.  There is no limit on the numbers of bids that non-academic stakeholders can partner on.


10. Are there any limits on the number of applications that an eligible institution can submit? 

We would discourage more than 2 or 3 submissions from any single eligible institution. Funding for Round 2 allows for up to 3 awards and our approach will be to ensure diversity in those awards (e.g. by topic, discipline or geography).  

It is highly unlikely that we will make many awards to a single institution or organisation. 


11. What are the eligibility rules for non-academic partners?

Applicants based at Public Service Research Establishments (PSREs) that are eligible to apply as Project Leads or Project Co-Leads (Eligible and potential eligible public sector research establishments – UKRI) will be funded under standard Full Economic Cost (FEC) rules.

For Business, Third Sector or Government Body Researchers, eligible costs will be paid at 100% fEC as a Co-I/Project partner – Including co-investigators from business, third sector or government bodies – UKRI

  • Eligible costs paid at 100% fEC as a Co-I/Project partner
  • Business and Third Sector engaging in economic activity (in compliance with UK Subsidy Control Framework) – Allowable costs: Salary (excluding superannuation and NI) limited to 1 year, Travel and Subsistence
  • Third sector which does not engage in economic activity (and must provide evidence for this) – Allowable costs: Salary (including superannuation and NI) with no time limit, Travel and Subsistence, Other Direct costs, Overheads
  • Government Body – Allowable costs: Travel and Subsistence only

However, please note that for non-academic partners that are not a PSRE:

  • Costs associated with a Project Co-Leads (PcLs) from a UK business, third sector or government organisations contribution to a project (regardless of how many PcLs are included) must never exceed 30%, of the overall cost of the grant at 100% of FEC and would normally be lower than this.
  • Where an application includes PcLs from UK business, third sector or government organisations and International PcLs the combined costs of all Project Co-Leads must not exceed the 30% maximum limit.

For more information, please look here: Inclusion of business, third sector or government body Co-Is on ESRC proposals (


12. Letters of Support 

We will not accept any Letters of Support from partner organisations under this call. Instead, use the Application Form to indicate which non-academic organisations (if any) that you are collaborating with and how you are using a co-production approach to work worth those partners. In addition, use the Justification of Resources section of the application form to explain how this has been costed up with sufficient resources to deliver genuine knowledge co-production.


13. Can applications involve international partners?

Yes. However, while applications can have an international dimension, the primary focus of activity should be within the UK (e.g. involving an international partner with relevant expertise in a UK based project; taking an international example and piloting its application in a UK context).  

Details regarding funding rules for international partners: International Investigator eligible costs paid at 100% fEC as a Co-I/Project partner – International co-investigator policy guidance – UKRI  

Eligible costs paid at 100% fEC as a Co-I/Project partner.  

  • Salaries are considered as per the UKRI International Co-Investigator’s Policy. No estates or indirect costs can be claimed.  

Please note that the combined costs for international co-investigators, and UK business, third sector and government body co-investigators must not exceed 30% of the total full economic cost of the grant application (at 100% fEC). 


14. What are the criteria against which applications will be evaluated?

Applications will be evaluated against the following criteria:

  1. Advance the use of social science to address climate and environment challenges
  2. Integrated implementation of the ACCESS Guiding Principles
  3. Impact (i.e. identifiable outputs leading to identifiable outcomes)
  4. Approach and methodology
  5. Value for money 
  6. Overall fit to Flex Fund Round 2 call


15. What are the expected outcomes of each funding award?

To contribute to the overall goal of ACCESS – to enhance the visibility, use and impact of environmental social science – projects will be expected to deliver at least TWO of the following outcomes:

  • New ideas or frameworks
  • New methods of translating evidence or insights (e.g. communication tools)
  • New networks
  • Development of new skills or capacities
  • Increased use of social science amongst specific target groups (e.g. people in diverse sectors (business/industry, civil society, public sector), non-social scientists (e.g. natural scientists, engineering and physical scientists, journalists and media actors).

The application form will oblige applicants to state clearly which outcomes are expected from each application. A portfolio approach will be applied in final decision making to ensure funds are allocated across all desired outcomes identified for the Flex Fund Round 2.  


16. How will applications be evaluated?

The review process will involve three stages.

  • First, proposals will be checked for eligibility.
  • Second, eligible proposals will be subject to blind peer review and scored on the six criteria (see 14 above).
  • Third, a Review Panel will select a portfolio of excellent projects that involve diverse applicant teams (e.g. individuals from different disciplines or sectors), activities (e.g. knowledge transfer, engagement, communication, network building or training) and challenges (e.g. biodiversity loss, access to nature, decarbonisation, net zero).  


17. Will feedback be provided to applicants?

Yes. We will provide general feedback (i.e. not specific to each proposal) to all unsuccessful applicantsThis is the limit our capacity allows for.  


18. What obligations will be expected of successful applicants?

All applications must be guided by the ACCESS Guiding Principles (Knowledge Co-production; Equality, Diversity and Inclusion; and Environmental Sustainability) approach (see above).   

In addition, successful projects will be expected to engage with the wider ACCESS programme (e.g. by attending in person events such as the Annual Assembly, Summer School or Leadership College that are held in Surrey or Exeter).  

All applications should include funds in the project budget sufficient for at least one team member to attend at least one of these inperson events per year.  This should include budget to cover all sustainable travel costs and at least one night’s stay in a hotel. 

Successful projects must be completed by the end of September 2026.   

All successful applicants must provide content for a project page on the ACCESS website to promote their project. 

All successful proposals will be obliged to submit an End of Award report that enables reporting by ACCESS in Research Fish.   

A copy of the application questions for reference only can be found here.

All applications must be completed online here.

Return to How to apply to the Flex Fund page


Key Dates

 Call Opening Date    Monday 5 February 2024
 ACCESS Flex Fund Webinar   Monday 19 February 2024, 14:00 GMT
 Call Closing Date    Friday 26 April 2024, 17:00 BST
 Call Decisions Communicated   End of July 2024
 Successful Projects Start Date    From October 2024
 Successful projects End Date  By September 2026 at the latest 
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