ACCESS Flexible Fund reflections – June 2023

Published on 22 June 2023

ACCESS Director, Patrick Devine-Wright reflects back on setting up the ACCESS Flexible Fund.

The ACCESS Flex Fund has a total value of £1m and is a core element of the project. But with no ‘Ladybird Guide to Flexible Funding’ available that we could see, and few formal evaluations of flex funds conducted to date, there were a lot of difficult decisions confronting us. We began by gathering informal learnings from past and current investments, asking questions such as:

  • What type of awards were we seeking to make (e.g. project awards to teams vs fellowship awards to individuals)?
  • How many rounds of funding would we have?
  • When should we issue the call(s)?
  • How many awards were we seeking to fund and across what duration and time period?
  • What were our criteria for the awards?
  • What kinds of outcomes did we want projects to have?
  • Who would review the proposals?

With so many issues to resolve in a short time frame, it seemed like a mountain to climb.

Key Conclusions

Looking back, a number of key lessons can be distilled that could be of benefit to other flex funds. These include:

  • Devise a team to manage the fund drawn from diverse disciplines and sectors
  • Resource the team effectively with project management, administrative and communication support
  • Meet regularly (e.g. monthly) and share minutes/actions afterwards
  • Orient the flex fund around the goals and intended outcomes of your specific project
  • Learn from existing good practice
  • Use the flex fund for capacity building as well as innovation (e.g. target funding at Early Career Researchers (ECRs); appoint an ECR to the fund management group)
  • Encourage high-risk, high reward submissions
  • Centre Equality Diversity and Inclusion, Sustainability and Co-production into all aspects of the funding programme (e.g. as mandatory conditions of award) and use blind review procedures where appropriate (see ACCESS Guiding Principles)
  • Communicate widely and carefully the aims of the fund and application procedures using documents and slides with accessible language
  • Use tools such as Padlets and Chat functions within webinars to respond to queries and encourage new collaborations
  • Work reflexively to refine your approach as you proceed

Read the whole report online or view PDF report