ACCESS - Advancing Capacity for Climate  and Environment Social Science
ACCESS - Advancing Capacity for Climate  and Environment Social Science
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How to apply to the Flex Fund – NOW CLOSED

Call for applications for funding to the ACCESS Flexible Fund Round 2 is now CLOSED

Maximum amount per application   £240,000  
Minimum amount per application  £200,000  


Event  Key Dates 
Opening date   Monday 5 February 2024  
Flex Fund webinar   Monday 19 February 2024, 14:00 GMT
Closing date   Friday 26 April 2024, 17:00 BST
Successful projects announced  End of July 2024  
Grants start   From October 2024  
Grants end   By September 2026 at the latest  


We are looking to make awards to projects that contribute to the ACCESS project’s main goal to enhance the visibility, use and impact of climate and environment 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, for example people in diverse sectors (business/industry, civil society, public sector, journalists and media actors) or non-social scientist disciplinary experts (e.g. natural scientists, engineering and physical scientists). 

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

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. 

The total cost of your project must be between £200,000 and £240,000. 

ACCESS will fund 100% of the full economic costing (fEC)*

Projects must be completed by the end of September 2026. 

We strongly encourage submissions that have been co-produced between academic leads and non-academic partners. To help develop new relationships we have set up an online noticeboard where both groups can post ideas and trigger new conversations and partnerships. 

Applications to Round 2 are not limited to applicants or teams who were successful in Round 1. That said, Round 2 can allow Round 1 winners to scale up or develop their project ideas further. 

Aim of the ACCESS Flex Fund

The aim of the ACCESS Flex Fund is to test and develop new ways of thinking, new approaches and new networks that will advance the impact of the social sciences to address the transition to a sustainable and biodiverse environment and a net zero society.


ACCESS is a five-year project (2022-2027) funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). ACCESS aims to provide leadership on the social science contributions to tackling and solving a range of environmental challenges. ACCESS is based on the idea that social science insights and data are vital to understand and solve environmental challenges (Devine-Wright et al., 2022). Yet the social sciences are not always effectively drawn upon by stakeholders, including policy makers and the media, when understanding those problems, or when designing and implementing solutions. ACCESS aims to tackle this issue by enhancing the visibility, use and impact of interdisciplinary social science in order to solve environmental challenges. All applications to the Flex Fund must contribute to this overall ACCESS objective.

What is the Flex Fund?

The ACCESS Flex Fund is not primarily about supporting new research, instead it aims to 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 tackle environmental challenges; 
  • develop and test new resources to communicate social science to target audiences (e.g. videos, infographics); 
  • events to raise the visibility, use and impact of social science across disciplinary and sectoral boundaries (e.g. workshops with non-social science academic experts or representatives from third sector organisations); 
  • 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). 

Across all of these areas, applications must avoid duplication with the ACCESS work programme, and our Round 1 awards. Therefore, we encourage all applicants to become familiar with the ACCESS work programme and Round 1 awards before preparing their bids 

Representatives of successful projects will be expected to engage with the wider ACCESS programme and should budget for a team member to attend these face-to-face events (e.g. events such as the Annual Assembly held at the University of Exeter).  

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

Guiding Principles

All applications must be clearly guided by the ACCESS Guiding Principles (Knowledge co-production; Equality, Diversity and Inclusion; and Environmental Sustainability) approach. Awarded projects will be expected to follow the guidance in relation to these as a condition of the award, monitor their implementation, and contribute to the refinement of these Guiding Principles in collaboration with the ACCESS team.

Note that this is about taking an integrated approach to all three principles, rather than tackling each one separately, recognising the tensions that sometimes arise between them and attempting to resolve those tensions and trade-offs in a collaborative, inclusive and environmentally sustainable manner. Please also refer to information on the Guiding Principles in the Flex Fund FAQs. 

What we are looking for 

  • We encourage applications that are high-risk, high-reward. Generating useful lessons learnt from innovative approaches that may not work is more important to us than the successful implementation of project plans that reproduce conventional approaches.  
  • We encourage applications from people with a diverse range of backgrounds. ACCESS is committed to advancing equality, diversity and inclusion in climate and environment social science and we recognise that many groups may be under-represented in these areas. 
  • We encourage projects that cross boundaries – either discipline or sector. 
  • We encourage applications involving non-academic organisations. The origin and development of proposal ideas suggested by non-academic partners is particularly welcome. 
  • Applications involving non-academic partners must demonstrate co-production (see ACCESS Guiding Principles). This could include having representatives of those organisations as Co-Investigators on the project team, and the allocation of budget resource to non-academic organisations, while following ESRC eligibility rules. These measures will be viewed as stronger evidence of co-production than letters of support submitted by non-academic partners. 
  • We encourage applications from across the UK, particularly from Wales, Scotland and N. Ireland. 

Submission and Assessment 

Submission of applications will be a one stage process. No outline stage will be involved.
Following eligibility checks, applications will be blind peer reviewed and scored on the award criteria. Following this, a review panel will make decisions on which applications to award. We expect to make about 3 awards. 

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 ACCESS Flex Fund programme. 

Evaluation criteria 

Applications will be evaluated against the following criteria (please also refer to the ‘What we are looking for’ section above): 

  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 


ESRC eligibility rules are obligatory in all ACCESS Flex Fund applications. Proposals must be led by a researcher based in an institution eligible to receive UKRI funding 

Applications to Round 2 must involve an early career researcher (ECR) in the project team, either playing a Principal Investigator (Project Lead) or Co-Investigator role. 

We welcome diverse proposals involving genuine collaboration between academic and non-academic partners. We would like to receive applications that include diverse sectors (business/industry, civil society, public sector), forms of expertise (e.g. natural scientists, engineering and physical scientists) and scales of activity (e.g. international, national, regional and local). For details regarding funding rules for non-academic partners, see the ACCESS Flex Fund FAQs. 

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; taking an international example and piloting its application in a UK context). For details regarding funding rules for international partners, see the Flex Fund FAQs. 

For other details regarding eligibility rules, please refer to the Flex Fund FAQs.  

How to apply 

We are now calling for people to apply to the ACCESS Flex Fund. Applications will involve a single stage submission process and is not intended to be onerous. Please apply via the ACCESS Flexible Fund application form.  You can download a PDF copy of the questions here.

The closing date for applications is Friday April 26 2024, at 5pm GMT.  

If you have a query, it may be answered on the Flex Fund FAQs.  If your question is not answered in the FAQs, please get in touch:   

*Full Economic Costing (fEC) is the full cost to the eligible institution of undertaking the project and includes all direct and indirect costs. Normally UKRI only awards 80% fEC, but the Flex Fund will award 100% of the costs (assuming ESRC eligibility rules).

Flex Fund webinar 

Please find a recording of the webinar that took place on Monday 19 February 2024 here

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