The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is due to launch a funding call for a 5-year Network Plus of up to £4,000,000 on the topic of Exploring People’s Relationships with Digital Technologies.

Calling researchers in:

  • social sciences and humanities
  • computer science
  • software engineering
  • mathematical sciences

As only one project will be funded, we have taken the decision to run a university managed process to select one application for submission to this call.

We are seeking expressions of interest from individuals and groups at all career stages, including Early Career Researchers, who would either like to lead an institution bid or be part of the network.

The expressions of interest will be assessed by a university panel to be chaired by Professor Julie Barnett. Members of the panel will include ADRs, DoRs, senior academics and people with experience of applying to the ESRC.

On the basis of the expressions of interest, selected candidates will be asked to attend a pitching session and the panel will select the final Principal Investigator, team of Co-Investigators and key network members to prepare a bid for submission.

The network must be led by a Principal Investigator in the social sciences and at least 50% must fall within the ESRC’s remit. It must involve multiple disciplines from those listed above and the successful grant will play a strategic role in bringing together stakeholders across disciplinary boundaries. It can include co-investigators from UK business, policy or civil society and public sector research establishments (PSREs).

A Network Plus award is a strategic investment that aims to bring together new research communities and identifies, prioritises and develops future research challenges. To build sustained engagement and collaboration, it provides leadership across disciplines and sectors and delivers different activities, such as:

  • workshops
  • events
  • communications
  • funding opportunities

The successful network will enable a step-change in how social scientists investigate the interactions between society and digital technologies through:

  • generating new insights on the relationships between people and technologies
  • building interdisciplinary capability in this emerging research area, leveraging existing and establishing new partnerships
  • enabling a coherent and connected landscape for this research across disciplines, identifying needs through sustained engagement with policymakers, the private and third sectors, international peers, as well as the wider research community

In scoping this work ESRC has identified two sub-themes that could be explored by the Network Plus.

Harnessing technology

This would explore how people interact with digitally connected technologies, the consequential impact of the choices they make on individual and collective experiences, and how individuals can better understand choices and impacts.

Power and behaviour

This seeks to understand the influence services and devices have over people and the social trends that result. It considers the changing power relations between technology providers of:

  • devices and services
  • users
  • governments
  • civil society
  • different economic and industrial sectors.

The above themes are not exhaustive. ESRC welcomes proposals for other potential themes provided they complement and do not duplicate current investments.

Submitting an Expression of Interest

There are two routes to do this:

EOI PI Route

If you are interested in leading a network as the Principal Investigator, please submit an expression of interest of no longer than 3 sides of A4 using the following headings that describes how you will do the following:

  • develop a research agenda that explores people’s relationships with technology and how technologies influence people’s relationships
  • build interdisciplinary capability and bring people together across disciplines
  • include co-investigators both at Bath and other Universities
  • build sustained engagements with UK business, policy or civil society and public sector research establishments
  • fit to the ESRC’s ‘Living with Technology’ strategic priority from the 2019 ESRC Delivery Plan
  • fit to one of the two sub-themes: Harnessing technology and Power and behaviour or describe another potential theme that does not duplicate any other ESRC investment

Submit the EOI to by the deadline of 4pm 27th October.

EOI Co-I or Network Member Route

If you would like to be a Co-Investigator or part of the network, please tell us your interest in exploring people’s relationships with digital technologies and what you feel you can bring to a bid using the headings above.

Your expression of interest should be no longer than 3 sides of A4 and head the document as either EOI Co-I or EOI Network member.

Submit the EOI to by the deadline of 4pm 27th October.

For the purpose of this funding scheme an early career researcher (ECR) is someone who has yet to make the transition to being an independent researcher. In recognition of the increasing diversity of career trajectories, the ESRC do not provide a timebound definition of ‘early career researcher’ as their ambition is to be inclusive of people with different career paths and trajectories. As such, it is not possible to come up with a single definition that could apply to everyone.

If you are applying for either route as an ECR researcher, please include a short description of why you should be considered an early career researcher in no longer than an additional 1 side of A4.

Further information

ESRC previously commissioned a scoping review in this area - the initial info about the project is here and the 2017 report is here.

ESRC-250920-DeliveryPlan2019.pdf (


  • 13 October - Internal Demand Process announced
  • 27 October - Deadline for Internal Expressions of Interest
  • 3 November - Invitations to pitch to potential PI’s
  • W/C 8 November – pitches to panel and selection of lead team
  • early Nov the ESRC call will open, and the selected team will work with RIS on preparing the bid