Building a new grants service

By Sarah Townsend, Head of Grants Policy – This article originally appeared in The Protagonist.

It’s a feeling we have all experienced when using online services. It is that feeling of frustration caused by the fact that the system is too clunky, the screen is too cluttered, we are being asked too many questions or we have had to enter data multiple times. I’m sure that people have felt that way when applying to the Research Councils for a grant and that’s something we want to tackle.

Research Councils are in the midst of a major project to redesign our grants service. This is not only a great opportunity to replace our outdated technology but we are also using the opportunity to look at the way we do grant funding across Research Councils and ask ourselves what could we do better. Where can we make things simpler? Are there ways to make our policies and processes more streamlined? We want to improve the service for applicants and other users, both internal and external.

GOODBYE JE-S

Our current grants system – the joint electronic submission service (Je-S) – is reaching the end of its useful life and we know that researchers love it and hate it in equal measures. Ahead for its time when it was introduced, it is now like a well-worn and well-loved pair of slippers – we know that it will be a wrench for some when our new service comes online.

The good news is that the new service will enable us to deliver some really important improvements for the community such as greater interoperability with research organisations’ systems. Within the Higher Education sector there are many systems and data that, at the moment, do not communicate with each other. This means that information cannot flow through these different systems and users have to enter the same information multiple times.

The new grants service will push us farther forward by helping us achieve a more connected infrastructure and cut inefficiencies for everyone using the service. In future, we want to be able to reuse information that already exists in other systems wherever possible to reduce the amount of time applicants spend filling in a grant application. We also want to have simpler guidance and only ask for information that we actually need.

WELCOME TO THE NEW GRANTS SERVICE INTERFACE

The new grants service is being developed with user needs at the front of everyone’s minds. To give you some insight into how this works, the user research team has been finding out what users like you want the grants service to do. They have spoken to applicants, peer reviewers, panel members, research organisation administrators and Research Council staff. Then they tell the service designers what they discovered. The service designers are bringing these users’ needs to life throughout the user journey).

Moreover, whilst the grants service will be hosted on the ac.uk domain, the screens are based on the gov.uk platform. Therefore, the new grants service will look and feel a lot like this platform. If you have taxed your vehicle or shared your driving license information in the last few years, chances are you will have already used a gov.

uk service, and like applying to tax your vehicle, we expect the new grants service to be very intuitive to use. Hopefully, you will feel right at home.

Also, we have great news for applicants applying to Research Councils and Innovate UK: we are developing a single unified grants service! This means you have a very similar experience when applying to both organisations.

SO WHERE ARE WE NOW?

A panel of government digital service assessors recently reviewed the project and has given us a pass on the alpha stage. So what does that mean? During the alpha stage of the project the team built prototypes to meet some key user needs and iterated those through user feedback. They also scoped what the end-to-end service would look like.

So what’s next? Having passed this assessment the team can now progress into the beta stage. In this stage the team will extend those early prototypes into a full end-to-end prototype and test with users. Initially, this will be a private beta, which means that access will be restricted rather than available to all. The aim is to be able to run a small number of funding opportunities through the new service in 2017 and to have transitioned fully in 2018. Throughout the development we will continue to test with users. The work is done in very small chunks with continual iteration based on the feedback received. If you want to know more you can sign up to our mailing list http://eepurl.com/bXNziH and check out the information available on the RCUK website www.rcuk. ac.uk/funding/2017update.

 

 

Goodbye from Dr Nafees Meah

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director RCUK India

फिर मिलेंगे    (See you later….)

Time has just zipped by and I can’t believe that I am leaving RCUK India office! It has been a great privilege and a lot of fun to be at the helm of RCUK India over the past four years.  Soon after I arrived in India, I wrote a blog about my first impressions.  What struck me then was the palpable sense that India was on the move.  That impression is even stronger four years later – the buzz and the sense of new opportunities has only grown.

Team RCUK India

Team RCUK India

I said then that I was a firm believer in the appliance of science to tackle problems of water and energy access, rapid urbanisation and poverty and, I am very pleased to say, that we have now a substantial portfolio of research and innovation projects addressing these issues.  Our USP in RCUK India has been to work as partners in relationships with our Indian colleagues that are based on mutual trust and confidence.  My proudest achievement has been to have contributed to a real renaissance in the research and innovation partnership between UK and India – the oldest and the largest democracies in the world.

I truly believe that we have achieved a great deal together and what we have done will make a big difference.  I want to thank the best team that I have ever worked with: Sukanya Kumar-Sinha, Geeny George Shaju, Andrew Telford, Chhavi Jain and Monika Sharma.  A lot of what has been achieved has been due to their effort. They have been brilliant.

As we look forward, it is not too difficult to predict that the trade partnership with India will become even more important to the UK following the EU referendum vote.  That may be the silver lining.  But it is crucial that we maintain a strong, long term partnership across a broad range of issues and, whilst trade is important, we do not reduce the measure of our abiding relationship to that metric alone.

It has been a great experience to work as part of the British High Commission family in New Delhi.  I very much hope that my successor, Daniel Shah, has an equally rewarding time as the new Director of RCUK India.   I wish him well.

As for me and my family, we will be starting a new adventure in India – outside the warm embrace of the British High Commission in Delhi.  I shall be taking up new appointment as the South Asia Representative of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).  My office will be in Delhi so I hope that friends in the Research Councils will look me up when you are in this part of the world.  My door will be always open…

Gateway to Research – 2016 Research Outcomes data

The 2016 outcomes data submitted in Researchfish during the submission period (1 February – 10 March 2016) has now been published on Gateway to Research.

The submission rate for researchers was 95% and for students it was 78% with over 346,000 new attributions made. RCUK would like to thank the research organisations, researchers and students for their efforts during the 2016 submission period.

 

Visit http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk/ to view the latest published data.

UK-India research collaboration to understand the Indian monsoon

By Dr Monika Sharma, Newton Fund Delivery Programme Manager.

One of the many unique things about India is its summer monsoon, a weather phenomenon which is one of the oldest, and much awaited patterns every year beginning June through September.

Monsoon has a distinct place in the day–to-day lives of Indians, from Bollywood to the Indian kitchens. There are dedicated rain songs in many Indian movies showing overjoyed love birds dancing around, welcoming and enjoying the rain. Not only does the monsoon make people happy, but they even have special snacks and savouries for these rainy months. This shows the magnitude to which monsoon is loved and anticipated in India.

The Indian economy is vitally linked with the monsoon because of its water resources. A large part of the country (around a billion people) gets more than 80% of the annual rainfall during these four months.

Group picture with Minister Vardhan

Group picture with Minister Vardhan

However, on the flip side, the heavy monsoon rain is also responsible for creating unpleasant situations like long traffic jams, clogged roads or unfortunate flash floods. This year, monsoon floods hit the northeastern Indian state of Assam, killing several people and forcing many more to leave their homes.  In 2013, the monsoon advanced particularly rapidly over northern India, causing devastating damage while, in 2009, prolonged breaks led to a severe shortage of rainfall and poor harvests.

In short, the only thing which doesn’t go well with Indian monsoon is its unpredictability hence affecting day-to-day life in general and lives of poor farmers in particular.

To have a better understanding of the physical processes of the monsoon, the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), India the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), UK and the UK Met Office have joined hands under a research programme called The Drivers of Variability in the South Asian Monsoon, with a combined investment of about £11.4 million.

The modified BAe 146-301 large Atmospheric Research Aircraft (the ARA) takes off

The modified BAe 146-301 large Atmospheric Research Aircraft (the ARA) takes off

Under this programme, the UK’s Atmospheric Research Aircraft (ARA) was brought to India to be used as a research facility for the team of UK and Indian researchers studying atmospheric measurements for better predictability of monsoon patterns between May and July 2016. The ARA is a modified BAe 146-301 and provides a world leading platform for atmospheric measurements. It is managed by the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) which is a collaborative operation between NERC, Met Office and is based at Cranfield University. FAAM plans and executes science campaigns on behalf of the both the NERC scientific community and the Met Office. It has completed nearly 1000 science missions in over 30 countries. This is its first mission in India.

Under this partnership, UK and Indian scientists will have access to this state- of -the -art facility that will help gain in-depth knowledge of the South Asian monsoon and their improved representation in weather and climate models. In addition to the FAAM facility, this partnership also used Indian research ships (Sindhu Sadhana) and underwater marine robots to take measurements in the waters of the Bay of Bengal, south east of India.

For me, a personal highlight was when as part of this observational campaign, I boarded this flight on 11th July, along with Dr Harsh Vardhan (Union Minister of Science and Technology, Earth Sciences), Dr Alexander Evans (British Deputy High Commissioner), Dr M. Rajeevan (Secretary to the Government of India, MoES), and researchers involved in the projects. We agreed that this was a unique UK-India research partnership on the monsoon studies, and were absolutely thrilled by the experience.